Episode Number: 242

Episode 242- How To Use Every Dollar You Spend, Earn And Save As A Force For Change With Tanja Hester

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Jamila Souffrant 0:00

You're listening to the Journey To Launch Podcast: How To Use Every Dollar You Spend, Earn And Save As A Force For Change With Tanya Hester.

Intro 0:12

T-minus 10 seconds. Welcome to the Journey To Launch Podcast with your host, Jamila Souffrant. As a money expert who walks her talk, she helps brave Journeyers like you get out of debt, save, invest and build real wealth. Join her on the Journey To Launch to financial freedom in five, four, three, two, one.

Jamila Souffrant 0:39

Hey, Hey, Hey, Journeyers. I'm so excited that you're joining me this week for today's episode, but first a word from our sponsor: Let's be real, all the goals we have about money: saving and investing more, paying off debt, buying our first home, or saving for that vacation, are all made possible by improving our actual relationship with money. How we feel about money impacts how we earn, spend and manage our money. Where we bank also impacts our relationship with money. Is it somewhere that you feel seen and heard? Do they have your best interest as a priority? I don't know about you, but I want to bank where I feel supported and appreciated. Knowing that I'm putting my money in a place where my money matters and there is a commitment to helping me and the community, is important. When banking with a credit union, like DCU, you are joining an institution committed to putting people first and making a difference in the communities where their members live and work. DCU has over 950,000 members nationwide. It's a win-win situation. A win for your wallet and a win for your community. To learn more, check out dcu.org.

If you want the episode show notes for this episode, go to journeytolaunch.com, or click the description of wherever you're listening to this episode. In the show notes, you'll get the transcribed version of the conversation, the links that we mentioned, and so much more. Also, whether you are An OG Journeyer or are brand new to the podcast, I've created a FREE Jumpstart Guide to help you on your financial freedom journey. It includes the top episodes to listen to, stages to go through to reach financial freedom, resources, and so much more. You can go to journeytolaunch.com/jumpstart to get your guide right now. Okay, let's hop into the episode.

Unknown Speaker 2:37

Hey, Journeyers! I'm really excited to welcome back a three-time guest, which I was like "Wait, you're on the podcast? Like this is your third time," Tanya Hester, who has been on episode 52 of the podcast, 127 of the podcast, and now the newest episode. And she is back to basically, we're going to catch up, Tanya, and talk about your new book Wallet Activism, but first, let me just share a little bit more about yourself.

Jamila Souffrant 3:01

Tanya Hester is the author of Wallet Activism: How To Use Every Dollar You Spend, Earn And Save As A Force For Change. Hopefully by the time you hear this, it will be out and you can pick it up. She also wrote the book, Work Optional: Retire Early The Non -Penny Pinching Way. She's a former political consultant and journalist turned activist and early retiree. She retired at the age of 38. And she shares all her wisdom over at ournextlife.com. So welcome back to the podcast, Tanya!

Tanja Hester 3:33

Thank you for having me back! I love talking to you!

Jamila Souffrant 3:36

Yes! Now here's the thing, um, if people do not know about you, they're gonna definitely hear it. Your personality and what you're all about in this episode, but I talk about financial independence retire early a lot on this podcast and I definitely delve into different ways to reach it. Whether through entrepreneurship, being frugal, negotiating your salary, all the things, right? And so I've interviewed people who are retired early and they're still earning money which is fine, or who are pursuing financial independence. Like myself, I'm still pursuing financial independence. I'm not there yet. What I've always liked about how you frame and talk about your journey, is that I feel like you're-- if there was a true, truest form or self of what it is to be financially independent and retired early, you try to keep the definitions clear. Meaning you really feel like and for yourself in your own platform, like you have retired early based on you working and saving and investing your money. And now the content that you're putting out is solely based on giving information, like, you know, you write books, you have a blog, but you're not like selling anything. And I know that a lot of times, like, in the financial independence space, and which is slight a lot entrepreneurial, we, like, sell things. And I always, like, that okay, there are some people here that actually, like, literally consider themselves, and are, financially independent, but also not depending on money from their readers, you know, apart from like if they buy the book. Which is very affordable. So I want to, kind of, talk about that a little bit. And then we can go into your book and philosophies. So can you share, for anyone who's not aware, like, how you became financially independent, and we can go from there?

