restoring America

tattered flag


I have a lot of tools. I have more than a normal person should, I think.  My collection of tools is based on one part frugality (I can save money by (thinking) I can fix it myself), one part wastefulness (I NEED a specialty picture-hanging hook that looks JUST so) and one part optimism (I am going to be Mr. Family-Man-Fixer-Upper)  Nonetheless, most of my tools have one unifying characteristic – they were made cheaply overseas.

Go to the store sometime (particularly if you have a KMart/Wal-Mart/Target nearby) and look at where stuff is made. It’s all made somewhere else.  Same thing goes for a Home Depot or a Lowe’s – half of my tools are made in Malaysia or China.  Maybe more than half.  Almost all, to be honest.

But I have a few tools that are different. My grandparents moved from their house into an apartment years ago when it became difficult for my grandfather to deal with basic maintenance of the yard and exterior.  He kept a few basic tools, but for the most part he gave away the tools he had accumulated over his life, many of them to me.  I have a huge pile of them, and they are amazing:

  • A hammer that feels like it was owned by John Henry
  • Screwdrivers that are old and dark with age but still have unblemished heads that easily turn the worst, worn-down screws
  • A Yankee drill that after decades of heavy use still punches through metal with nothing more than manual force – no electricity or batteries.
  • A saw that cuts cleanly and straight despite being older than I am.
  • And on and on.

All of these tools have words stamped on them which look almost alien. “Made in New Hampshire.”  “Made inOhio.”  “American-made.”  I even have one that says “Made in New York.”  Imagine – tools made in New York state.  Seeing a tool that was made of American steel, cast in an American plant and assembled without a touch of plastic seems otherworldly.  I can always tell these tools because they have the feel of weight, certainty and permanence.

I compare that of course to the cheap plastic junk you can buy today. I had a cheap hammer (I NEEDED a special small hammer) whose head flew off while I was hammering.  I have gone through dozens of inexpensive small screwdrivers, always returning to the solid, heavy old ones when the new ones have stripped another screw’s head.  The difference is clear, and I am sure that when I am too old to do work around the house I will also pass down those tools to my children and keep a few inexpensive “modern” screwdrivers around my old-age home to fix  a loose screw once in a while.

The easy path is to berate cheap junk from China or bemoan the death of American industriousness or sneer at unions. China is guiltless, in this case.  Americans have demonstrated for a generation now that they would rather buy a new hammer for $9.99 every few years than buy one that would last a lifetime for $29.99.  China simply meets that need.  American industry has died for the same reason.   Unions didn’t drive American manufacturing out of business – Chinese forced labor and near-poverty-level wages did.  Blaming unions is foolish, as is imagining that Americans won’t work hard.  America’s still in the top 10 countries in the world in terms of productivity and working hours.

But given today’s economic situation, “Buy American” is no longer a convenient political slogan or a union-driven message. It doesn’t have to mean “Hate overseas manufacturers” or “Save American jobs” or even “Union Yes.”  But what it does have to mean is that soon “Buy American” will be a necessity if you don’t want to live in a totally dependent nation.  You can read every day about the exciting new jobs that we will soon have – high-tech jobs in green technology, for example.  But those jobs don’t provide a true basis for our society.  Think about it this way:  forty years ago, give or take a few years, this statement would not have made most people blink:

“A man who works at a skilled job in a manufacturing facility can provide a decent living for his family.  His wife can stay home if she wishes while the children are small.  The husband will be able to send his children to college without incurring massive student debt.  He will be able to buy a home.  He and his wife will have enough saved to retire at the end of his career at the facility, and still be able to pass some on to their children.”

