Dealing with Having Money

Towards the end of December 2014, with a very probable full-time gig with Aspiration (which I continue to adore) on the horizon, I realized that I would (for the first time in my life) have slightly more money than I needed to live off of. Rather than expand into the space via my consumption (ok, I’ve done a little of that, too), I wrote to the Berkman list asking for help in investment or saving.

After years of living by the skin of my teeth, it seems I’m about to have steady employment. I don’t know how to invest or save money, and I generally think capitalism is pretty evil. However, I do need to survive in the long run in the world we’ve got. Does anyone on this list have advice on 1) who I can talk to about this (I am _clueless_), 2) how to do this as someone who cares about disinvestment from petrol, promoting social justice, smashing the patriarchy and maybe the state, etc?

This was met with an outpouring of advice (and some fascinating discussion about monopolies, silicon valley, investment, etc, which I won’t get into right now), which I’ve distilled here as best I can for a wider audience. Caveat that I have absolutely no idea what I am talking about, and I look forward to making further edits (with credit!) based on feedback. I’d like to specifically thank Brian Keegan and Tom Stites for their amazing overviews and deep investment (ha!) in the topic; Andy Ellis for sitting on the phone with me; and Hasit Shah, Emy Tseng, and Amanda Page for their distilled wisdom and links.

Apparently, socially responsible investing is something tons of smart people have already put a lot of thought into. Hooray! Less work for me! One basic thing to consider is the level of granularity and control you want to personally have — stocks, bonds, and companies are the more granular. Preset choices, such as through funds, are easier to manage, and you can still have some selection-level control. It’s also suggested “to (1) diversify so that all your eggs aren’t in one basket and (2) keep investment costs low so that your returns aren’t eaten up by paying other people to manage your money.” Amanda pointed out that tutorials exist on the websites of Vanguard, Fidelity, and TIAA-Creff, and more.

One suggested thing external to investment is to just have charitable petty cash on hand – like Awesome Foundation – just giving directly to charities without ending up on their lists of People to Pester.


The easiest (and seemingly least risky) thing to do is to set up an Individual Retirement Account, or IRA. My bank had a special portal just for this, and it took about 10 minutes. You can set aside $5,500/year in this, and apparently it does nice things to your taxes.

Things to be aware of, when dealing with the risk of investment:

  • A healthy approach seems to be thinkng “I’ve lost the money” the moment you give it. Like covering a friend for lunch — it’s nice to be giving money to something it’s nice to spend money on, but will also enjoy the reciprocal motion if it happens.
  • Via Andy, “always ask yourself, ‘is this too good to be true, and why do I have this opportunity?'”
  • “The investment world is a peppered with people and institutions devoted to fleecing the public, usually in entirely legal ways, so beware.” – Tom
  • REITs are generally considered unsavory.

Suggested groups to check out:

  • Calvert Foundation is a community investment fund – as in, you’re loaning money to communities so they can improve themselves. This was recommended by Tom and stands out to me the most as a meaningful investment.
  • Global Alliance for Banking on Values. One thing that stood out to me from this group was their goal to “promote a positive, viable alternative to the current financial system.” While it’s not possible to interact with this group directly, it seems like a good roster to select a bank from, if you are opening a new account of various sorts.
  • Social Equity Group. If you need/want to talk to a financial planner, this is one group worth thinking about. Another group is from Start Investing Responsibly.
  • The Forum for Sustainable and Resonsible Investment. USSIF seems to be setting up a whole ecosystem of investors, businesses, community funds, etc.

Interesting reading:

Institutions also provide various forms of guidance based on their respective moral frameworks:

In Summary…

There is no direct path from index funds, which by their nature cannot exclude any particular companies, to customary approaches to socially responsible investing, which insists on excluding the worst actors. Socially screened funds charge way bigger fees than index funds — they’ve got to pay people to assess companies and exclude the worst — so one approach is to use index funds and take the money saved by not paying high fees and put it in community investment vehicles offered through the nonprofit Calvert Foundation. Using socially screened funds may help you feel virtuous, but community investment funds can actively make people’s lives better. – Tom

Based on all this, (for as long as it’s possible,) I’ll be putting the suggested $5,500 in my IRA each year, and putting the bit extra into the Calvert Foundation through one of their suggested advisers. Next, I need to figure out what state I actually exist in, if that even matters. Emails are out, we’ll see how it goes.

