Monthly Archives: March 2010

Sustaining Social Capital

After chatting with your significant other about your dreams and finances, and once you choose a bank that invests in your values, I’ve got another item for you to consider.

Do you have a network of people who support your own goals of living in sustainable abundance? Do you know your neighbors? Do you have a proverbial safety net for your family?

Most financial advisors recommend that one of the first things you should do after paying off any debt is create an emergency fund, but what seems to be undervalued in our society is social capital.


Social capital is about creating mutually beneficial relationships of caring and reciprocity. It’s about sharing our talents and interests in a unique relationship that builds bonds and creates a dynamic network of giving. I found a fun post on Aha-Moments that shares a story of how a family going away on vacation gave away green tomatoes to neighbors who had helped them in a variety of ways. Its about developing a network that sustains your family in ways that money really cannot.

Social capital is essential to creating sustainability, and build networks to create social changePaul Krugman talks about the need for accelerated social change and its relationship to social capital. The creator of the Story of Stuff would also have to agree:


So the number one thing to do is to hook up with others who share your values and start making some real change.” – Annie Leonard from Umbra interview on Grist

Now on a practical day-to-day busy-family level, I understand that creating social capital is not at the top of the to-do list (laundry seems to trump all!) Yet, I would encourage you to look a month or two in the future and plan just one way to create social capital.


In our family, we moved a year and a half ago (about five miles), and even though we’ve made our best effort to reach out to our neighbors, I feel like we’re just beginning to really scratch the social capital surface. Perhaps the best thing we’ve done was to host a neighborhood BBQ last summer. We ended up meeting several neighbors who we hadn’t managed to meet in our first year on the block. Everyone had a really nice time, and I got everyone’s contact info for when we want/need to get in touch. Similarly, a co-worker hosts an annual neighborhood Easter Egg Hunt. I’m hoping this summer we’ll be able to create more social capital and dig a little deeper to develop more community ties.

How does your family create social capital? 
Has there been a time you wish you had more?

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Sustainable Family Finances  The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.



PS In case you are actually interested in some academic research on the subject, here is an excerpt from my Master’s thesis, June 2005 – Antioch University Seattle:

In order to create a sustainable place to live, the social relationships that build a community must be nurtured. Learning about the importance of social capital is one approach to understanding why cities need to value community. Social capital has been defined as:

“the features of social organization, such as networks, norms and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit” (Putnam, 1995, p.67).

A broader definition is given by Coleman, who describes social capital as:

‘‘a variety of different entities, with two elements in common: they all consist of some aspect of social structure, and they facilitate certain actions of actors—whether personal or corporate actors—within the structure’’ (1988, p. 598).

While, Woolcock (2001) argues that a relative consensus has been struck among scholars on the definition of social capital as referring to ‘‘the norms and

networks that facilitate collective action’’ (p. 70).

In recent years, the study of social capital has branched beyond its origins of sociology (Coleman, 1988) to applied studies of governance (Bowles and Gintis, 2000), health care (Leyden, 2003), and environmental planning (Rydin and Pennington, 2000). Assessing the value of social capital became in vogue with the seminal research (Putnam, 1993), and popular book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (Putnam, 2000).

Social scientists have identified two types of social capital, referred to as “bonding” and “bridging” (Gittell and Vidal, 1998). Bonding capital is created between people who have an existing social proximity their neighborhood, career or perhaps family friends. Interestingly bonding capital has a strong connection to creating class, and is employed in either “getting by” or “getting ahead” depending on your class status (Granovetter, 1973). Bridging capital is considerably less common and is developed by crossing societal boundaries such as race or class, which are often inhibiting factors in social relations. This type of social capital was formed during the civil rights movement (Putnam, 2000), and which could be generated more in the environmental movement.

Social capital is a factor that influences a community’s ability to implement comprehensive sustainable design (Pretty and Ward, 2001). This is particularly due to the ability of social capital to enhance public participation in local decision-making;

“Social capital is also self-reinforcing when exchanges and reciprocity increase connectedness between people, leading to greater trust, which, in turn, enhances collective decision-making confidence and capacity to innovate” (Brunckhorst, 2002, p. 110).

Furthermore, “social capital is closely related to what some have called ‘civic virtue’. As is well known, civic virtue is linked to active citizenship, the political dimension of people’s identities” (Evers, 2003, p. 14). This so-called civic virtue is essential to working for the common good, and developing long-term community partnerships. The dynamic nature of social capital is important to understand if we are to create a sustainable city.

Banking for Good

As I mentioned in yesterday’s Money Honey post, we’ve decided to switch all of our banking to ShoreBank Pacific. This is a pretty significant step for us, since we’ve had an ongoing discussion/debate about where our family should bank for several years actually. We both previously had accounts at Washington Mutual, now Chase, mostly for the “free” checking. Here’s the brief back story about our change of heart:


An environmental economics course back in grad school is what first prompted me to switch my banking to Albina Community Bank. I couldn’t help but choose a local community bank once I began to learn and think about how my own money can either cause environmental destruction globally or fund people and businesses locally. The interconnections tend to be out of sight and out of mind for most of us, and I certainly can’t claim to know the precise impact of my finances. Yet, I’m pretty sure that our cumulative impact is fairly significant. 


Our decision to switch to ShoreBank is based on the mission, the story, and our family finance needs. Above all the reason we want to switch is because they are the first American bank with a banking mission that combines sustainability and managing your finances:

ShoreBank Pacific profitably assists businesses, and through them their communities, to be sustainable in economic, social, and environmental practices.