Tanja Hester 5:12

Yeah. And thank you for saying that. I, I never want to slam those who need to make money. I mean, it, people need to make a living. You need to feed your family, like, that stuff is just the reality of capitalism. But in terms of me, I started out my career in journalism, working at National Public Radio. I worked for the federal government for a little bit at the Department of Education. I know all about student loans. And then I spent the bulk of my career doing political consulting to political candidates. Politically aligned causes, working for nonprofits in the progressive space. That really was how I spent 16 years of my life, before I was able to retire. And, I think, that the new book is just a reflection of that. So you know, it's funny, the folks who are like, "But you've been talking about FIRE this whole time. Why are you now talking about activism?" and I'm like, "That's just going back to my roots. Who, who I am." But in terms of the motivation to retire early, my husband Mark and I both had really high stress jobs. We knew that the work we were doing, and I started having to travel every single week, you know that that was really taking a toll on us, on our marriage, on our health. And it became clear to me pretty early on, that I was most likely going to get the disability that my dad has that forced him to stop working around age 40. And I saw how hard that was for him. I mean, in his case, it was, it was really terrible. He was actually laid off the day before the Americans with Disabilities Act took effect. And I learned recently, he was also laid off because my medical bills had been so high. And the company said his kid was too expensive. So I have, in fact, been discriminated against. But, like, knowing that whole history, I didn't want to repeat that. And so, I knew that I wanted to be able to travel and do some things that I really didn't have time for while working, before I lost my mobility. And I also just wanted to hold that sense of control, you know, of not being forced out of work, not on my own terms. So that was really it. And so, you know, the the story of how we saved is pretty boring, actually, you know, and it's my least favorite thing to talk about just because I have nothing interesting to add. We really did a very automated process. Every time we got a raise, we banked the whole raise, we had it set to go into investments and savings. And, you know, we just let time happen. And so, I'm a big fan of the boring, unsexy path to saving and investing and think that can be really powerful. So it very much worked for us, we're really lucky. But I think it's important to talk about stuff like that, like that not everyone's motivation is just to like, go out and live a super kick ass entrepreneur life or to own a fleet of rental properties that might be exploiting lower income people, and that not everyone has the privilege to do this. So I really always appreciate that you create space for those conversations too. And don't just put the rosy picture on everything.

Jamila Souffrant 7:58

Yeah. What's important about this community, or like being online, is that everyone has a different set of privileges and starting points that allow them to do certain things. And so, there are some people where they're, they're making their income, their living from the work that they're providing, right? To their audiences, and then that's how they're fueling themselves towards financial independence, right? What I hear from you, when I see your commentary on it, is you just don't like when people don't say that's what it is, right? We will pretend that it's not that.

Tanja Hester 8:27

Totally. I think that the disclosure is key. So, the number of people who are doing what I think of as sort of a weird Ponzi scheme where it's like, I want to sell you on the idea of early retirement, you can give me money, but really, I'm not actually there without your money. That feels very dishonest. And I think that people need to be really upfront about that and more transparent about how their finances work, because audiences need to be able to consider that intaking your advice or not. And to know what your conflicts of interest are. And I think as a community, we don't always do a great job of that.

Jamila Souffrant 9:00

Yeah, yeah. So, I appreciate that you are a voice in this space, that talks about that other side of things. So as we go into the "why, for this book, because before you press record on this, like you wrote your first book, Work Optional, which I loved. And you came on the podcast and talked about that. And the second book, you said you went deeper. You share more of your personal story, and admittedly, I have not read the entire book, I kind of like quickly looked at it before we got on here, but you said that, like, this book was needed. It allowed you to go deeper into your story and be more vulnerable, but also share something that you think people need and want. Which is, like, how do you spend your money in a way that really reflects your values? And so can you talk about that?

Unknown Speaker 9:44

For sure. I wrote Wallet Activism really because I wanted to read a book like Wallet Activism, and I felt like it wasn't out there. And we know this from tons of research. There's research showing that Millennials, Gen Z, Young Gen X, all want to be able to invest money in a way that reflects your values. Want to be able to spend it in a way that reflects your values. And I felt like people were really poorly served by the resources that were out there, or worse, a lot of the information out there trying to speak to that, is manipulating people. Is lying to people. Is saying like, "Hey, here's a great thing you can do." But most of it is greenwashing, or what you might call, quote, unquote, woke washing. You know, making a product seem really socially conscious, but then you look at it, and you realize, like, "Oh, they actually have horrible worker abuses at their factories, and they're huge polluters, and they're trying to make you feel good about buying from them." And I wanted to give people the tools to see through that, you know? And to answer some of those really complicated questions. So that was really my motivation behind it is like, I wanted to know the answer to this stuff. I'd worked in activism and the cause base for a long time and didn't know these answers. Like, how do you invest responsibly? How do you shop responsibly? What's the best way to think about where you live, or how you earn a living or how you give money away? I just, I didn't feel like there was an honest perspective out there, that wasn't ultimately trying to sell me something.

Jamila Souffrant 11:07

I think it's hard, right? Because, like, we live in a capitalist society, and it's funny, because sometimes, when I go through that-- down that road of why capitalism is bad, and why, like, simply just giving more people money doesn't help, right? And I get down there, I'm like, "Well, if I really keep going, like, I'm gonna change my whole, like, life, I'm not gonna like wanna be a part of this society in terms of, like, being a part of the wheel?" Like, it almost seems like, how can you get away from this? Like, how can you not be a part of the system? Because we all have to live in it and participate in it. And I find that also for minorities, and for black people. It's like, I don't feel like I have the option to opt out, right? Like, there's certain things I, you know, there were some instances where, with a conference, and they were like, they had some issues, and people were like, "Well, why did you still attend when there were issues?" And this was years ago, people, like, knew of the issues and were still attending. And, you know, I thought, and we had some conversations around, well, if I didn't participate in every institution that was either a racist and/or an issue, I would not participate in anything, because it's all built on that. And so if I find that, I often find myself in a place where it's either I participate, and I do it my way, and I get my foot in the door, and then I can build my own table and institution eventually, versus not participate, and then not bring my family further and my community further. So how does one balance that, those decisions and choices in their life?