Tell me your stories, thoughts, etc.

Jigsaw Needs You.

Remember that maker space I’m a cofounder of? Well, it’s in a bit of a spot. It’s been a joy to me to have been a part of something (and continue to be a part of it) that doesn’t need me. But now there is a need, though it is not the same sort as organizational structure.


Like other hacker/maker spaces around the world, Jigsaw is building a new, non-corporate model based on the strength of collaboration. We’re working together to build a world where anyone willing to share their time and money to learn, teach, or build can do so with a group of like-minded people. Jigsaw’s new space was specifically built  for us in Inscape, Seattle’s largest arts and culture enclave. It’s gorgeous, and its design was what our community decided upon.

And fantastic things are happening at Jigsaw. Our Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights are consistently filled with folks hacking and soldering and learning web development. Creative and curious people are coming to events like Dorkbot, Weird Science Salon, EverFree, and Mysterium.

However, our vibrant community and our vision are now in jeopardy. We are falling further and further behind on rent and other obligations, and our financial situation is simply not sustainable.

We need a “critical mass” of activities and membership to survive and grow. We need more people with keys—not just to pay rent, but also to keep the doors predictably open so that other people will come to the space.

If you share our commitment to creativity and thinking outside the box, if you, too, believe that “do it yourself” doesn’t have to mean “do it alone,” if you have enjoyed the interesting and diverse people and activities Jigsaw brings together, we urge you to consider helping in one of the following ways:

  • Lapsed members — please set up recurring payments through our membership software page.
  • Visitors, guests & other non-members — please join! Go to our membership page to get started.
  • $15/month supporters — please become a keyed member and start a class or other event at Jigsaw.
  • Current $100/month keyed members and $200/month desk members — encourage others to become keyed members or community builders. Also, please sign up to give a class or indicate on the calendar when you’ll be in so other people can share space and creativity with you.

For those with more time than money, we’ve created a new Community Builder membership. You can become a keyed member for only $50 a month in exchange for committing to staff the space for two 3-hour slots each month. More details on the Community Builder plan will be available soon.

People who sign up for a keyed membership get at least one vote (two for a desk membership) towards our next shiny acquisition:
• 3D Printer
• Nice hand and power tools
• Fancy lighting / nicer furniture

We’ll set up voting for this in a week or two, after we’re less stressed about the impending rent.

Again, you can sign up or change your membership level here. If you’re currently a member but haven’t checked out our new membership software (including easy to use recurring payments) please do. As always, if you want to participate but can’t afford it, ping us. We’ll figure something out.

Thank you for being a part of the Jigsaw Renaissance community. We’re counting on you to make it thrive!

If you have any problems at all, please call Willow at 812.219.4056 and she’ll help you through the process.

Willow Brugh
Robin DeBates
Ned Konz
Budi Mulyo
Michael Park
Alan Widmer

update on DARPA stance

There is clearly a vacuum that MAKE is filling via DARPA funding – our schools are crap. Military and religion have no place in education for youth outside of history classes.

I fully support people who wish to take a public (or private) stance against these associations.

My conscious, after much introspection and conversations with amazing people, dictates that I remain involved as a connector, to hopefully create an introduction to the ideals of mutual aid, transparency, adaptability, and emergence to these less-political communities. I want to increase the number of people who care about things like this, and to me that means being involved in the process.

I request that we continue this dialog until it is not necessary – I never want any morally questionable thing to go unnoticed.

Perils of funding!

Into the breach of the DARPA/MAKE debate!

