How to make a million dollars with the three best lifestyle choices for the planet, and how cities could be better designed to support that.
Would you change your lifestyle to save the planet?
Thinking about money
It boils down to 3 things
1. Ditch the car
2. Cook more plant-centered meals
3. Live in an apartment
Let's add it up
Living in Edenicity
Tips for staying on track
▲ Would you change your lifestyle to save the planet?
Would you change your lifestyle even if making those changes made you an extra million dollars, tax free?
The things I'm going to suggest in the next 15 minutes are the best things you could be doing for the planet while still holding down a normal job and living a normal life. Even if you're 70 years old and retired, the plan I'll discuss today gives you over $300,000. If you're a woman 47 and under, or a man 42 or younger, you can save an extra million dollars in your lifetime, at least compared to the average American. And if you're 22 years old, you can save nearly half a million dollars more.
If you already do what I'm about to suggest, congratulations! You should share this podcast with the people who question your lifestyle choices. You know they're out there! When they get with the program and start saving up to $300 a week, $1400 a month and $16,000 a year, well, they're going to owe you a nice dinner at the very least!
What will you do with the extra money? Will you take lavish vacations every year? Put it in your children's college fund? Invest it for retirement? And hey, it's a lot of money. It doesn't have to all be one thing. With the help of a professional financial adviser, which I'm definitely not, you can set up a plan to save some, invest some and enjoy some of it along the way. But the lifestyle opportunities I'll reveal are tiny compared to the mega trend I'll talk about at the end: Living in an edenic city.
▲ Intro [music]
Cities designed like modern Edens: for economic and ecological abundance. I'm Kev Polk, your guide to Edenicity.
Welcome to Episode six, where I'll show you the best way to save money by doing the best things you can to save the planet.
▲ Thinking about money
I'm not a financial planner, but putting even a little thought into these topics can make a big difference. For example, my first year out of college, I did some calculating as I fell asleep one night. If I could save a few hundred dollars a month and invest even in an index fund, I could retire with over a $1,000,000.
I started grad school a few months later and, acting on this plan, I was able to save a full year of my teaching wages by the time I left after three years. I found a job and paid off my student loan within six months.
What I didn't realize at the time was that the way I lived wasn't just great for my finances. It was also great for the planet.
▲ It boils down to 3 things
It really boils down to three things. First of all, get rid of a car, either as an individual or as a family, and walk or bike to work. Second, eat a plant-centered diet, which you mostly prepare a home. And third: live in an apartment or townhouse, not a detached house.
As discussed in episodes 2 and 4, cars pollute and require manufacturing, road and parking infrastructure that destroys habitat. Urban meat-centered diets require 10 times more land area for agriculture and produce 10 times more greenhouse gas emissions than plant-centered diets. And as we will discover in detail in Episode nine, our housing choice could be the single biggest way we can work for or against the environment.
For this podcast, I chose conservative numbers and left out a lot of minor savings and major entitlements such as pensions that could also increase with this plan. Research about the health and wealth benefits of these choices is still emerging, and it's trending up. So it's likely that if you do what I suggest, your choices will put even more money in your pocket than the numbers I'm giving here.
Let's take those decisions one at a time.
▲ 1. Ditch the car
First get rid of a car and ride a bike. Now I have friends from developing countries who stop me right there and say, "Wait a minute, Why can't I have a car? You Americans have had them for a century. Now it's my turn," and I see the point. But what I'm saying is to learn from our mistakes. I think it'll be a lot better to spend the next generation leapfrogging the progress that we've made rather than duplicating the worst aspects of it. And if you listen to the other episodes in this series, you'll discover how much better a lifestyle is possible with really good urban design and no cars whatsoever.
In the meantime, of course, we're living in cities that are designed for cars and I'll explain a little bit about how to deal with that later in this podcast. But if you can swing it, if you could manage to get rid of even one family car, then you're gonna save about $8,500 a year.
And even if you can't get rid of that car, but just bike a few errands a week, maybe commute each week, then each hour that you bike per week is going to save you $267 a year. So, for example, if you commute for four hours per week, you're gonna save $1,000 in car expenses, and this would be gas and depreciation and insurance. You're putting a lot less wear and tear on your car. So regardless of whether you can or can't get rid of a car, switching things up so that you can bike or walk more is going to save you quite a bit of money each year.
▲ 2. Cook more plant-centered meals
The next thing you can do is cook more plant based meals. A study in the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition, as reported in money.com, October 8th 2015, showed that vegetarians and vegans saved more than $14 a week on cooking ingredients, even if they splurge on things like fancy olive oil rather than canola. Of course, the diet was much healthier than the USDA recommended diet.
Add it up, and that saves you over $750 a year. Now I realize that fewer and fewer people make a habit of preparing meals at home. But if you do, you can save anywhere from $2,500 to $20,000 a year. Compared to dining out. I used the lower figure ($2,500) in my calculations.