Unknown Speaker 12:30

I think that you articulated the, the central issue so well. That we have such-- I don't know what the right adjective is to use, you know? Some will say broken system, others would say it is a system that was designed to be unjust and unfair. And so it's working exactly as intended. Whichever you think it is. The fact is, we have this system. This is the system we're in. And so I think you're right. I think you have to, sort of, do your best and find your own way through it. And figure out the ways that you want to be subversive, or that you want to opt out. I really appreciate it. I don't know if you've ever listened to Vicki Robin's podcast, but she had the novelist Kim Stanley Robinson on and they were talking about her book, Your Money Or Your Life. And it was funny, because Vicki, and I really agree on a lot of stuff. And we both have left that we're sort of embarrassed that our best known books are about how to get richer, like, very anathema to who we are. But anyway, we're chatting about this. And in her conversation with Kim Stanley Robinson, she said, "Well, you know, with my book, am I ultimately just teaching people to be better capitalists?" And he said, something that I'll never forget, although I'm probably getting the wording wrong. And he said, basically, like, "No, you teach people about finding enough. And stopping once you've hit enough, is itself an anti capitalist idea." Because capitalism is about always striving for more. Winner takes all. All of that stuff. And I just, like, put that on my tombstone, basically. I've--was very inspired by that line. I think it's reflected now in the book that, yes, we need to talk about saving and investing. We don't have enough safety nets. The idea of like, opting out of capitalism altogether, doesn't work. It certainly doesn't work for people who don't have a lot of the built in privilege that some folks have, who might say that, but like just saying, "Okay, this is the number and once I get there, I'm going to stop," or "This is my target and once I'm there, I'm going to focus on lifting instead of climbing," or "I'm going to do lifting while I climb the whole time." All of that is finding your way through a problematic system and those who say opt out, it's just not realistic. That's not the world we live in. You have to find out how to live your values within this mess.

Jamila Souffrant 14:34

Yeah. Well, what do you say to the people well-meaning and they're actually, you know, making an impact, but they say, the more that we get, the more that the good people get the money and have more money, than the more we can do and fund in this world? Which I think is legitimate and I agree with. So what do you say to that, where it's just, like, it's not just enough for me, but I need to make more than enough, so that I can give back to the institutions. I can build the schools. I have the money to make change.

Tanja Hester 15:02

It's nuanced, of course. You know, I think that that's reasonable. And you know, for some, like, I want you to have all the money. I want you to be able to do tons of stuff with it. I think about Kiersten and Julien at Rich and Regular, like, I want them to have all the money to spread around the world. The author, Michelle Mijung Kim just wrote this incredible book, The Wake Up, which I can't recommend highly enough. It's all about, kind of, reframing how we think about social change and, sort of, putting impact ahead of our good intentions, because she makes the point in there that we're so obsessed with being good people, and defining ourselves as good people that we forget, and in fact, we sometimes do harm, you know? And I'm, I'm sure we can all think of lots of examples of that, but as you were talking about, like, we need to put that money in the hands of the good people. I mean, I'm sure like Jeff Bezos thinks he's a good people. I'm sure Bill Gates thinks he's a good people. Elon Musk. So, it's the question of like, who really gets that money. And so I think rather than thinking about in terms of like, "the good people," let's think about it in terms of, like, those who've been historically blocked from that wealth. That, to me, is where we should, you know, like, when I see black creators, or Latina/Latino creators out here doing stuff, I feel like, "Yes, give them all the money!" If I see just another, like, white guy talking about money, I'm like, "He's good." I know, that's overly simplistic, and I am sure some folks will say that's reverse racism or whatever. But like, if we care about justice, we have to think about redistribution. And if we're not going to do it through reparations and taxation, then we have to do it through capitalism.

Jamila Souffrant 16:32

Oh, I love that. Mic drop on that one, Tanja.

Tanja Hester 16:36

Sorry. I'm going into maybe a left field direction here.

Jamila Souffrant 16:40

No, this is the conversations that are necessary. And again, they're so nuanced. And it's not just, like, this is that, that it's, like, it takes these conversations to start really talking about this. So when it comes to now Wallet Activism, and really being able to define our values first, I guess the point is too, how do we define our values? And then make sure that we are spending, investing, and our money is being used in a way that aligns with that?

