Most of us think of voting as what you do once a year, or every four years. It involves a ballot, sometimes waiting in long lines to cast your vote, and your candidate either wins or they don’t. But that’s not the only way you can vote, and you don’t have to wait for your next local, state, congressional, or presidential election to express your values.
Instead, you can vote with your dollars. Mindfully spend, invest, or donate your money to causes you care about and businesses you want to support. How you choose to spend your money always matters personally, of course. But it matters in a larger sense, now more than ever.
CHECK IN WITH YOURSELF FIRST
There are millions of people around the world who are struggling right now because of COVID-19. If your main worry is returning to work, finding a new job, paying for health care, or caring for your loved ones, that should be your top priority. You come first. Take care of yourself so that when you’re ready, you can vote with your dollars more aggressively.
Remember that “vote with your dollars” doesn’t mean “spend more.” It’s being thoughtful about how you choose to spend — or not spend — your money. And in some cases, you don’t have to spend money to make your values known.
One example? Choose a bank or credit union that gives back to their community. For example, TD Bank places a big emphasis on education and financial literacy through their WOW! Zone program, TD Bank teaches students about money, banking, credit, and investing. They also work with nonprofit First Book to give books to children in need. Find a local credit union or national bank that supports a cause you care about too. There’s plenty of them.
SPEND AND LIVE SUSTAINABLY
If sustainability is a big passion of yours, there are lots of ways you can push for a healthy planet by spending your money thoughtfully. In some cases, you don’t even need to spend money to start living a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Simply choosing what to not spend money on can make a difference.
Here are some quick and easy examples:
Ditch the plastic disposable water bottles, and use a reusable bottle or glass jar.
Buy secondhand clothing, furniture, and home goods instead of new pieces.
Use recyclable nylon bags for your grocery trips instead of paying for plastic bags.
Take public transit, ride your bike, or walk when you can instead of purchasing a car that requires a lot of gas.
Lower your thermostat in the winter and raise it in the summer to cut down on energy.
Use rags and old clothes instead of paper towels.
Living more sustainably doesn’t mean you have to make drastic changes to your lifestyle. Before making a purchase, ask yourself, “Is there a sustainable alternative for this?” Soon, your sustainable lifestyle choices will become a habit.
SHOP SMALL OR LOCAL WHEN YOU CAN
When you choose a local farmers market, clothing shop, or bookstore over a big box store or chain, you’re supporting your local economy and individual business owners. Small, independently owned stores depend on their neighbors to keep them in business. Sure, buying from Amazon is convenient and usually cheaper, but putting your dollars towards a small and/or local business actually makes a difference.
Plus, there are so many small businesses you can choose from that support your values. Seek out women-owned, Black-owned, or POC-owned businesses to buy from, whether they’re in your city or online (or both!). The next time you need to buy produce, hit up the local farmers market or neighborhood grocer. Buy your next book or outfit at a secondhand or vintage shop.
A recent survey showed that one in four businesses consider shutting down because of COVID-19. About 40% of Black-owned businesses in the U.S. are not expected to survive. Many older business owners have had their retirement plans derailed. Small businesses need our help now more than ever. If you’re going to spend the money on an item anyways, why not look at local alternatives to complete your purchase?
DONATE TO CAUSES YOU’RE PASSIONATE ABOUT
If you have the means, go beyond voting with your dollars through mindful spending. You can donate to causes you care about, too.
Think about what you value and what you want your donation to fund. There are so many nonprofit organizations out there, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by choice. The easiest way to narrow it down is to consider your own values first, then start finding charities that align with them.
Once you have a cause you’d like to support, do your research on nonprofit organizations. Online directories like GuideStar and Charity Navigator can help. Find out how your chosen nonprofits actually use their donations. How much of your donation directly supports the programs or initiatives? Be sure to protect yourself and donate wisely.
USE YOUR MONEY TO REFLECT YOUR VALUES
Every purchase you make from a small business “casts a vote” for that business over its big box competitor. Every item of clothing, piece of furniture, or cute home decor piece that you score at a secondhand shop shows that you care about sustainability. What you choose to support with your dollars, as well as what you choose to oppose, can shape the future.
Think about your personal beliefs and money values. Spend your money in alignment with those values, whether it’s having a larger emergency fund for times like these, supporting local shops, or donating to charities. There’s no need to overhaul your spending habits right away, nor do you need to go out and buy, buy, buy. Simply thinking about your money values first is a step in the right direction.