FIer Jane Dwinell’s Ten Great Investments

FIer Jane Dwinell blogs with her daughter, Dana Dwinell-Yardley. If you want to read about her FI way of life, complete with a slide show to make your mouth water, go here. If you want more of her practical wisdom from her blog, read on. She has real investment advice – and it’s not about where to make a killing now…

Like Mark, Monique and I, she’s weathered this downturn very well because she already knows how much is enough (for her it’s less than most readers can imagine) and already has that for life. She’ll be appearing in the AARP newsletter sometime soon along with FIers Helen Gabel and Phil Notermann, helping retirees calibrate their lifestyles while increasing their sense of fun. I’ll post an email Jane sent me recently, but for now I want you to read her investing tips from a post three months ago:

Once again, our world and our nation is in a financial crisis—while the pundits continue to say that this failure of so many financial institutions and the volatility of the stock markets is a normal response and an expected “correction.” Whatever the cause and whatever the cure of the current financial mess, we know that there are some great, guaranteed, good independent Vermont investments you can make if you have some spare money.

Invest in weatherizing your home. A weatherproof home will stay warmer and cooler without spending as much money on heating and cooling. You’ll use less electricity or oil as well and thereby reduce your dependence on non-renewable sources of energy. You can weatherize a little or weatherize a lot. Payback time will differ, but any weatherizing you do will pay back in the long run—both in fuel savings and increased comfort. Button Up Vermont will be conducting 100 free weatherization workshops this fall. Look for one in your area.

Invest in edible landscaping. Take out that ornamental hedge and plant blueberries or grapes. Cut down that flowering crabapple and plant a apple or pear tree instead. Dig up your lawn and put in a vegetable garden. Grow sunflowers for the seeds, herbs for their medicinal and culinary uses, and nasturtiums you can eat. Food plants are beautiful, and they will provide you with good eating for years to come, save you money, and help the environment (think cleaner air and erosion control, for starters). If you really get into it, check out a book or workshop on permaculture systems.

Invest in a bicycle. Anyone who lives within three to five miles of a grocery store or shopping area can bike to shop instead of drive. With the addition of a bike cart, or sturdy panniers and a basket, you’ll be all set to bring home your purchases. Don’t forget a helmet and an orange flag or bright colored vest to keep you safe. If you live within a mile or two of a store, you can invest in a shopping cart (available in any hardware store), and walk instead.

Invest in a root cellar. There are many ways to preserve and store food for the winter, but a root cellar will do it for no cost once it’s constructed. You can build one in your basement, in a cold part of the house (before you weatherize!), or as an outbuilding, super-insulated and built partially into a hill. Looks for plans on the Internet or in a book from the library. You don’t even have to grow the food yourself—many Vermont farmers offer winter storage vegetables (potatoes, squash, onions, carrots, celeriac, cabbage, beets, etc.) in bulk for very reasonable prices.

Invest in a renewable source of heat. For most Vermonters, that means a wood stove that burns cord wood. But there are also new kinds of stoves and furnaces out there that use pellets made from different materials. Go to your local stove store and see what they’ve got. You can use a wood stove for cooking as well as heating, and you can include a water jacket that will make your hot water as well. You can also install solar hot water panels to create hot water for radiant heat, or build an attached south-facing greenhouse that can heat your home on sunny days. There are many choices in many different price ranges—do some research.

Invest in land. A family can heat and feed itself on ten to twenty acres of land. Consider if this way of life is right for you. If you prefer to live in town and let somebody else grow your food, consider going in with some friends to buy a piece of land and hire a farmer to grow your food. Add a wood lot and you will be sure to stay warm too. Perhaps you might find a piece of land with a steady brook that could have a micro-hydro generator installed. Land can offer many things besides a place to live.

Invest in a membership in a Time Bank or alternative currency network. In Montpelier, we have the Onion River Exchange (check it out at with over 200 members and services offered in almost all areas of life (we’re still waiting for a dentist and a yoga teacher). You don’t have to do a direct barter with one other person, but can do the things you enjoy doing for anyone in the network and then take advantage of other services offered. We’ve done carpentry work, graphic design, cooking, and knitting for people, and plan to get haircuts, rides, yarn, and dog walking services. Besides saving you tons of money, it’s also a wonderful way to meet people and invest in your community.

Invest in non-motorized and -mechanized forms of fun. With high gas prices, and high entertainment prices, it’s great to know how to have fun without having to spend money beyond your initial investment for equipment. If you love downhill skiing or snowboarding, consider taking up cross country skiing or telemarking in the backcountry. If you have a small fishing boat, trade it in for a canoe. If you have a speedboat, buy a kayak, a small sailboat, or a windsurfer. Build your own disc golf course, croquet court, or field for soccer or Ultimate Frisbee in your neighborhood—or use a large expanse of lawn that already exists (in Montpelier the State House lawn, the recreation fields, and the Vermont College green are favorite places for these sports). Think about what you love to do, and see if there’s a way to do it without using petroleum products or spending large amounts of money once you have the equipment. Don’t forget to look for used stuff when searching for that initial investment!

Invest in net metering. If you have a serious chunk of money available ($10,000 to $20,000) you can make your own electricity and sell it back to the power company (or live “off the grid”). Solar panels, a small wind generator or a micro-hydro unit can create renewable power. These pieces of equipment last a long time (especially solar panels that also require virtually no maintenance) and can bring you energy security for years to come. Contact your local renewable energy folks to find out more.

Invest in your friends, neighbors and community. This is your best investment yet. It won’t cost you a dime and it will reap untold profits. Take the time to get to know the people around you. Volunteer for community-enhancing projects (river and street cleanup, firewood gathering for the poor, food shelves, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, programs for the elderly, shut-ins and the disabled, etc.). Vote. Campaign for the people and causes you believe in. Get involved with a nonprofit organization or religious community. Learn how to resolve conflicts peaceably. When times get hard, all we may have is each other. Invest in those relationships now.


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