Tanja Hester 17:05

I'm glad that you asked that, because I don't think most people have actually sat down and thought about this. And so it's why in both Work Optional and Wallet Activism, I start very early in the book and say, "Okay, let's actually take a big step back and think abou,t like, what do you care about most?" So with Work Optional, it was, what is the life you want to lead, you know? What does that actually look like? What's it gonna cost? Here, It's more, what do you care most about? What do you want to know that your money is doing in the world? And that, I think, takes some self reflection. And so I offer some exercises for folks. So we think first about what are the issues you care most about, You know? Of course, probably lots of us care about tons of issues, but which ones are really the most important to you. So do you care about climate change? Do you care about racial justice? Do you care about worker exploitation across the ocean? You care about all these things? Okay, well, like which rank the highest, because you are going to have to prioritize sometimes. Even the richest people can't do everything. Well, maybe Elon Musk could, like ,wipe out global poverty with a stroke of his pen, that's clear. But for most of us, we're going to have to prioritize. And so, then what does that tell you about your values? You know, if you look at the things you care most about, and you say, "Wow, I really see a big thread here of injustice. Injustice is really upsetting to me." Well, that tells me I care most about fairness. And injustice is fundamentally unfair. We're imposing a system on people based on factors that have nothing to do with their merit, or how hard they work, and so then you can really look at aligning your spending to fairness. But most likely, you have multiple values. And so it's really thinking about that. Thinking about the issues you care most about, and then using that to craft a spending philosophy. And also, it's not just spending. It's also earning, investing, saving, all of the things. And it's, to me, very much about automating things. I love the analogy, and I've used it in both books of, you're a vegetarian, and someone says, "Do you want a burger?" You don't have to spend any time thinking about that. You don't waste any mental energy. You don't spend any willpower. You just go, "Nope!" And I want people to have that option too with how you use your money or how you deploy your financial power, because otherwise the stuff will exhaust us and that's not sustainable. It's, it's about-- this isn't a diet mindset, you know? This is, like, a holistic, sustainable life approach. And I think that it's really important to conserve our mental energy and save that brainpower for the hard decisions.

Jamila Souffrant 19:25

Yeah. You know, and as you were talking, I'm thinking for some people, including myself, it can be overwhelming to think about how much our lives would change if we really followed suit and did the things that we said we cared about, or spent in a way that we valued. Like, where we invest change, who we invest in, like, what we talk about, like, all that stuff can seem overwhelming. And in the pursuit of reaching your own personal goals. Which, I know you talked about aligning them, like, you can reach your own personal goals, while still doing well or using your money in alignment. It can feel like how can I make this automated? How can I make it easy? What are the systems in place? How have you found a way to make it easier for yourself or to talk about?

Tanja Hester 20:05

Yeah, I mean, I think that a good way to think about it is to think in three categories. So you have, once you've done all this thinking, you've prioritized your values, you've done some thinking about the issues. And also, I try really hard in the book to give you a lot more information. So you understand the context for your choices, maybe better than you did before. Once you've got all that, then you can categorize things into things that I don't spend money on anymore, or I won't earn money that way. I won't live in a community that supports that kind of stuff, you know? Whatever that looks like for you for your financial power. Then you've got the middle category of things that you will do, you will use your financial power for, but they need more thought. So, maybe you just slow down on those choices, and you think about them more, and you pass some of the time. And then you've got the category of choices that you do and you don't have to think about them or stress about them. You can just go through that stuff. And I recommend that folks come up with several categories of things that you can spend money on, and not feel guilty, because again, we don't want this to feel restrictive, or like a diet, because that's not sustainable. And so it's categorizing things. And I think that once you do that, it becomes much easier. Then you're only spending mental energy on the things in that middle category, but it's freeing you from having to spend any thoughts, you know, when someone does that metaphorical, "Hey, do you want a burger?" and you go, "Nope!" Moving on with your life. I think that that is more manageable and it's actually much less difficult to get to those three categories than people might imagine.

Jamila Souffrant 21:32

For someone listening, and they're like, "Okay, I'd love an example of this," even in all three categories. So how-- Like a switch, or something that they can do differently? Can you give an example of that? What it would look like?

Tanja Hester 21:42

Sure. So, like, I recognize, and I think this is really important, that for lots of folks, their best option for shopping is Walmart or Amazon. And I think there's so much in the "conscious consumerism," I put that in air quotes, because I don't, you know, it's still fundamentally consumerism when you frame it that way. But there's so much in that space, that sort of assumes that like everyone can afford Patagonia and to buy all their food at the farmers market, which, that's not realistic. Most people can't do that. We know that most people can't afford $1,000 emergency. And so like the thought of spending more than you need to on stuff is just wack. So, you might say, "Okay, I can only afford to do most of my shopping at Walmart, and I don't feel really good about that." So maybe, then your categories are less about where you shop, and more about timing. And you say, "Okay, I am going to only shop on non-peak times, because I know that when it's peak period, that's when the workers tend to get injured more frequently. And they are mistreated a lot more, because there's all this pressure to get packages." You can think about this with Amazon too, with like Black Friday, or their Prime Day, or all the different promotions they run. The injuries in the warehouses completely skyrocket during this time. So you can say, "I'm going to make peace with the fact that I need to shop at Amazon or Walmart, but I'm going to avoid the peak periods. And I'm going to avoid the fastest shipping. And I'm instead going to let stuff, you know, shipping single package, if possible. Or I'm going to keep everything in my shopping cart for a week before I hit purchase, so that I can make sure I really need all that stuff." So then it could just be a matter of your system, rather than about where you shop. And again, I'm just talking about shopping here as an example, because that's the easiest. You know, and if you have the means to do that, maybe you say "Okay, I'm going to put Walmart in my never category, Amazon in my thoughtful category and the farmers market in my shop without guilt category," or something like that. And so then when you do shop Amazon, you're being much more thoughtful and deliberate about it and not just, like, late night hopping on your app and throwing stuff in the cart and hitting two day delivery. That system can look any number of ways and it's totally based on what your financial means are and what your habits are.

