I love the concept of optimizing for multi-capital wealth. True wealth consists of so much more than just our financial net worth. The concept was really driven home for me about a month after posting my interview with Ethan Roland on regenerative investing, in which I referenced his book Regenerative Enterprise: Optimizing for Multi-Capital Abundance, I re-read the post and was struck by the potential in this concept, not only for enterprises but for individuals — especially for those pursuing financial independence (FI).
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I initially covered the concept of multi-capital wealth in my Looking Beyond Financial Capital blog post. This broader view of what constitutes capital, assets, and wealth is fundamental to permaculture and in my opinion also essential for the pursuit of a more fulfilling and holistic version of financial independence. I discussed in the previous post in this series on Permaculture FI how thinking in terms of these other forms of capital is fundamental to increasing our resilience as individuals and for our communities.
4 Keys to Optimizing for Multi-Capital Wealth
1) Recognizing The Abundance (NOT Scarcity) That Actually Surrounds Us
My preferred definition of permaculture, also attributed to Ethan Roland, is “a design science that aims to improve ecosystems while meeting human needs.” Abundance is a central tenet of permaculture. In fact permaculturalists design to create abundance. This stems from the abundance that is observed in nature. There’s no scarcity or waste in nature. For example, dead leaves fall off trees and add humus enriching the soil into which they decompose. Nature provides the ultimate model of a closed-loop system.
We do not live in scarcity. The problem is poor distribution of resources combined with an inability to see beyond our current frame of reference. A perfect example of this are the dumpsters in the United States that overflow with still edible food and other usable items. As I highlighted in one of my earlier posts on my waste stream diversion activities, there are a variety of economic incentives and disincentives, which prompt grocery stores, restaurants, hotels, and many other institutions to fill their dumpsters (and trash compactors) with still edible food instead of finding ways to distribute it to those in need or at the very least get it to people and organizations, which could compost the food waste. Similar (dis)incentives influence retail stores and even thrift stores to line their dumpsters and compactors with still usable items as well.
I now want to share how my boyfriend, Albert, and I are looking beyond that current frame of reference to which many corporations and other entrenched entities would like us to limit ourselves. By doing so we are able to tap more easily and directly into that abundance provided through all the forms of capital that many others often overlook. I described in that earlier post on the multiple forms of capital how Albert and I tap them to increase our overall abundance and resilience. For this post I’ll also try to link our efforts to a few permaculture principles.
2) Keeping Costs Low
Albert and I implement at least half if not all of the permaculture principles in our efforts to save money. Given that we are both over 45 years of age and come at this with a bit of a financial foundation (more on that later), I’d say the guiding principle here is #2 – catch and store energy. That means we try to spend as little as possible of the nest eggs (or financial energy) we’ve already accumulated. We balance that though, with being frugal as well as environmentally and socially conscious regarding our spending versus cheap. We also factor in the quality and longevity of the products, often electing to spend more on well-made products that will last.
When we do acquire new items or seek out services we start by checking our local Buy Nothing Group, swap meets, Time Bank, and the free section of Craigslist to find non-monetary options. One of the unintended and wonderful consequences of turning to these sources so frequently is that we connect with like-minded people in our community and simultaneously increase our social capital and cultivating that multi-capital wealth. Spending time with frugal friends, who love nature and being outside in a garden instead of going out to bars and restaurants, is another way we save money and strengthen those relationships.
In a not so rare twist of cosmic fate or good karma (or both) we sometimes find the very item we need in a dumpster. That brings us to principle # 6 – produce no waste. So much of Albert’s and my visually tangible abundance emerges from the waste stream. Albert and I produce a relatively low level of waste, not by intentionally trying to live a zero waste lifestyle, but by reducing our consumption in general. There’s always room for improvement, even in our lives. I’m trying to get better at taking a plate and cup to community potlucks so I don’t have to grab a paper or plastic alternative.
The majority of the trash we do produce comes from the packaging of the items we regularly rescue from dumpsters so we’re never sure if that qualifies as our trash or not. I recently transitioned to a more keto-alkaline focused diet so I have started purchasing more grass-fed and pasture-raised meat, an organic vegetable or two, and some supplements. Even with these changes well over fifty percent of what we eat still comes from grocery store dumpsters and that includes some organic eggs and veggies along with grass-fed ground beef. Instead of buying an expensive protein powder I was able to make my own DIY protein powder for the new eating regimen with items we had rescued as well as things we had been gifted, bartered for, or grow in our food forest. Then a keto-protein powder appeared in the dumpster of an organic grocery store for the next round.