Making that statement in 2011 seems ludicrous. Maybe this is where Occupy Wall Street has arisen.  When did it all change?  When “Buy American” faded into memory.  Trade barriers and sloganeering won’t ever bring us back to where we were, but Americans have to face an ugly fact:  Wal-Mart and the federal government are our two biggest employers and our future is that of a service economy – service workers serving other service workers, with a few “elite” knowledge workers.  “Knowledge” jobs can be exported even more easily than manufacturing jobs, whose export was (and still is) at least fought by what remains of America’s unions.  No protestors will march outside the gates when Megacorp outsources the billing department to Armenia.  No union will fight sending Tommy Accountant’s job to India.  If you work at a job where most of your day is spent around a computer, you have to realize this:  you have no skill – none – that cannot be duplicated and performed over the internet by someone without the protection of minimum wage, health and safety regulations and other protections.  I can be replaced, and as companies get smarter, I will be.  Everything I do could be done far more cheaply by someone else over the Internet.   And I can’t blame companies under short-term pressure to deliver profits to shareholders if departments are outsourced – and I don’t blame India or China or the Phillipines for being there to pick up the work.

And as for financial services, our last great “industry”: I see no reason not to expect Dubai, or Shanghai, or even some yet-up-and-coming place like Yerevan or Almaty to become the next great financial center. Why should New York be special in the financial world?  Lunch, mostly.  People still like to go out for a New York-y lunch.  But almost every person I knew in New York works at a knowledge job.  I could work remotely on a project overseas (and have) and I have done NOTHING in the last ten years that I could not have done if I were living in Kansas City, or Houston, or Vancouver.  In the last five, I have done nothing I could not have done if I were living in Moscow, Russia, or Moscow, Tennessee.

I pick up those old tools, then, and wonder if the men (and women) who made them would recognize America today, an America that looks a little bit too much like the passengers in “Wall-E” for comfort. I know we had problems a couple of generations ago – women and minorities did not have the opportunities they do today – but a hammer made in New Hampshire meant jobs for our communities and a good tool that lasted for generations.  Those people work at Wal-Mart today, most likely.  Maybe that’s OK – maybe America is the first real “post-work” society, content to work at Wal-Mart so they can go buy cheap stuff at Wal-Mart on the weekends.  I hope not. I hope people will get angry when Citigroup or AIG or Morgan Stanley outsource another department overseas using taxpayer money to do it.  I hope people will get angry when banks are bailed out and car companies are left to die.   Whether or not you feel the car companies need to be saved, they certainly deserve to be bailed out as much as the banks did.  It may be almost too late to buy American, but it’s important to remember that this economic avalanche will not be stopped through anything other than action at the personal level, and that action has to start with making a choice every time you buy something… it’s something to think about during 2012.

photo Attribution Some rights reserved by Beverly & Pack

Merry Christmas 2011, and links

christmas village

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and fill-in-the-blank greetings.  It’s a nice season, whether you’re celebrating one of the major religious holidays or just enjoying time with family and friends for the sake of, well, spending time with family and friends.   I was not planning on posting a Christmas post, but then I came across a video that I felt like sharing.  And on a personal level, I’ll offer this:  if you walk past one of the bell-ringing Salvation Army workers on the way into a store, give them a little bit.  They do good things.  I’ve seen them in action, and they’re worth it.  They have some good people there.

Happy Holidays!  Watch the video, via The Simple Dollar:

And here are a few other holiday reads. I thought the first one was especially worth reading (“Cold Weather Retirement Cities”) as my Floridian family suffers through a harsh Virginia winter visit.  It’s funny how quickly I’ve forgotten 15 years in the Northeast and reverted to my Southern “50 is COLD” mentality….my Germanic ancestors are cringing.

Photo Attribution Some rights reserved by kevin dooley

being healthy

One of the things I come back to again and again in my conversations with family, friends and colleagues is that there is no way to waste money on good health. Organic food can be pricey. A gym membership can be expensive compared to working out at home. Vitamins or medications can be burdensome. But if you can spend your money on one thing in this life, don’t let it be education, or your family, or your belongings. Spend it on health.

Warren Buffet is 78 and the second richest man on this blue dot. Do you think he’d be getting the accolades for wealth and investing acumen if he had died at 42? Maybe. Many rich people have died young. Many poor people have died old (and unlamented). Wealth and health have long been completely unrelated. I’m sure every one of us knows old poor people and young rich people, and the opposite, and many variations. But age has long been seen as a virtue, at least as valuable as wealth.