Jamila Souffrant 23:48

Yeah, okay, that's a good example. And this requires just, like, budgeting with your money, thoughtfulness, and being proactive, and planning ahead, because I think also in the society that where we are strapped for time. That the Amazon appeals, right? Because you can get things overnight. And a busy working mom or someone who doesn't have, like, a lot of time, that's, like, their resort. So, I think, you know, the convenience of it is also a barrier for I think people to make these changes that you're talking about, because it's just, like, yeah, "I want to do better in this category. But it's just not. I need more convenience."

Tanja Hester 24:24

Totally. We have to be realistic about all this stuff if we're serious about making change.

Jamila Souffrant 24:31

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So, you talked about spending. I'd like to like talk about all the ways, or some of the ways, in which we use money. And so spending is one and we talked about ways to change that. What about in terms of investing? So I know there are a lot of, now, of these investing apps. And they're more, just platforms in which you can choose companies that are participating in a way, or in the society and environment that you'd like and want to invest in-- but what about that? For someone, like myself, who likes index funds, but realizes that those index funds also contain problematic companies that are not great for the environment. What's the alternative to that? Is there one that offers a similar return and similar fee structure that people can start looking at? Or apps that they can start looking at to help them?

Tanja Hester 26:42

Yeah. So, the unfortunate answer is there isn't currently a perfect option on investing, but actually, before we talk about that, I'd love to say, we love to talk, in personal finance, about responsible investing, but we are talking almost none at all about responsible banking. And for most people that actually has a much more direct line between your money and a bad financial impact. So if you bank with one of the big banks, think: Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan, Chase, Citibank, your money that's sitting in your savings account is most likely being lent out, not to fund local mortgages in your neighborhood. It's being lent out to fund new fossil fuel projects. And that's something that most of us don't want to hear, but that is direct. Money in your savings account is being lent out to fund that stuff. And so switching instead to a credit union, a community impact credit union, a black owned bank, a bank owned by people of color, something smaller, you can instantly reduce the amount of money available to 'the bad guys' to do their 'bad stuff.' And so that's a hugely powerful act that almost everyone can do, because not everyone can afford to invest.

Jamila Souffrant 27:52

Wait, I actually want to stop there, because I'm glad that you brought that up. And I learned a lot myself recently, in my partnership with Digital Federal Credit Union, who has, we've been like partnering for the last couple years, and from, just, learning more about what they do, like and the misconceptions of banking with a credit union, right? Like before, you know, the thought process could be "Well, how can I access my money? Like I need all-- there's these barriers for me to join my local credit union." And it's like, that is maybe the old way of doing things with credit unions. The new way? They are just as technology advanced. Your money is just as safe and just as accessible at a credit union. Like, I was amazed and, like, when I was learning more about it, before I went to the partnership about the good work they do in the community. And so I just want to also echo that. Again, it can feel if you're not currently banking with a credit union, or you know, a black owned bank, and you're at one of the big banks, it can feel very overwhelming to think about moving your money.

Tanja Hester 28:46

For sure.

Jamila Souffrant 28:47

It can. And, you know, so I acknowledge that. Like, I feel like when I was making some of the changes myself, I was like, "Oh, my goodness, like, how do I balance all of this?" And, you know, I would just advocate that it doesn't all have to be done at once. You can slowly start to do that. Like I started, you know, I slowly opened up like an account for something and then I have like a plan to move certain things over. So I think that just, to help people with the overwhelm, it's like, you don't have to do it all at once. If it's overwhelming, you can like open up an account for a reason. And then slowly start to understand the credit union or local bank, and then do more as you feel good about it.

Tanja Hester 29:22

Totally. And I think an easy way to get started if it feels really overwhelming. I know people have direct deposits set up and automatic payments and that kind of thing. And it's probably that side of it that feels most overwhelming. You can set up simply a savings account at a credit union. They might also require you to set up a checking account, but you don't necessarily have to use that right away. You can focus on just the savings piece. So that, sure, maybe your paycheck is still coming to your old bank and you're paying bills out of it, but any bigger chunk of money is sitting somewhere else. So you're not giving that big bank all of this big pool of money of yours to, to play with and lend out to bad things. So yes, absolutely. I know it's daunting, but the good thing is, like, you have to do it one time and then it's done. And then you're good.

Jamila Souffrant 30:02

Yeah. And it's just really good that you brought that up, because, like, before we jump into investing, like, like you said, there are some people who are underbanked, or don't have accounts at all. But this is a way in which you can start to change things really immediately. Now, the investing side of things, I'd love for you to talk a little bit more about that.