I’ll go into more detail in the next section about Albert’s beekeeping. Here though, I want to highlight how important it was to us to 1) bottle his honey in glass, not plastic 2) not buy new glass jars and introduce new glass into the waste stream. We reached out to our network of friends, Buy Nothing Group, and Time Bank. Through these channels plus those bountiful dumpsters and recycling bins we have secured a more than sufficient supply of all of the jars we need in a wide range of sizes. Plus we have set up an exchange with a young couple that cleans the jars (even removing the labels for us) in exchange for honey.
Reducing our consumption levels is a major priority for Albert and me. Doing this decreases our costs significantly. We do not have gym memberships or cable subscriptions. In fact neither one of us has owned a television in many years. (We do watch movies on our laptops.) We both have very low cost cell phone service with which we are pretty happy. And our monthly cost for just wifi is very low. We both like to cook and enjoy fresh healthy food so we don’t eat out much as we find we prefer our own garden and dumpster sourced foods to that of Sysco, which supplies so many restaurants.
We both wish we heard more conversations at the policy level emphasizing the importance of REDUCE. Electric cars are a step in the right direction, but let’s go further and reduce the need for cars (I’m not saying eliminate them) by investing in better public transit and walkable/bikeable cities. We’d like to see more US cities and counties adopt fee structures that incentivize using less water and electricity, as well as producing less trash at the household level. At Albert’s house in Florida, which is a concrete block home with terrazzo floors we do not run the a/c or heat, no matter what the temperature. We use fans to cool it and drink lots of cold water in summer. In the winter I use one of the small portable space heaters we found in a dumpster to warm my work area as well as the bathroom prior to showering. Albert wears hats inside in winter to keep his head warm.
We both love bike riding and make this our main form of transportation. If we do get in our vehicles to drive we try to combine a number of errands, dumpster dive at a number of places, or pick up a load of free mulch for the compost or garden beds. As Albert says this “pays for the trip,” as much by making it more cost-effective as well as by creating a carbon offset of sorts.
Tinian at DIY2FI makes a strong case for shoring up your fix-it skills. This is another area in which Albert is exceptionally talented. This comes in very handy for everything from bicycle repair to building this delightful bench on his back porch. We also make our own cleaning products, including a tooth powder made only from ingredients we grow and forage along with our own herbal tinctures and other medicines. All of this saves us a good bit of money and leaves us much more satisfied with the final product.
3) Having Multiple Income Streams
Principle #10 – use and value diversity – is at the core of our income generation efforts. Albert offers a particularly strong example of this principle in action in the realm of the side-hustle – a word he believes has a negative connotation and of which he is not very fond. He may not like the word, but he’s been darn successful at making money from them and building multi-capital wealth in general. A great thing about having all of these income streams is that when one dwindles for a while, at least one or two of the others are usually still bringing in a good bit of money. Albert’s primary income stream is the yoga class he leads twice weekly on the beach in our town. This no-overhead, pay what you want love-offering class has been growing and thriving for five years. Practicing yoga on the sand with the sound of the waves and view of the Bay brings people back again and again. It also provides Albert with money for doing something he loves and benefits from in terms of mental and physical health.
Next, his interest in bees led Albert to become a beekeeper. In addition to selling jars of honey from his hives, he has started creating value added products by infusing his honey with various herbal mixtures from our garden for allergy relief and immune system support and selling small jars of it. He also sells the propolis and wax from the hives. After gaining his confidence as a beekeeper Albert started responding to hive relocation requests from friends and others who live in the area. By relocating feral hives Albert not only earns money for providing a service he also acquires new bees for his own hives, which ebb and flow in numbers. His most unique offering stemming from the hives is apitherapy, the ancient practice of using beehive products to prevent and/or heal disease. That includes bee sting therapy, which is just what it sounds like – stinging people intentionally to take advantage of the healing properties in bee venom. It has provided extraordinary relief to clients of his suffering from arthritis, back pain, and Parkinson’s Disease.
