Invest in Living – Invest in Community

The longer I watch the world turn, the more interesting things get, and more clarity I have about how I should be involved.

Twenty years ago, I used to give copies of Your Money or Your Life (Vicki Robin, et al.) to my financial advisory clients who needed to budget, and who hadn’t yet developed a strong sense of ownership over their own financial decision making. I even used the title of their book as a tagline for my business! I didn’t like the investment advice in the book, however – basically to put all your money in US Treasury bonds – because the impact of inflation on purchasing power is so significant when it compounds over time. I believe every portfolio, even with a capital preservation objective, should have some critical mass of exposure to equities.)

your time is valuable, and your life choices are worth determining on your own.

I loved – and still love – the overall message of the book:  your time is valuable, and your life choices are worth determining on your own.  The authors guide you through understanding the “costs” of work (specialized clothing, commute, eating out for lunch, more frequent takeout) so you can better balance the financial “net” you get with your personal satisfaction in the job.  If the balance isn’t good, finding a lower-paying job that has a higher “net” can allow you more personal time and satisfaction. 

The book is radical, though, as a DIY introduction to disciplined budgeting – and it’s not for everyone.  My career to date has been spent helping clients do a more complex form of this sort of life self-assessment, integrating many other considerations as well – parents or kids who need your help, family relationships around legacy and inheritance, career and retirement planning even when happy on the job, handling options and other noncash compensation, etc.  And the extensive satisfaction my colleagues and I get from partnering with our clients to reduce their distress over finances and increase their confidence and sense of calm – it is all bound up in releasing their energy to pursue the life they want.

That’s why we now have a new tagline, not tied to the “threat” of budgeting but beckoning a release of forward-oriented energy:  Invest in Living.

So what do I see as I watch the world that I am finding so interesting?
Recently there has been reporting (see this New York Times article) about a new trend – FIRE, or Financial Independence/Retire Early. Particularly among young, male techies, the FIRE path is to radically reduce expenses and be able to “retire” in their 30’s or 40’s. Their goals are familiar – reducing the stress of jobs with long hours and a lack of control, saving a radically large portion of their paychecks, and then living on very little but having an enormous amount of free time for family, exercise, exploration of interests. I haven’t yet seen this happening in my community, though; instead, I watch a tsunami of male-dominated, highly compensated tech sector work continuing to roll, northward to San Francisco from Silicon Valley and more recently eastward to Oakland, Berkeley and beyond in the East Bay. The impact of this demographic and financial tsunami has driven housing markets through the roof, driven long-time lower income residents (disproportionately people of color) out of our community, increased traffic and congestion and generally driven up the day-to-day cost of living. 

The dramatic loss of diversity is alarming; this East Bay Express article details the scope of the shifts in Oakland, Berkeley, and Richmond. Tony Samarra, a researcher with Urban Habitat, makes sense of the changes as a process of “being brought into harmony with the global model, which is largely shaped by the demand for consumption of affluent residents and the labor that requires.”  I find this process – and this linking to an “inevitable” model – deeply alarming.  I have long been committed to helping clients take charge of their financial lives for the sake of their own well-being.  Now I see the need to get involved in my community to help the community take charge for the sake of the well-being of everyone in it, long-standing residents and newcomers alike. A diverse and thriving community is in my mind the pinnacle of human existence – we are social beings, and the safety and stimulation of community is what makes our lives meaningful.

In Berkeley, we have about 1,000 people who are homeless. They need food. And so do many, many others… 

My own effort is in the arena of food security.

In Berkeley, food security isn’t only an issue for our estimated 1,000 people who are homeless. A recent study of food insecurity in Berkeley by a Haas School team of researchers on behalf of the Berkeley Food Network found a whopping 23,900 people who were food insecure. This is a by-product of the lack of affordable housing, as most people pay their rent before they shop for food, and for many, there is precious little left over for that. Sara Webber, Executive Director of the Berkeley Food Network, identified this huge, unmet and growing need several years ago when she was running the Berkeley Food Pantry. She tapped several community members (myself included) and key community leaders in food security to help, and over the last two years has created a larger, more comprehensive organization to address the issue, with the goal of eliminating food insecurity in Berkeley entirely. 

I joined the Berkeley Food Network’s board, and have been working with our team to find and outfit space in Berkeley to act as a distribution hub for our member organizations, provide more pantry services particularly to families, college students and seniors, and to keep good food out of the waste stream.  Our food sources include the Alameda County Community Food Bank, recovered food from grocery stores, restaurants, and corporate cafeterias, as well as extra produce from local farms.

If you are interested in hearing the news of the Berkeley Food Network and our upcoming events, let me know and I’ll add you to our mailing list. 

And if you need help creating energy in your life so you can invest in living, give us a call at North Berkeley Investment Partners!  We are happy to help.