Our systems are broken. I don’t feel it’s enough to explore how broken they are, but that we must also actively work on solutions. My way of doing this is through the creation of educational spaces and experiences via School Factory. I support spaces however I can and also organize and facilitate events. After talking with Dale, I do think his heart is in the right place. He wants kids who are being left in the cold right now to have access to a better education so they can be more empowered. He *wants* them to move on to the local independent spaces due to their exposure to this environment in school.
The only acceptable place for military and religion in school is in the study of history and social construction. So how visible is DARPA’s involvement with this program to the students? I asked Dale, and the answer is — not at all. MAKE is running as a buffer between the funding and the military ideals. That’s the only thing that makes me ok with this project, and the only thing. The benefits would not be worth the detriments otherwise. It is not ROTC reincarnated. The comradere that kids felt and associated with military ideals via that program would be instead associated with maker spaces in this one. And, for the standard recruiting that happens at high schools across this country, hopefully the kids will be a bit more equipped for examining systems and their consequences.
edit: stated methods often vary from praxis, in all interactions and within all ideals. Your Mileage may vary.

My question to the various continued points about idealism and being co-opted: what do we propose to do about it instead? How many of us actively reach out to local schools already? There’s a vacuum of need here, and MAKE is currently offering to fill it, using DARPA funding. *Something* will fill this gap. How about it be the grassroots maker movement? The Department of Education certainly doesn’t have much money, and what they do have is arguably being spent in ineffectual/immoral ways (hey, just like our military dollars!).

I would sadly have to hazard that most of us aren’t up to the task. We can rally to change the spending of tax dollars (because that’s been super effective. Most people of my generation and/or subculture don’t give a fig about politics due to the long-standing ineffectual connection between citizen and representative). Or we can become those teachers. Children need more stability in their lives than most of the people in this community are able to give. Workshops and Faires are a great introduction, a way to wet the pallet. But they are not enough, it has to be at least a semester’s worth of effort, preferably several contiguous years. I’d love for people to prove me wrong about this dedication to involvement, to have that sort of dedication in the face of the incredibly frustrating education system. While the one shared trait of all hackers is frustration (to quote a dear friend), we also tend to rage quit broken systems. I bet no more than 20 people in our American community would be willing to take on the role of middle- or high school instructor who aren’t already in that role. I know I’m not planning to become an instructor in a midwestern community for another 15 years. There are huge gaps between being a hobbiest, living a lifestyle, and giving up your lifestyle to ensure others have access to it.
Edit: Why is it important that we work with the existing school system? Because we’re not done building the new one yet, and neglecting an entire generation while we sort that out is far worse than associating with the military.

In short, this is not the solution I would like best. But it’s an acceptable stop gap which will hopefully also drive us to create a better solution. And it makes far more sense for us to work together as a community to create that better solution and to make the best out of this stopgap in the meantime.

More reading:
Mitch’s opposition
Library Cult parts 1 and 2
Dale’s post on MAKE
OpenBuddha post
(and more, curated by Library Cult — thank you)

I occasionally write for MAKEzine, but am not under any contractual agreement with them. I participate heavily in Maker Faires. I am one of two employees of School Factory, in my role as director of Geeks Without Bounds. I am anti-military. I am pro-consensual-governance models. I grew up in a socialist/anarchistic, non-pacifist, anti-war home. After examining that upbringing, I stand by it.

Comments will be moderated, as that is the norm for this blog. You can hit up my e-mail if it doesn’t appear within 4 hours. I will have a discussion with you offline if you prefer, and will ensure that points are valid (even if I disagree with them) before posting them. No straw men here, please.

The Right to Get Paid

Paul ScrivenOh man, do I hate capitalism. But I also dislike blanket statements. SO HA.

I like paying taxes (I like roads and schools, don’t you?). I like paying devs. I like it when I have a bit of cash to pay a friend to help me sort through my house or a database. I like indicating my intent with money. I like the simplicity of expressing appreciation of effort and ability that money allows. I also like the ease of transfer of time contributions from my community-building and humanitarian response efforts to, say, the roads I get to ride on.

So here’s the thing – if someone is going to benefit from your efforts in this current system, you better be compensated either via that system or in such a way that is still worth your while. Bartering is awesome. References can also be rad (when needed and you’re just starting out).

“You are trading your life for value. Be sure you get the value.”
at Barcamp Seattle session on Shares in Startups (wish I had caught his name)

I love buying books. I love sending money to musicians. I loved paying for my Burning Man ticket (thanks, Mer, for putting it in a bracket I could afford). I love trading fruit snacks to the coffee roasters for a cup of amazing complicated Stumptown. I love making the introductions that legitimize my gifted laptop.

End point: go watch this.