His third side-hustle type income stream emanates from his backyard plant nursery. And this nursery is a natural extension of the food forest he’s already established on his property. If we purchase a plant (which we don’t often do because we receive so many from friends and at plant swaps) it’s purchased with the intention of not only adding the plant to our garden, but propagating it and selling it from our nursery. We only sell things we propagate. It seems that’s something most larger nurseries are not doing much these days. We also save a lot of the seeds from our plants so we don’t have to buy more in the future. Not only does that save money, but then we know it’s a plant variety that grows well here in our part of Florida. The overripe and other inedible produce from our dumpster forays and the spent grains produced by local breweries get directed to our compost piles to build the soil in which we pot up the plants or to our vermi-composting bins. Similarly to empty jars for the honey, we source used pot plants from friends, our Buy Nothing Group, and for time bank credits. As you can see, we even strive to keep the costs low and minimize the environmental impact for these income generation efforts. Then we emphasize our waste stream diversion efforts in our marketing and branding.
My income streams are still evolving. For the last six years of of owning my own home I either had a roommate or rented a spare bedroom out on Airbnb. This was a significant income stream for me. I also wrote previously about how I’ve earned several thousand dollars selling items I’ve rescued from dumpsters. I sold a wide variety of items on eBay, Etsy, and Craigslist. While I do less flipping of dumpster items for profit these days, I still dabble in books from time to time especially when I find them for free or buy them very inexpensively at libraries and thrift stores. Generally, I’ll earn more money by selling them on eBay or Etsy, but the Bookscouter app is another good option. I’ve also recently learned about Cash4Books and look forward to giving that a try as well.
Now I’m trying to find meaningful ways to apply principle # 3 – obtain a yield – to this blog by monetizing it without overwhelming readers with ads, encouraging them to buy things they don’t need, or promoting things I don’t believe in. For example, after much hesitation I originally signed up for Amazon’s affiliate program and included a few links on this site. I have since removed them and will not be participating in that program. There are a number of Amazon practices that don’t sit right with me. I’ll likely be developing some digital products to sell as well as some online courses and/or consulting. I’m also hoping to start convening in-person gatherings and retreats. Lastly, I’m branching out into social media and working on Pinterest and Instagram (@Rich_Resilient) presence.
Another permaculture principle evident in our side-hustles is principle #11 – use edges and value the marginal. To me this principle when considering income streams means to target niche markets, which is certainly what I am doing with this blog focusing on a more environmentally and socially conscious path to FI. Albert exemplifies this in his backyard plant nursery from which he sells, what he calls “sustainable edibles.” These are food plants that do well in our climate and often require less maintenance and watering to thrive. A number of them are lesser known plants that most other nurseries don’t sell, but to a small dedicated portion of the market they are quite attractive. People have driven from over an hour away to purchase plants from him.
The idea of “stacking functions” is not a permaculture principle, but it is a beloved, much aspired to permaculture concept. One way we’ve implemented this in the side-hustle realm is by making money from things we are already doing or from assets we own (or to which we have access). This applies to all of our income streams I’ve described. We’re simply finding things we like to do and are already doing then we find ways to monetize these activities. (It is worth noting that this requires a balance. You don’t want activities you enjoy to end up feeling like burdensome chores.)
By going on a bike ride together we can get exercise and spend time outside, dumpster dive, and forage for fruit and other beneficial plants growing untended or un(der)appreciated in yards along the way. Much of the foraged produce we keep for ourselves, but along with our excess garden produce we have started bartering it with a small new zero waste organic food store in our town. Another example of stacking functions in our household is maintaining a Craigslist post selling kombucha scobies since we continually brew it and produce numerous scobies.
4) Regenerative Investing
In order to direct my retirement savings towards less harmful and more regenerative investing options I opened a self-directed IRA, which makes it much easier to make meaningful investments outside of Wall Street. You can learn more about self directed retirement accounts in this post as well as this one. Since doing this I have made numerous impact investments such as buying a share of a local regenerative farm, investing in a Native American owned business, and lending money to an urban revitalization project in a low-income neighborhood in Chicago. You can read more about the specific investments I’ve made here and here. I also shared a number of ethical banking and investing options on the Personal Finance Resources page.
Our Financial Cushions
Albert and I both learned about permaculture after spending a good portion of our lives working in the traditional economy. That means we both caught and stored energy in that we each accrued somewhat of a financial cushion. My cushion is not as well padded as Albert’s, but it is enough to put me at Coast FI (which is greatly facilitated by my frugal and eco-friendly yet rich in joy and adventures lifestyle), requiring me to continue to earn money, but offering me a safety net to not have to do it in ways that don’t align with what’s important to me.
