What should I do with my money now?

I invited Mark Zaifman and Monique Tilford to join me for a teleclass by this name, knowing this question is on everyone’s minds. While Mark gave financial investment advice, I tended to give more lifestyle advice – examining assumptions about “just gotta have it”, meeting needs differently (like taking your kids to free events rather than expensive ones), re-skilling. If money is indeed “life energy”, then investing time in activities that will bring you a big return in security makes sense – perhaps as much sense as investing in mutual funds. Okay okay, apples and oranges, but listen to what I wrote a friend when she asked:

Hi. any advice about what to do with a small inheritance? especially since the people involved are not FI right now but would like to be?

Read on… and tell me what YOU would advise…

put some of the money into a safe haven for a cash reserve and then…

  • pick a community where you want to live for at least 10 years by criteria like: growing season, soils, rainfall, ‘sunfall’, local good water supply, at least 100 feet or more above sea level (but near a port may be useful). Check predictions of how it will change as the climate does.
  • if you are close with your family, live close to them
  • Also pick a community if you are my age where there are lots of young people interested in farming.
  • buy a house there and trick it out for passive solar and pv panels. think about rate of return. here a $3000 with installation heat pump can repay $600-$1200 a year in heating bills depending on cost of energy and depth of cold. that’s about 2-4% on your investment, which ain’t great but it’s around where bonds are. passive solar can be very effective conversion of stuff into less expenses. I’m building a passive solar heating unit on my house (or at least dreaming of it) and i’m guessing i can reduce heating costs by  up to 50% (yes there is sun in the pnw) depending on how big it is and how well it works – and my investment will be less than $1000.
  • develop a web of relationships of reciprocity – giving and getting.
  • use some money to travel where you want to travel now as flying won’t be as easy.
  • buy that list of essentials you’ve thought of: sewing machine, down comforters, electric bicycle (buy a pv panel to charge essentials), tools, a greenhouse, learning skills to be more ‘financially independent.’

That’s as far as I have gotten. What would you advise?


  1. I’m glad to read this advice, as it’s exactly what I did myself almost thirty years ago.

    One problem with places that are great for growing things, and places where farms are cheap, is that often there are not good-paying jobs in that area. My solution is to keep my farm going in the summer as a kind of “ark,” and then teach during the school year in a large city, where I can make some money, earn social security points, and save for retirement. I find that it works pretty well to be at the farm only six months out of the year. When I’m not there, a young person goes by once a week and checks on things.

  2. I read your book years ago, and found it interesting. My wife and I had already been instinctively following the plan, if a bit informally, so it didn’t change our lives much; but we applauded the work you and Joe were doing.

    One thing that has always bothered me about your advice is the use of all those financial instruments, those “investments.” And that doubt has stayed with me through the years. In the introduction to the revised edition, it appears that you are still flogging that same horse.

    For one, the stock market, in addition to being highly rigged and thus high risk, is also immoral, in my opinion — and I’m not even accounting for the unquestioned criminality that now characterizes the financial world. It harkens to the corrupt impulse, very much encouraged in America, to get something for nothing … or at least nothing more than having somehow accumulated enough capital to play in the game. The “returns” on such “investments” are (as Marx would say) earned (or unearned, as the IRS properly classifies it) on the backs of people who actually have to work for a living, generally at awful low-paying jobs whether here or in foreign sweatshops. Is this a proper way to secure our lives?

    As for bonds, that’s yet another racket for that class of people with extra money — a small segment of the population to begin with, but a vanishing one at this point. It, too, abuses innocent populations who, one way or another, supply the government’s income from which they pay the bondholders. As for security, I have no doubt whatsoever that our government would renege on all those bonds in a heartbeat if our ruling elite thought it in their own best interest, throwing the rest of us under the bus with no guilt whatsoever. We are ruled by sociopaths.

    The best I have been able to justify as to what to do with my extra cash is to place it in savings (including CDs) in well-run local banks, drawing the meager interest that now prevails. I’m not happy about asking other people to submit to usury in order for me to get a small fraction of the banks income, but it’s the least objectionable place I know to park that part of my wealth that I wish to remain liquid. I’m looking at other local opportunities, but all investment opportunities are necessarily tied to returns, and usury is usury, no matter how much lipstick you put on it. Yes, we all need an income, but our system provides few opportunities to draw income in ways that are satisfying.

    It’s all well and good for you folks in Whidbey and Bainbridge and all the other enclaves of privilege to exhort us to do this and that — all the while having partaken of the capitalist system (Wall Street, World Banks, and so on) and, once accumulating (i.e. siphoning off) enough of the excess profit to assure yourselves adequate security, then scaling back to live some putative simple life. But what about the other 90%+ of Americans who cannot and never will participate in those scams? I think your system works well for people of privilege who have become enlightened and can repent at leisure. For the rest of America, it’s just a fantasy.

    I would hope that for any further editions of your book you would consider an approach to income which is more in line with what the Buddhists call right livelihood. The rest of your book (I dimly recall) contains much wisdom, but the investment part seems jarring by contrast. Cheers!

  3. Thanks for your comment Ric though if you skimmed the book again you’d find we do discuss Buddhist economics and jobs that violate neither your health nor integrity. How we earn from work is different from how we store our savings.

    We all live by our values and these are yours for investing savings and your rationale is well thought out and will help others do this calculus. It is why Mohammad taught to never be involved in usury – if you invest, you invest not only money but labor, risk along with the entrepreneur.

    You can invest in local business in a pragmatic way. Take some risk, make something beautiful happen. You can invest in municipal bonds. You could even start a business with your money and see if you can make it grow. These are all time honored ways to increase wealth and get out from under debt and save for the future. And billions around the world do just that, not only the white and privileged.

    Whenever people ask me about “ethical investing” i say that nothing in the money system is actually ethical – it’s compromised from the get go. All ethical choices are approximations. As you say even CDs in local banks are “tainted.” I don’t think any of us can disentangle ourselves from the system unless we are pure purists and live a subsistence lifestyle, which is a legitimate choice but not for everyone for sure.

    If you read the post above, you see that my own choices are to invest also in sustainability such that I am further out of dependency on money and so is my community and so is the world. Also not for everyone, but my choice for my money.

  4. Hi Ric, thank you for a very interesting post.

    You write “The “returns” on such “investments” are (as Marx would say) earned (or unearned, as the IRS properly classifies it) on the backs of people who actually have to work for a living, generally at awful low-paying jobs whether here or in foreign sweatshops. ”

    It’s quite a generalisation, but even if we accept that a lot of investment returns are “low paying jobs in foreign sweatshops” it seems to me that giving people in developing countries a choice (even a bad one) to work in a sweatshop is better than leaving them with the only option of toiling in the fields – provided they are not a slave, a person will chose what is better for them, and it shouldn’t be up to us in the rich western world to decide on their behalf.

    There are a lot of people in China and India now who are working in factories and call centres because it was a better option than anything else available to them. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and make labour standards better, but I believe a blanket criticism of foreign investment makes life tougher for those you’re trying to help and clearly care about.

    Kind regards,



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