But the key question is: would you rather be old and moderately well to do, or die fabulously wealthy at a young age? I doubt many of us would wish to live a highroller lifestyle and die at 40 versus living a moderate middle-class lifestyle and dying at 80. Health is, in a sense, the ultimate prize.

If you consider a long life a valuable thing to pursue, it’s doubly amazing that so many people don’t bother. I pursued my career at the expense of my health for the best part of my twenties. I wasn’t thinking about life in my sixties – it was my money and I wanted it now. How many times have you told yourself that you’re just too busy at work to take some time to exercise?

I don’t exercise as much as I should. Five years ago I was running competitively, lifting weights 3-4 times per week and eating a 90% vegetarian diet – I was in the best shape of my life. But work, kids and life got in the way and I slid waaaaay back on the health scale. It’s easy to do, and if you’ve ever gotten in shape you know how simple it is to slide back. But that’s no excuse. Your health is the only thing – other than your mind – that you can control in this life.

Don’t neglect your health. I lost 100 pounds (actually a bit more) and it’s possible for anyone (although I’ve regained a good chunk of that and need to work harder on keeping it down). Remember that your health is worth more than all the money in the world. Just ask someone who’s not healthy, and you’ll get a straight answer.

Photo by ~ggvic~

fear of making money

hallway

If I was going to search deep within my (financial) soul I’d admit that most of my money decisions are based on fear. Fear’s a negative word, and I don’t think that in this case my decision making is always a negative process.  I am often quite happy with the result.  A great example has been my investing philosophy.  About five years ago I got nervous about the direction the market was headed.  I took about a third of my retirement accounts’ total out of the market and put it into cash.  Good fear, right?  That chunk of my retirement savings would have been wiped out.

But after five years, I’ve only redeployed about a quarter of that third. You could make the argument – and I do, to myself – that holding onto cash is a defensive position.  Nothing about the current propped-up-through-stimulus-and-bailout money situation of the US economy should encourage a reasonable investor to get back in…should it?  The market’s up, isn’t it?  It can’t go down again, can it?  Yet again and again we’ve seen these market drops come back.  So some of my reluctance is fear-based.

I’ve written about the reasons why I don’t talk about real estate investing, and it reasonably extends to other forms of investing I know nothing about. I said I don’t like “investing” in a primary residence, I don’t know much about real estate or the business of real estate, and that the New York market – where I lived until a couple of years ago – was too competitive.  I should have added that it usually seems like BIG chunks of money are needed for real estate investing.  Fear of investing in big chunks keeps me diversified in the stock market (index funds, right?) and keeps me afraid of real estate.  Now that I’m in Florida, real estate investing is tempting – but so far I’m not sure the bottom’s been found, and investing in real estate seems like a beat on something that might be worthless… or worse.

Fear of wasting money is good, certainly – but at least as far as investing goes, some fear and uncertainty are necessary to have any sort of reward. I’ve always dreaded a doomsday that seems unlikely to come – a final day with money and then a penniless dawn.  It could happen, of course – but with the ability to make more money (which I have) and good health (which I hope to continue to have) and a supportive family, it seems that I won’t face that doomsday.  So the fear is something more than trivial but also less than a doomsday event.

Does Warren Buffet fear loss? Probably not at this point – he’s old enough and seemingly content enough to be free of financial fear.  Did Bernie Madoff?  I guess now he will face his own doomsday now, and learn whether that fear should have been stronger.  How do you control fear of money?  Here are the things I try to do:

  1. Remember that money is infinite. YOU may not have infinite amounts of money, but there is a lot of it out there, if you can just figure out how to get it.
  2. You cannot anticipate every disaster, but you only need to anticipate one success. If you invest in a property, a billion things can go wrong – title problems, a fire, a sewage plant groundbreaking the day after you close, etc. etc.  You can’t prepare for everything.  Try to aim for success, not dodge failure.
  3. Fear comes from you. Fear is not an externally-caused reaction.  Sure, we all get a jolt of adrenaline when we’re jumped by a cave bear, but you can control fear.  It’s not like being poked with a stick, where you have a reaction determined by nerves and muscle reflexes.  Fear is neurons firing off in your brain, and you can control your thoughts – they are the only thing in the world you CAN control.
  4. Doomsday may come, true… but let fear of that day go. I do sometimes worry about all of my index funds and various other investments going to zero… but as I’ve often told my friends and family, if my retirement portfolio, invested in index funds that span the US market, goes to nil we’ve got bigger problems than worrying about retirement.  We’ll be reverting to a currency based on canned foods and shotgun shells.  Worry about your 401(k)’s fees, or your consumer debt with 21% interest rates – things you can do something about.  Don’t worry about the end of the world.  If the aliens come, you’re not prepared anyway.

Fear of money – worrying about its scarcity, or its disappearance – can cripple you from making more and even more importantly from enjoying life.

Photo by DownTown Pictures

how to be productive, and links

occupy-protests

 

I’m sure like many people, I feel fairly overwhelmed day-to-day with all the things that need to be done.  I had attempted to manage this (twice) by implementing Getting Things Done by David Allen, with initial success but little long-term progress.  I’ve recently plateaued out on my second implementation and I’m again searching for something that’s actually sustainable.  I think to be a productive person, you’ve got to – if nothing else – maintain a list of the things you need to do and actually do them.  They can range from small and inconsequential to massive and critical.  But you need to capture them all.  I’ve tried method after method and always found myself reverting to Post-It Notes and ink on my hand (“remember to get cereal”).

What are the best ways to stay productive?  I’m not sure I know, yet.  I’ll have to keep looking, I guess.

I’ve missed the roundup for a few weeks, but I’m back on track.  For a day.

10 Free Ways To Market & Promote Your Website

Festive (and Frugal) Holiday Decorating

9 Christmas Gift Ideas for Kids to Learn About Money

Do You Eat When You’re Upset?

Celebrating 5 Years of Million Dollar Journey!

Musings about Kids and College

Win a $50 Amex Gift Card from GoBankingRates.com

A Fruitful Search for a Frugal Computer | Frugal Dad

Best Finance Stuff in 2011

New London skyscrapers

How Do You Handle Being a Stay at Home Dad in a SAHM World?

What Are Consumer Driven Health Plans and How do They Work for You?

The Importance of Small Decisions

The Money Diaries: The 29-year-old workaholic who’s counting down the days until he goes into debt

3 Hidden Energy Vampires That Kill Productivity

Photo from Monevator

Preparing your home for repair

The following is a post on behalf of Money Supermarket.

The current housing market has caused many people to choose to stay in their homes a little longer rather than purchasing a new home.

Houses are not selling for very much right now, so in order to avoid losing money, many homeowners are renovating their current houses instead.

Whether you are repairing your own home or “flipping” another, there are several steps you should take before you start working on your projects.

First of all, make sure you can afford the repairs while making the house payments before you invest in a “fixer-upper”. Use a mortgage calculator to figure out what the monthly payments are and make sure that you have extra money left over for supplies and emergencies.

If you are renovating your own home, make sure that the repairs are going to be worth it. With a mortgage calculator, figure out the total amount of money you will have paid toward your mortgage by the time you plan to sell. Add the total amount that you plan to spend on repairs. If you are comfortable with the total, proceed with the preparations.

Make a list of all the repairs and renovations projects that you want to work on. Highlight the projects that are most important to you. Make a new list and place the projects in order of priority.

Next, research every single project that you expect to complete. Find the most cost-effective solutions, methods and materials for each project.

Look into which types of renovations turn over the most profit. For every location, there is a threshold that the value of the home will not surpass.

So, if you live in an area where homes sell for $150,000, but you spend more than that in renovations or you add luxuries to your home that exist in $400,000 homes, you will probably not see much profit.

Amazing renovations will probably cause your home to sell more quickly, but the price will remain within the same bracket. Unfortunately, location is the factor that affects cost the most.

Use a  mortgage calculator to figure out what price bracket your home is in and what kind of income potential buyers will have to make to be able to afford it.