Tanja Hester 30:20

Yeah, you know, it's gotten better, I think, on the responsible investing side, but unfortunately, the vast majority of offerings out there are still ultimately doing some form of greenwashing. Like, they might subtract a lot of bad guy companies from an index fund, but then they're charging you 1% in fees, rather than a 16th of a percent that you were paying for your other index account. And so, I think it's really important with anything to look very closely at the fees that you're paying. And if it's more than a quarter percent, there is a very good chance that they are ripping you off. And so, be very skeptical of anything that says it's responsible or focused on the environment, that kind of thing. The other category of fund that has grown a lot is the ESG Fund, which stands for environment, social and governance. And, unfortunately, ESG is not currently a regulated term. That could change, but right now it's not. And so right now, a lot of people are putting these funds together, calling them ESG, but then, if you actually look at what's in them, sometimes petroleum companies are in them. There was a report that just came out this week, actually, that Facebook is in a ton of the ESG things and different conversation, but I think a lot of us probably would prefer not to support them. I mean, the the thing I would say to folks is, with your investments, it's not nearly as straight a line from your money to a bad cause. The main thing that you're doing, if you invest in, let's say, Exxon, you know? A fossil fuel company, is you're helping uphold their share price by creating demand for those shares. And you are potentially also getting dividends from them and you're profiting off of their bad acts. Now, you could actually argue that you profiting off of it, and doing something good with that money is better than more Exxon executives owning those shares and getting that money. So you can do with that which you will, but it's not nearly as direct a line as with, like, your savings account. And so, if you're not able to invest responsibly, I would say don't stress too much about it. Just do your best moving forward. But the most promising thing that I really hope will be more accessible soon, is a new development called Direct Indexing, where you can get an index fund, and then you can go through and manually pull things out. So you can say, I don't want any fossil fuels in my portfolio. I don't want any junk food. You can have your thoughts on that, whatever it is, for me, it's like assault weapon-- weapons manufacturers. I don't want to profit off that personally. And so, you could pull out whatever you want. And so that's something that's becoming more available. It's still not widely available, but we're getting there. And then in terms of ESG funds, they're not necessarily bad, you just have to do a little homework. So I would encourage folks, if you see a fund you like, go and search that ticker symbol. With responsibility, with climate change, that kind of stuff and see what others have said. If others have pointed out problems with it. And as with everything, always look at those fees. High fees are always a scam, no matter what. So look for under a quarter percent whenever possible, or otherwise, you're going to lose half your gains to the fees.

Jamila Souffrant 33:16

And when it comes to, like you said, we talked about a bit of spending, where you bank, investing. Let's move on to, like, earning money. I find that-- I mean, they all can be a little complicated, but earning money. I want to see what you say about that first, and then I could give some thoughts around why, for some people, that could be so complicated to decipher. And maybe not for some others. But, how do you-- how do you earn money in a way that also aligns with your values? It seems like a very obvious, like, answer, but I would love to hear what you have to say about it.

Tanja Hester 33:48

I mean, on a very basic level, I think it's sort of the question of like, are you using the bulk of your time in life to contribute to a good cause or a bad cause? Now, having said that, that's an incredibly privileged thing to say, because most people don't, in fact, get to pick and choose exactly what they want to do for a living. And so if you're able, and you're able to say, "Okay, I'm not going to contribute my talents to this industry that I think is bad," that's a really good thing, because depriving bad industries of the top talent is going to be another way that we can force them to change. But if you have to work for a bad guy company, I use the terms good guys and bad guys. And I know that that's gendered, because most CEOs are men. So I feel good about that, but if you have to work for a bad guy company, and you have no choice about it, I also talk about how you conduct yourself in the workplace and how that can be a form of Wallet Activism, because work is a financial transaction. And so, if you're a manager, it can be really pushing for more diversity in your hiring, more focus on retention so that it's not just, you know, diversity and inclusion TM and lip service only. It could be doing things if you're not in a managerial level, to actually organize your co workers. To push for change or even to unionize. That's something that we're seeing a lot in the landscape right now, with people demanding better treatment, because we've got a market that's more favorable to workers. And I'm really excited to see how far that goes. But there, there are just so many different things you can do at work to flex your power that I don't think people feel. And I think that, that's true, because companies don't want workers to feel powerful, you know? The market, in general, doesn't want us, as individuals, to feel like we can make change, because that's how they, you know, keep us to keep our heads down and stay quiet and just put up with the way things are.

Jamila Souffrant 35:35

Yeah, yeah. And I mean, again, it's great to hear, like, you know, there are different ways in which you-- if you feel like you have to participate or work for companies that you yourself, know, are problematic. That if that is a choice that you have to make, then having some change or making some change within is a way to feel better about that. Not just feel better about it, but to make the change or be the change that you want to see. Because I often find, again, there are some people who will fight from the outside. They're like, "I'm never." I would never work for that company, I would never join that company. I built my own, I'll do something totally different." And there are some people who were like, "Well. We need some of us inside. We need some of us inside the organization to one, know what's going on. And then two, to hopefully, maybe, work to change it." So there's there's need for both.

