Managing your money

How to budget for a better world

8 min read

Emily Keeler

It’s an anxious time. Every day, you’re likely seeing more articles, tweets, and posts about the many injustices in the world. The Black Lives Matter movement has been on the ground pushing for the safety and equity of Black people worldwide. The explosion in Beirut has required immense disaster relief efforts. Your social media feed may be full of GoFundMe links to provide financial support for people undergoing hardships brought on by the crises of Covid-19, police brutality, climate change and the Canadian housing crisis. And you probably want to help, but it’s difficult to know how, and what to do. Everything seems so urgent!

When there is lots of anxiety and uncertainty, the best thing to do is to take a deep breath and make a plan. You probably won't be in a position to create a plan to fix everything (if you are… please go right ahead!), but you can definitely make sure your spending is in line with your values. And if your values include investing in the people and organizations doing the work of remaking our broken systems, then you can absolutely set yourself up to provide ongoing support.

Here are five steps for supporting the world you want to live in:

1.  Look at where your money already goes

If you want to make a plan for spending your money, you need to, well, look at your money. Do you have debt you’re working to pay down? Savings goals? Supporting your favourite social justice organizations in an enduring, sustainable way means making sure you’ve got a handle on your money. Creating an overall spending plan (or, if you prefer, a budget) is the first step.

A good plan is one that puts you on track to take care of your debts, gives you some wiggle room week-to-week, and helps you meet your savings goals. KOHO has a handy budget template that’s easy to use, but you can also create your own spreadsheet or track your spending through your banking app, as with KOHO’s Insights feature.

Noticing where you’re mindlessly spending the most might surprise you (Doordash and UberEats can really add up!). Paying attention is the whole point; if you want to financially support causes you care about, making a plan for how to do it requires bringing a sense of mindfulness and value to all your spending. Which is great! It rules to feel like you know what’s going on in your bank account, and to make decisions that align your use of money with your values.

Over time, you can refine your plan and see where the wiggle room is—cooking more at home will reduce your food bill, for example. But for now, making a plan, seeing how your money is working out and where it’s going is the first step.

And once you have a plan, you’re ready for step 2.

"Supporting your favourite social justice organizations in an enduring, sustainable way means making sure you’ve got a handle on your money."

2. Look at how much you have to give regularly

Ongoing support creates more sustainable organizations. If, for example, Black Lives Matter knows they can count on a certain number of dollars from you every single month, they know they can make an organizational budget with that money coming in every month. Say you’re sending them $25 a week, just as an example. That means they can account for certain that they’ll have $100 a month to spend on staffing, messaging, and legal advocacy going forward. They can plan ahead and coordinate campaigns knowing that your support won't dry up if the news cycle shifts. The work of building a better world is long and can be unglamourous and granular. Ongoing unrestricted funding makes it possible.

Now that you’ve got a sense of your income and expenses, you’re ready to look at how much you can put toward ongoing support. It might be tempting to vastly reduce your grocery bill, or immediately cut out things that bring you joy and comfort like Netflix or your yoga app subscription. Resist that temptation! The goal here is to find equilibrium—a small, regular payment is better than something you won’t be able to sustain for the long haul.

As in most things, consistency is the key here. Once you start to get a feel for how to make your spending plan work in your day to day life, including recurring support payments to, say, ACORN Canada (a national organization of low and moderate income people fighting for economic justice across Canada), you can start to move things around and accommodate larger payments or supporting more organizations. In the meantime, you’re ready to take the next step.

3. Look at how much you have for occasional support payments

Once in a while, you might find yourself with extra money. Awesome! Maybe someone gave you a gift, or maybe you took some books you’re finished with to a second hand book store. Maybe you found an extra $20 in a coat you’ve only just pulled out of the closet this year. Found money is awesome, gift money is awesome. The reason we love it is precisely because we were not counting on it. When you have some found money, why not spread the joy and use some or all of that to support a mutual aid fund? (Mutual aid funds are rapid response and have low levels of bureaucracy, which means the people who urgently need funds can often access them right away.)