After completing your research, make a list of all the materials you will need. Estimate the price of each project as well as the length of time it will take to complete them.

Schedule out when you will work on each project. Take weather into consideration. Work on indoor projects during harsh weather and outdoor projects during mild weather.

Mark out the schedule on a calendar. Make several copies and give them to your contractor or anyone else who will be working with you. Sharing an online calendar might be a more convenient method, since you can make edits or changes at any time.

Make sure that your schedule is logical. Unless it makes sense to do otherwise, complete one room or area at a time. Working on three rooms at the same time will cause an overwhelming mess that will make you less likely to complete the project.

 

thoughts on early retirement

horses on beach

My family has been gone for a few days, visiting family in New York, while I stayed here to work. It’s been an interesting experience, being alone, because I haven’t had this much time to myself in quite a while. I’ve attempted to spend my time doing productive things, although today, many of the productive things have involved doing something where I can watch football while I do them. One of the activities today was baking bread from scratch. This was an interesting experience. I had watched Lara make a number of variations on bread – items such as pizza crusts, pastries, and assorted cakes and muffins. But I myself never actually attempted to make bread. It’s strange, because my son has been baking bread at his Waldorf preschool for years, and it doesn’t really seem like that difficult. Be that as it may, I have never actually attempted to make bread. So today I thought, why not?

So I baked some bread. Today, following instructions I found on the Internet, natch. It worked fairly well. I was able to make a decent loaf of bread, with a nice hint of garlic and onion, because I like that kind of bread… salty and flavorful, not hearty and/or sweet. You may wonder what the point of this is. I am not a big do-it-yourselfer. I generally think that when you spend a large amount of time trying to do something like this that you could expend a small amount of money on, you probably are not spending your time in an optimal way. But then again this weekend, my thoughts have been turned  toward the idea of minimalism, frugality, environmentalism, simplicity, and lifestyle design. Why, you may ask? Because of something I read on early retirement extreme this weekend.

I know I have mentioned early retirement extreme, a blog about retiring at an extremely young age, several times in the course of my own blogging “life.” It is, to the best of my knowledge, one of the best blogs about this lifestyle. It is not the only one of course, there are several others: brave new life and Mr. Money Mustache leap to mind (both are excellent and you should be reading them). All of these blogs, of course, have
Your Money or Your Life a book written back in the 80s although revised recently, as an inspiration. But early retirement extreme is probably the best-known of the current financial independence blogs. The author of the blog, Jacob, announced this weekend that he was leaving his early retirement to go into a new job as a quant trader. I won’t go into the details of what a quant trader is, although I have friends in that industry. Google it (or quant/quantitative analyst).

To me, any job in the financial services sector is the exact antithesis of an early retirement. The hours are long, the office politics are brutal, the pressure to perform is immense, the positive impact to society is (in my opinion) minimal at best and negative at worst. Your ability to pursue what you want will be limited by the firm’s immense demands on your time and expertise.  But be that as it may, it is an immensely challenging field and I understand why someone like Jacob, with a PhD in physics, would be entertained at the thought of engaging in the challenge of trying to conquer this field.

I myself am not engaged in an early retirement lifestyle. I have not made the choices which would enable me to retire at an extremely early age. Until the mid-90s, I was engaged in a career quite typical of most American corporate mid-level management. I chose in the mid-90s to  disengage from this lifestyle as much as I could (mentally) and became a contract consultant, which allowed me to design a much simpler lifestyle, which involved much less travel, much less involvement in corporate politics and less concern over the need to constantly deal with bosses and subordinates. But I do aspire to some of the ideals of the early retirement movement. I drive a 10-year-old car, which I am not fond of, but I intend to continue to drive. Why?  Simply because I don’t believe there’s any compelling need for me to buy a new car. I do not like to buy things. I have attempted to live in a “simple-ish” home. We attempt to eat simply, mostly vegetarian and organic and locally grown. I don’t have cable TV. I don’t play video games. We read a lot in my household. We have a garden that Bubelah takes good care of.  But after all of that back patting of myself, I realize that I have a long ways to go before I meet any of the ideals of an early retirement ideology.

