Does your spending align with your personal values? To learn more about how you can ensure you’re putting your money toward the things that matter the most to you, we spoke with Judy Esber, a money coach and founder of Hear Me Finance. Ahead, she shares some of her best advice on how to be a more conscious spender and investor.
Featured expert: Judy Esber
How did you come to the realization that you need to change how you manage your money?
Years ago, my mom and I wanted to visit my sister and her husband who were teaching English in Japan. They had been living there for about three years, so we planned to go visit them over Christmas. I was in my 20s at the time. Before the trip, I was emotionally spending money because I had moved to Philadelphia from Los Angeles and I was very homesick, lonely, and stressed from my job. So when we went on this trip, I had maxed out my credit card. My sister had a list of all the things she wanted to do while we were there, but I had to tell her that I had to borrow money from my mom in order to make the trip so I needed to be as frugal as possible. My mom made less than me and had been worse off than me for many years. So that's when I was like, “Okay, something needs to change.” I wanted to be able to do things like visit my family overseas and not have to worry that I don't have the money.
What advice do you have for readers on how to align their spending with their values?
Give yourself grace on this journey, and don’t expect to figure it all out right away. When we do something that doesn't feel in alignment with our values we shame ourselves. This will stress you out and lead to more emotional spending. Instead of taking that approach, think of this as an experiment. Ask yourself: “What can I learn from this?” For example, maybe you bought something that people said was going to change your life, but you never used it and it didn’t live up to the hype. What was it about that purchase that was not in alignment? When you process that, you're giving yourself data to figure out what’s in alignment when it comes to your spending and your values.
How can the zero-waste movement help readers cut down on their spending?
There are so many things that are marketed to us that we literally don't need. Being in the zero-waste movement gamified my financial journey because it was a challenge: How can I use less? How can I cut down on packaging? How can I use something that I already have at home for the same purpose? For example, instead of using Saran wrap or beeswax to store food, what if I just use a tumbler that I already have that has a lid? Making it fun made it a more sustainable journey for me because I was competing with myself. I loved it! Now, I barely buy things like plastic bags, tinfoil, or disposable things for the kitchen. I barely buy any of that stuff these days because I realized I don't need it.
What tips can you share for becoming a more socially responsible investor?
The ethical investing world is getting better, but it might not be exactly where you want it to be. Allow yourself to get started without expecting things to be perfect. Understand that the more of us who get involved, the more the space will be pushed to be better and better, and the more companies we invest through will be pushed to provide better and better options for us. Also, don’t stress about making it too complicated. You don't have to buy individual stocks in order to invest ethically (or in order to invest at all). There are decent index funds and ETF options — which are basically like baskets of stocks so you don’t have to pick individual ones yourself — for ethical investing. You can keep it simple.
What is the #1 piece of financial advice you’d give to your 20-year-old self?
Open a Roth IRA. When I was younger, I didn't know how important it was to start investing early. Now I have a pension from a union, but I could have been building wealth on top of that by having a Roth IRA. I would have so much more money even if I just put $1,000 every year into one. Every dollar you invest counts.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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