Tanja Hester 36:22

Absolutely. And I give some examples in the book of that, because I think you're so right. And there are plenty of examples of changes that have only happened because employees demanded those changes. Not because people on the outside demanded them. And we see it happening right now with Facebook. We don't know what the changes will be, but it was a whistleblower on the inside who released all this documents that we're all seeing now about how Facebook knew how bad they were for the self esteem of kids, and especially girls and all of the things. They knew how bad they were for democracy and spreading misinformation. And yeah, we need good people on the inside, too. So if you're, if you're in a place where you feel stuck, you feel like, "You know, I contribute to the worst industry and I hate it." Just try to use that for good in some way. You have a lot of different options.

Jamila Souffrant 37:07

Yeah, yeah. Now I want to talk a little bit more about just, like, in general, what you've been working on. In one of the last posts that we did before we recorded this, or that you did that I thought was really interesting, was you shared a just a private incident that happened with you and your husband, Mark, and especially him. Like, he got hurt biking. And when I was reading through the post, your main thing was people talk about health, and you know, like, ride the bike, like, do the exercises and all these things. And it will help prevent you from getting sick and getting lower premiums in your older age or whatever, right? But that you guys are, or he, was doing the right things. And he got into such a tragic accident, that near;y-- it you could have wiped out everything, if you were not prepared, financially, for it. Can you talk about that and how it is-- you already kind of like doing some of the right things with your, like, health and insurance, but how that even further change your position and opinion on what you want to do further and how that can help us think more about what we should be doing now to protect ourselves?

Tanja Hester 38:09

Yeah. The post was about a mountain bike crash that Mark has this summer. And he ended up rupturing his spleen and spending five days in the intensive care unit. And that was during COVID. It was a whole thing. The good news is he's, he's doing really great now. But it was a really, really expensive thing. It ended up costing about $400,000 and thank goodness, we had great insurance. I think, as you said, Mark is a great example of someone who's doing all the things that a lot of the folks who say you know, "Diet and exercise are everything. You can control everything that way." He was doing all of that stuff. And I have, for a long time, done all that stuff. I was a spin instructor in LA for six years-- for 10 years, actually and taught six classes a week. And my class was reputed to be one of the very hardest there was. So I rode my bike, you know, like crazy, and still ended up with a genetic disability that is limiting my, my physical mobility now in a way that, like, there's nothing I could have done to prevent that. And so, I think, that the conversation we have about risk is really one sided, because we talked about this with, like, physical health, in terms of if you eat a healthy diet and exercise, you can guarantee a particular outcome. And that's just not true. And both Mark and I are examples of that. In his case, it was a terrible accident. In my case, it's genetic stuff, but in both cases, we're having the impact of things that were well beyond our control. And so I think it's a good reminder, both with health and with life of-- and with money, frankly. You know, people will often say, "Well, isn't it safer to keep working forever and risky to quit working and you might run out of money," and I think, "No both are risky you know, you just have different risks." Like, yes, retiring early is risking that you might run out of money, but working forever is risking that you might have no free time to enjoy. You might have all your able bodied and healthy years at work, instead of doing the things you really want to do with your life. And so rather than saying this side's safe, this side's risky, let's talk about risk on both sides and protect ourselves. And so I give the reminder that it's so important to have really good, high quality health insurance. I know our system is so messed up. And that's really expensive and not accessible to everybody, but I think to the extent you can keep good insurance and not self insure or have a health care sharing ministry, or any of the things that are-- that look cheaper on the front end, but can really ultimately come back to bite you, I think the better. And, just, generally, changing how we talk about risk. You know, I use the example in the post too of wildfire, because we live in Lake Tahoe, California. We had wildfire. Fortunately, it was very far from us, we're on the north end of the lake this summer, but it came very close to South Lake Tahoe, where we have lots of friends. And it's a great example that yeah, you can have firefighters. You can have smoke detectors, you can clear your property, but ultimately that big ass fire is in charge. And so, you have to think about risk on both sides that like yes, of course, you want to do the things to increase your odds. But we're not in control. And pretending we are is just going to lead to delusion.

Jamila Souffrant 41:12

And it's important, like you said, to invest if you have the means. If you have the means. So we definitely want to be clear about that, because we understand that for some people, like, some-- affording certain types of insurance or premiums that, like, are out of their budget. But I also know people who just skimp on it, because they're trying to reach this goal of financial independence and this amount saved. They will literally, like, go through and, like, just pick the cheapest option without understanding it. And that, to me, is kind of, like, when you look back, or when you think about like your whole life and moving forward in it and enjoying it and enjoying your money. And I'm even now, like, doing that more. Like actually how could I spend or invest more of our money now in a way that is going to, hopefully, you know, again, with risk notwithstanding, because we don't know, help me have a healthier life? Like, taking time off of work, to then get the preventative treatments, right? Like say, "Okay, I'm going to spend a week to catch up on all these things I have not been doing and not just trying to earn money in my account, but actually spend what I need, even if insurance doesn't cover it, because, technically, I can afford it and do that, that is an investment." So I just think it's important to say because I find so many people are just trying to figure out how to spend less, when they technically can, in fact spend enough or more to help them in situations like this.