Even if you don’t find a crisp $20 in your coat pocket, you might run into some extra money in other ways. For example, maybe your spending plan included some take out on Wednesday night, but you actually ate leftovers from the larger than expected stew recipe you whipped up on Monday. That’s free money! Nice. Maybe you want to pay some of that forward.

If you’re already using a KOHO prepaid Visa, then you probably know the joy of cashing out your PowerUps—the cash back you earn just for spending your money the way you like. That is, yes, free money! Why not wait to cash out your PowerUps until you get a good size chunk of change, so you can decide to give some or all of it to an organization or mutual aid fund?

Another strategy is to set a savings goal for one-time support payments. Maybe you put aside $5 a week and at the end of the year use the money to support a local initiative you feel good about, like, say, the Vancouver Native Housing Society, a non-profit working to secure long-term affordable housing for Indigenous people in North America’s most expensive city.

One-time payments are especially good for causes with fixed goals, like GoFundMes that cross your path, but they can have an impact at organizations that have larger, ongoing functions too. Getting in the habit of assessing how much you can invest in funds and organizations that make the world more livable for all can help you deepen and enrich your relationship to money management and work. Plus, it sets you up well for step four.

"The work of building a better world is long and can be unglamourous and granular. Ongoing unrestricted funding makes it possible."

4. See where you can make your money do more of what you want it to

After you’ve finessed your spending plan and found some equilibrium, you’re in a good position to see what more you can do with your money.

If you’d like to increase your regular support payments to, say, the Unist’ot’en House Group (which supports the ongoing action of the Wetʼsuwetʼen people to protect their sovereignty), you can start to see how you might do that in a sustainable way.

Looking at your spending plan, maybe you notice, for example, that you could trim another $10 a week out of your grocery budget if you hit up a neighbourhood produce stand for your tuscan kale and seasonal fruit rather than the big box store. Well, that’s $40 a month you could be using to meet your financial goals, which, if you’re reading this article, likely include providing monetary support for the on-the-ground efforts to build a more just world.

Little spending tweaks can have a big pay off, over the long run. For instance, if you’re spending $5 twice a day at your favourite coffee shop to fuel your love of a perfect americano, that’s… $70 a week. If you invest in a french press, you can still hit your favourite shop and buy beans instead. Even if you’re buying third wave blends from small farms in Costa Rica, roasted locally and sustainably harvested for $17 a pound, that coffee habit went from $70 a week to… $17.

As you notice places in your plan where it makes sense to re-evaluate what you’re actually getting for the money you spend, you’ll start to spot places where it makes sense to re-appropriate that money.

A handy guideline you might come across in the personal finance blogosphere is to think of using 10% of your discretionary spending to support the causes you care about. Over time, your own sense of financial equilibrium will emerge and show you what’s sustainable in your own plan.

Even if you haven’t quite figured it out just yet, that’s okay. You’re still ready for the next step.

5. Remember that money isn’t the only way to support building a better world

It feels good to be on top of your spending plan, to be mindful about how your money is enabling you to live the life you most want. But there’s more to support than just money. Think about how the organizations you want to show up for are building the world you want to live in, and take the time to learn more about what they do.

If, for example, you’ve rejiggered your spending plan to make room to send regular support payments to Indigineous Climate Justice, it makes sense to make more room in your thoughts and conversations for their work, too. Does the organization you support have a stance on a particular policy issue? When you’re thinking about how you might vote in the next election, ask the candidates in your riding where they stand.

Ongoing dedicated support is not only more sustainable than one time giving, it’s relational. If you’re making the space to give recurring payments to FoodShareToronto, for example, you’re in a relationship with the work of bringing food security and justice to all of the families in Canada’s largest city. Which, by the way, is a great thing to discuss at a dinner party!

Money is an incredibly useful tool, and can really help you figure out what’s important to you. Be patient and gentle with yourself as you learn to find balance in your spending. There is no quick fix for all of the horror and injustice in the world. But planning your own role in fixing the systems that have made this mess, particularly how to support more of the world building you want to see through sustainable, ongoing support, is possible. Once you get in the habit, it becomes second nature. Easy even.

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