So it is jarring to me to see that one of the proponents of the early retirement lifestyle has abruptly left this lifestyle after achieving it so efficiently. But I understand. I have spent most of my blogging life reading heavily about hedonic adaptation. I’ve written about it several times, although I have never made it a main focus of my blog. But be that as it may, hedonic adaptation is probably one of the key measures for understanding yourself . No matter how miserable you are – or how happy you are – your current state is what determines your happiness. If you are miserable today and things go a little bit better tomorrow, you will be happy. If you are happy today and things go a little bit wrong tomorrow, you will be miserable. This is just human nature. If you buy a toy today, hedonic adaptation teaches us that you will be less satisfied with it as each day goes by. This is fine. People are like this. I am like this.

But I have realized, after reading a lot of the comments on early retirement extreme.com about Jacob’s decision to leave the ERE lifestyle, that I do need to concentrate more fully on a singular goal, and that singular goal has to be finding a point at which financial independence allows me freedom of choice over my actions on a daily basis. This is critical. I enjoy many parts of my job. I had an extremely busy week this past week, but it was also very satisfying: I was able to set up a system for my client that exactly met their needs and made them quite happy. I had a great feeling of accomplishment from that. Now, but that in balance with this idea: I enjoyed making my client happy, but how can I weigh that against the fact that I was working late most evenings and was not able to spend much time with my children. Granted I spend more time with my children than I would if I was traveling heavily, but it was an uneven solution to the question “what is your ideal lifestyle design?” I’d like to make money, do interesting work and work with people I like….and have lots of spare time for my family (and, frankly, myself). And the only way this will happen is if I achieve financial independence.

Unless you are familiar with the early retirement general philosophy, much of this may pass over your head. But I think you get the idea. There was a guy who espoused retiring early and showed how to do it,  who then found that in retirement he needed to go back to work. It seems a little hypocritical when I first read it. But it’s not….  the idea is that you would like to put yourself in a position where you can do exactly what you want when you want to, even if that means you want to return to full-time work in a new field. I certainly can’t do that right now. I would submit that probably 99% of Americans cannot do this now. So if you have access to a blogger who has been able to do this, and he’s written a detailed guideline on how to achieve that same level of success, that’s a good guide map regardless of what he’s doing now. I’m going to pay more attention to my plans to retire early, personally. And when I say retire early, I don’t mean to quit working. I simply mean to be able to work when I want to, in a way I want to, with people I want to, with companies I want to and how I want to.

I think that’s sufficiently heavy for Monday. Get out there and do what you do with pride, and with a focus on doing it so well that someday you won’t HAVE to do it, you’ll WANT to do it because people love what you do so much that they will throw money at you. Nice daydream, huh?

Photo Attribution Some rights reserved by mikebaird

PS I composed this post with Dragon Naturally Speaking (which I reviewed before, here). It took about 5 minutes of editing, mostly for punctuation, but by and large it got my speech. The geek in me appreciates the lack of typing.

Breaking Down Eco-Friendly Banking

LEED building

LEED building

For most of us, green is the color of money.  But in business, going “green” means something a little different:  shifting from products and services potentially harmful to the environment to using sustainable materials and/or production processes that reduce or eliminate potentially negative impact on the planet.  For many businesses, however, going green is much easier said than done. Consumers are now starting to look far more frequently for environmentally conscious products and brands.

Banks have always been in the business of managing green.  Now, however, consumers (just like you) are demanding that banks not only tend to our green, but become green themselves as well.   Financial institutions are just starting to appreciate and understand the growing importance of transforming themselves into eco-friendly banking entities.

So, what defines an eco-friendly bank?  While certainly a timely phrase, even a little catchy, the key question is whether or not a bank that claims to be eco-friendly really engages in conduct environmentally responsible enough to be considered ‘green’.  If you base some or all of your purchasing decisions on the environmental policies of an organization, what do you need to know when evaluating so-called eco-friendly banks?