I have been frugal and avoided debt for much of my life – other than nominal student loans (although they didn’t feel that way back then) and a mortgage. I haven’t always made the savviest money decisions, but that avoiding debt piece and living within my means has been fundamental in getting me to where I am today. Not succumbing to any significant extent to “lifestyle creep”and being satisfied as well as grateful for what I have were also contributing factors.
The greatest increase in my net worth has twice stemmed inadvertently from yields I obtained from homes I had purchased in underappreciated neighborhoods and then sold at a time the markets were up and those areas were much more desirable. I used those capital gains to purchase a home outright, and that freeing feeling of living without a mortgage hanging over my head for me is worth every lost dollar from not investing the money in the stock market instead. (But that’s just my personal experience. I know others make different choices that work for them.)
I know that one of the largest hang-ups around achieving financial independence in the US is accessing health insurance once you leave your job. Therefore, I at least wanted to say a little bit about our current situation in this regard. As I’ve described throughout this post, Albert and I are quite talented when it comes to accessing numerous forms of wealth and other assets without spending our money. This enables us to live very rich lives without needing to push ourselves to earn, earn, earn and go, go, go. Because of this we both qualify for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplace at very reasonable rates. I’ll be curious to see how that changes for me as I begin to earn more by doing more to monetize this blog.
For full disclosure I should state that we are also both single, with no dependent children (I have no children dependent or otherwise) and carry no debt. Our debt-free, single, and dependentless status affords us a freedom, security, and risk-tolerance that might not come so easily to others. I’m not including this statement to discourage those with children or in debt to not aspire to what I’ve covered here. On the contrary with all my heart I hope you will. I just want to acknowledge it likely feels less risky for someone in my or Albert’s position to traverse this path.
A Message From and For Millennials on Optimizing for Multi-Capital Wealth
Last week a millennial, who is interested in sustainable investing and early in her learning on the subject, told me that many of her peers want to accumulate financial wealth because they fear they’ll need a tremendous amount of money to deal with the legacy of environmental devastation they’ll be left with. This includes the possibility of needing to buy a new house in another part of the country. (This line of thinking may be heightened amongst millennials here in Florida with all of the talk about sea level rise.) That really struck me because I hadn’t heard that concern expressed before.
My response to this young woman was that while a solid financial foundation is valuable, what will be equally or more beneficial to millennials is to invest in knowledge, skills, and other assets of all sorts that maintain or better yet increase their value so as not to have to worry as much about money. Without using the word resilience that’s what I was advising her to do – increase her resilience to reduce her fear about the future. And here again those oh so important multiple forms of capital come into play because intellectual, experiential, social, living, material, cultural, and spiritual capital plus good health are going to be of the utmost importance when navigating the impacts of climate change, especially when financial capital itself is the least resilient of all of the forms of capital.
Twenty year old Spencer recognizes the value of living capital and the role it can play in creating a more resilient future for him. A few months ago he left our part of Florida to work in Oregon for several years. But since Spencer knows he’ll be coming back to this area in a couple of years to share his childhood home with his brother before departing he stopped by our nursery with his girlfriend and bought $200 worth of edible perennial plants. Spencer purchased sugar cane, several dwarf ever-bearing mulberries, purple sweet potatoes, passion fruit, pigeon pea (a nitrogen fixer), and bananas, as well as a few different varieties of spinach like plants that grow well here in the Florida summers providing a nice salad mix during those hot months. He planned to plant them and get them established before heading west.
I was very impressed with Spencer’s forward thinking. I hope more millennials will follow Spencer’s lead, especially those striving for financial independence. I would love to see more millennials approach their financial lives from the whole-systems thinking perspective that permaculture provides. That longer-term perspective is going to be necessary to navigate the complicated future that awaits them. Get a food forest started if you have access to land, increase those DIY skills, learn to forage, acquire skills in a niche that is of interest to you. Jump start your learning and thinking by reviewing the resources I shared in the first post in this Permacutlure FI series. Millennials with student loan or consumer debt would be wise to target those and get them paid off quickly. Here’s an insightful article from the very well-written and creative millennial blog Bitches Get Riches to help get you started on tackling that debt.
I may have targeted that last section at millennials, but applying the points made here is worthwhile for all of us. I encourage everybody to strive for resilience on your property and in all aspects of your life. Albert and I have found that by tapping the multiple forms of capital to increase our resilience we have exponentially increased our quality of life along the way and hope you will too.