Tanja Hester 42:31

It's so well said. I think that it's harder to see the payoff of investments we make in our health, because there's no account there with a number in it. It's much more intangible, but it's an investment too, and it's really important. Mark and I've been joking, since everything happened and he got home. And we've gotten all the bills that-- with the $400,000 in bills that our insurance company paid, and we didn't pay, that's now become by far the best investment we've ever made. Every dollar we've ever spent on health insurance, we just got back, like, three fold. Maybe more than that. We haven't actually done the math on that, but none of us can see the future and you want to protect yourself. And also, in this case, hey, we actually made a great investment.

Jamila Souffrant 43:11

Right. Well, sidebar just, like, a little bit more information about your insurance. What was your insurance? Because I know-- because you are fully retired, self employed, which way did you go? I'm just-- for people who are wondering or want to get better insurance?

Tanja Hester 43:26

Yeah. You know, we're lucky to live in California where the rates are a tiny bit better than in other states, because, unfortunately, there's so much politics and all this and so many states have threatened to take the subsidies away. And that threatens the insurance companies and they've raised their rates more. But we've, from the beginning, for over four years now bought insurance on the exchange. It could be healthcare.gov for most folks. In California, it's Covered California. And yeah. We've just bought, you know, kind of the standard silver plan. We've had Blue Cross some of the time, Blue Shield, some of the time. We've gone back back and forth based on how much the medications that we take cost on each plan. But yeah, we just have standard insurance. And the good thing is that a lot of states have now expanded Medicaid, which makes even lower income people eligible for full coverage in a lot of places. And so I think if you're someone who hasn't looked in a while, it's good to just look it up. Go to healthcare.gov. Go to your state and see. You might actually qualify for more help with your payments than you think.

Yeah, no, that's good. And I want to say tha-- I said that, I messed up one of your episode numbers. It was episode 52 and episode 84. And I do believe we talked about insurance a little bit in some of those episodes. So go back and check out those recordings and episodes, guys. Now, Tonya, please tell everyone where they can find your new book, Wallet Activism, where they can pick it up, where they can follow you and support you.

Thank you. Yeah, the book Wallet Activism is in all the book places. I'm really encouraging folks to support small, independent bookstores if you can, or otherwise, bookshop.org is a great online option that, in fact, has the cheapest price right now. It's cheaper than Amazon. If you need to go Amazon, totally understand, but try to do smile.amazon, so a portion of your purchase price will go to the nonprofit of your choosing. And it's available in all the formats: paperback, ebook, audiobook I recorded a few weeks ago that'll be out soon. And so, yeah, I just really appreciate folks support. If you can't buy it, it'd be great If you'd request it from your library. That's always another option. And you can find me in all the places that ournext life.com and on Twitter and Instagram at our_ nextlife.

Love that. Thank you, Tanja. And, by the way, she also just gave us an alternative, or at least, if we're going to shop with Amazon, another way to do it. smile.amazon.com, so thank you for sharing that!

For sure.

Jamila Souffrant 45:45

on't forget, you can get the episode show notes for this episode by going to journeytolaunch.com, or click the description of wherever you're listening to this and you can still grab your Jumpstart Guide for free to help you on your journey to financial freedom by going to journeytolaunch.com/jumpstart. If you want to support me and the podcast and love the free content and information that you get here, here are four ways that you can support me in the show: One, make sure you're subscribed to the podcast wherever you listen, whether that's Apple Podcasts, that purple app on your phone, your Android device, YouTube, Spotify, wherever it is that you happen to listen, just subscribe so you are not missing an episode. And if you're happening to listen to this and Apple Podcasts, rate, review and subscribe there. I appreciate and read every single review. Number two, follow me on my social media accounts. I'm @journeytolaunch on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And I love, love, love, interacting with Journeyers there. Three, support and check out the sponsors of this show. If you hear something that interests you. Sponsors are the main ways we keep the podcast lights on here. So, show them some love for supporting your girl. Four, and last but not least, share this episode this podcast with a friend or family member or co worker, so that we can spread the message of Journey to Launch. Alright, that's it until next week. Keep on journeying Journeyers.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

(This post may include some affiliate links)

Tanja Hester, author of Wallet Activism: How to Use Every Dollar You Spend, Earn, and Save as a Force for Change and Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny Pinching Way, joins the podcast to talk about her upcoming book and how you can use the power of your money for change.

Tanja is a former political consultant and journalist turned activist and early retiree, retiring at the age of 38. Tanja also blogs over at OurNextLife.com

If you are interested in learning how you can make an impactful difference with your money right now, this episode is for you.

In this episode we discuss:

  • Building financial power to live our value and change the world
  • The “unsexy” story of how Tanja retired at age 38
  • How to spend your money in a way that  reflects your values
  • How health insurance was the best investment Tanja ever made
  • Navigating and personally combating capitalism + more

Watch this episode on Youtube here.

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Other related blog posts/links mentioned in this episode:

  • Check out Tanja’s previous episodes on the Journey to Launch Podcast here and here.
  • Bookshop.org
  • To Listen to the Learn to Trade As A Side Hustle To Reach Your Financial & Life Goals FREE Audio Training with Teri Ijeoma by clicking here.
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