Well, let’s start by looking at what we mean when we say “eco-friendly banks”.   For starters, there is no concrete definition and no hard or fast rule that determines what constitutes a ‘green’ bank.   Factors that determine whether a bank should be considered eco-friendly, while somewhat varied, do share a critical underlying theme:  Social and environmental responsibility.

So how do banks exhibit such responsibility?  At first glance, it might appear that the ability of banks to influence positive change for the environment is somewhat limited.  After all, they’re simply banks; they don’t produce much in the way of tangible products, neither manufacturing nor distributing goods.  Some would argue that this limits what environmentally sound practices you can expect from your bank.  And they would be wrong.

Banks may not build anything per se.  Without banks providing the money, however, most of the time, nothing gets built. No matter where the money may have come from initially, a bank is usually involved in the distribution of capital necessary for companies to build factories, to manufacture and transport goods to market and provide support for those products.  From service industries to the capital-intensive concerns that include automotive, industrial and construction industries, commerce requires the involvement of banks to some degree or another.

If we presume (and we’ll get back to this) that the day-to-day operation of a bank does not have a significant impact on the environment, the banking industry as a whole certainly does.

Some questions regarding eco-friendly banking activities might include:

  • Does a bank make socially responsible loans?
  • Do those loans support sustainable production and distribution practices?
  • How do banks screen their applicants for environmental consciousness, if at all?
  • Are loan recipients a part of the solution or part of the problem of climate change, for example?

Eco-friendly banks also fund eco-friendly industries such as alternative energy, local agri-business (minimizing energy and other costs associated with transporting goods to market), local fishing industry and local merchants.

And, contrary to our earlier presumption, eco-friendly banks can effectuate positive environmental change in their daily operations, with some being simple and immediate and others requiring significant advanced planning.  With respect to the former, things such as lighting and insulation can be modernized fairly quickly.  Insulation, window treatments, and thermostat controlled building interiors are all effective tools for reducing energy consumption.

Consumers can inquire as to the bank’s policies regarding the construction of its own properties. More and more banks are making their buildings eco-friendly by following the U.S. Green Building Council standards which include such criteria as rooftop solar energy panels, steel structures made from recycled metals and carpeting made from fully recycled materials.  In the alternative, check to see which of the banks you are considering adhere to the building standards called LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

One additional area where a bank can impact the environment on a day-to-day basis is by reducing the amount of travel it requires of its employees.  Banks that let their employees work remotely from home also helps to reduce energy consumption and pollution.  So do those who offer their workers incentives for taking public transportation or purchasing more fuel-efficient vehicles such as hybrids or electric cars.

Eco-friendly banks can also establish their green bona fides in the form of the banking products or services they sell.  Online banking, for example, reduces paper consumption, requires no driving, results in less mail and uses fewer branch resources.

Some banks are providing ‘green’ mortgages at better interest rates for the purchase of energy efficient homes or for making a home more eco-friendly.   ‘Green’ affinity credit cards are becoming an increasingly popular product, allowing customers the ability to contribute to environmental organizations and socially responsible causes while making their purchases.   Many of these cards also have incentives such as cash back rewards that are comparable to many of the big banks rewards programs.

The following 10 banks are considered among the best of those that have integrated sound environmentally friendly policies into their business practices effectively:

  1. ING Direct (ingdirect.com)
  2. New Resource Bank (newresourcebank.com)
  3. Green Choice Bank (greenchoicebank.com)
  4. One Pacific Coast Bank (onepacificcoastbank.com)
  5. Permaculture Credit Union (pcuonline.org)
  6. Rabobank (rabobankamerica.com)
  7. Citizens Bank (citizensbank.com)
  8. PNC (pnc.com)
  9. HSBC (us.hsbc.com)
  10. TD Bank (tdbank.com)

There are, of course, others.  What all eco-friendly banks have in common is their focus on policies that are earth friendly and socially responsible and many of these banks are having far more of a social and environmental impact than most consumers realize.

This is a guest contribution from Bill Hazelton, CEO of Credit Card Assist where he provides tips, news, advice and recommendations on all things credit card-related.  Find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

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