Sustainable reasons to switch:

  • Practices the “Triple Bottom Line” – Economy, Environment and Community
  • Accredited through The Natural Step
  • Purchases carbon offsets
  • Innovative green projects need funding – rural and urban projects
Personal finance reasons to switch: 
  • Offers complete online banking
  • Offers checking, savings, IRAs, even EcoKids accounts
  • Simple to have everything in one place (Before I still hadn’t convinced Hubby to let go of our ING accounts, and now we’re planning to move everything but our retirement)
Lastly, we like the feel of the place; it doesn’t even look like a bank, not one teller in their branch! If you can’t tell, I’m excited about making the switch. Despite the initial effort, I’m certain that the long term impact of switching our family funds will be worth it.

Are you satisfied with your family’s bank? 
Do you do your banking online? 

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Sustainable Family Finances 
This blog is the story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.


Money Honey #2

I’m barely to Connecticut Avenue, and my goal of monthly money meetings with Hubby is already proving a challenge. I doubt you noticed, but we missed our “scheduled” February meeting. It’s not that we didn’t try, but you know how life gets in the way, and the springlike winter weather hasn’t helped (but our yard is looking darn good!).


The good news is that since starting this blog, we have been chatting more regularly about finances. Nothing formal, but at least we’re keeping tabs on our priorities and communicating more than usual.


We also had a bit of a breakthrough. This past Flex Friday we went to sign our loan documents for the Clean Energy Works program. The program is financed through Shore Bank Pacific, a unique local and “sustainable” bank. (I’ll share more about them tomorrow) Long discussion made short, we agreed that this is the right bank for us. Despite the fact that it’s going to take us even more effort to merge our money, it feels right to switch to a bank with environmental and social values. Believe me, switching all our accounts  is not really something I want to spend my “free” time doing, but feel like it will be worth the time investment both personally and societally.


Otherwise, we’re still getting the kinks worked out with our new budget template and I’m hoping to unveil it once my sis gets back from the Congo. Thanks for your patience!


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Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Miss Fox’s Class Goes Green

Reading is one of our favorite family activities, and as much as we love reading books over and over and over, it’s nice to keep things fresh.  Visiting your local library is really the best option for reuse and your wallet, although I do have to admit that I’ve had a few fines in my day. There are some classic books that you want to read year after year and I occasionally justify a new book, because could there ever be too many kids books in the world?!


As much fun as we have exploring, I always try to manage expectations by choosing our books in advance. I’m in the habit of placing holds at the library once a month, and tend to get books that relate to the current season or holiday. This is a must for us, because our local library branch is really small and as kids get older they want really specific books and you don’t want a trip to disappoint.


When we plan a special trip to the local bookstore (Powell’s in our case), I almost always prepurchase and then pick up in the store. Prepurchasing saves shipping costs, saves time and gives you more time to experience the trip together. I’ve also found that many of the sale books are in the warehouse (not bookstore shelves) and searching by price online makes it really easy to find great deals.


Here are some of our favorite “green” children’s books, most springtime ones:


All Time Favorites:

  The Carrot Seed
  The Flower Alphabet Book
  Jack’s Garden
  Planting a Rainbow
  The Gardener
  Pumpkin Circle: The Story of a Garden

 This list goes on….I’ll continue to add to this list as the seasons go by.


What are your family favorites?


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Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

The New Affluence

I’m a big fan of public television, and I often watch programs while I’m writing. The other night I was excited in a nerdy kind of way to find a program with financial expert Jonathan Pond (I admit I hadn’t heard of him, but I am pretty new to this whole finance arena). At any rate, he has a new book called The New Affluence: Achieving financial security in a changed economy.


It turns out that I really liked his approach to managing your finances; he spoke of the need to simplify, live a life of abundance of your own terms, and create a secure financial future for your family. Despite the occasional investment jargon, he was speaking my language!


Here are my copious notes:

  • Redefine affluence and change our investments accordingly
  • Redefine investment risk – safety, simplicity, predictability
  • Living debt-free is the new holy grail, not tax deductions

Day-to-Day Financial Life:

  • Stop conspicuous consumption and ask whether you need to buy so much stuff
  • Automatic savings transfer – make it easy to forget you ever had it to spend
  • Eliminate debt – imagine a debt free life, be realistic and reduce slow and steady
  • Career – excel in your current career, assess future options and determine whether you need a career change, consider a meaningful career – make a positive difference

Your Home and Family:

  • Making your home a true investment – make extra mortgage payments when possible, owning your home is best retirement plan, if you’re not a home owner – now is a great time to buy
  • Pay for college – look into state and community colleges, choose an age-based investment option
  • Use life insurance as a nest egg – build up cash value, continue making premium payments, consider whole life insurance rather than term
Investments:
  • All-in-one fund – target date, lifestyle
  • Municipal bonds – short term better, due to prospect of inflation
  • Savings tip – set aside a small amount regularly “good for the soul”

Hopefully you’ll get something out of my notes, it was definitely an effort on my part since it was pledge week and I had to sit through it while researching/writing. I did end up renewing our OPB membership with small monthly deductions so that I could get his book and personalized financial planning consultation. I’ll write more once I get his personalized planning report! Thanks OPB!!

Does any of Pond’s advice resonate with you?


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Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.