If you want to live on the extreme edge of green, you can also save an extra $500 a year if you grow much of your food at home or in the neighborhood garden.
▲ 3. Live in an apartment
All right, let's talk about housing. The average house in the United States is 2,800 square feet. According to the American Enterprise Institute, that's 1,000 square feet larger than 1970, with fewer people living there: about twice the space per person as 50 years ago. It's expensive to both you and the environment to heat, cool, light and decorate all that space, especially since all the walls and the roof are exposed to the outside elements. In climates with cold winters and hot summers, you're talking $200 to $400 per month for heating or air conditioning. Compare that to $60 to $80 a month for a 1000 square foot apartment or townhouse. When you add taxes and other maintenance costs, The differences could be well above the $340 month savings I use in my scenario.
▲ Let's add it up
So let's add it up. Each year you're saving nearly $8,500 by owning one less car per family; $750 cooking plant rather than animal centered food; $2,500 cooking most meals at home; $4,000 from living in an apartment or townhouse and saving on utilities and taxes.
That's about $16,000 a year: about 2/3 of your total savings on this plan. The other third comes from living longer.
▲ Living longer
In Episode four, I discussed how these lifestyle choices are likely to add up to 6.4 vigorous years to your life expectancy (again, a very conservative estimate). I can vouch from experience that these extra years gained from lifestyle choices feel like being young a lot longer. Health-wise, it was like I got to be 20-something for 16 years!
Of course, these life expectancy calculations are statistical and not guaranteed.
For retirees, I just took the value of the extra Social Security checks you'll be taking home during those extra years. That's about $122,000; up to twice that, if you're on a pension, though I didn't count that here.
For people still working, I went with the median US household income of $56,000 a year. Again, this is probably a low estimate. Another way to estimate the value of those extra years would be to add up what most people would be willing to pay in medical bills to regain a year of health wrecked by poor lifestyle choices. This works out to $115,000 per extra year of healthy life, according to an August 18th 2014 article in the Healthcare Economist. Using the lower figure ($56,000) times 6.4 years of life gives $360,000 in round numbers. Add that to the $160,000 you save every decade, and you're there in a few decades.
I think by now you understand that for people with pensions and so forth, this plan will generate not one, but two million dollars. And if you start young and invest, make that three or more.
▲ Living in Edenicity
That's pretty good. But you can live even better than that when we build better cities.
I use the word Edenicity both as a measure of economic plus ecological abundance and as a description of cities that are built along ecological lines. So if you're living in Edenicity, you're going to have a lot lower expenses in several categories. For example, you're gonna cut your health care costs by more than half. Without cars, you're looking at up to 90% fewer trauma cases. According to the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma's Trauma Facts web page, there were over three million non-fatal injuries in the United States in a recent year, and 2.7 million of those were caused by cars: about 90% were caused by cars. In addition, the fresh air, water, organic food and lots of opportunities to walk or bicycle will reduce chronic illness by 50 to 80% as we saw in Episode 4. So this is going to cut the cost of health care enormously through your life.
Another way to estimate health care savings is to look at what we already spend on it and look at what a difference better city design would make. So, for example, car crashes, according to the Association for Safe International Road Travel, cost the United States a total of $231 billion a year, or $820 per person per year.
In the United States, air pollution from cars cost at least twice as much. Air pollution from all industries doubles that number again, according to US News April 18th 2019 (citing an Academy of Sciences report). Health problems due to air pollution cost $886 billion a year, or $2,700 per person per year, and according to a 2013 MIT study, air pollution could be twice as devastating, so it could cost even twice as much.
Being physically active saves you $1,437 a year, according to a 2015 article in the journal Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases.
Bottom line, when you add it all up, getting rid of cars and air pollution and getting physically active can save you up to $8,000 a year. That's a big chunk of the $11,000 a year that we currently pay for health care in the United States, which, by the way, is about twice the world average. That $8,000 savings per year adds to the 8,000 you'll save using bikes and loop transit rather than cars. So it's about doubling the biggest source of savings that you could have just living in a normal city (I'll talk about Loop transit in Episode 12).
Is a healthy population good or bad for the economy? Good! People have argued it's bad because there would be less demand for medical services, which would reduce overall economic activity. But they're wrong. Healthy people are more productive, with fewer sick days, and they're more alert at work, and this immediately increases the gross domestic product.
Also, with lower health costs, more of the GDP can go into innovations in science, art, technology and culture. We're talking about a savings as much as 5%. The gains in GDP are exponential. If your economy is doing 5% better than everyone else's, it will double relative to the rest every 14 years. This could take a city from obscurity to global economic leadership in less time than it takes a child to finish school.
Physical mobility, amenities and social connection are better than what billionaires enjoy today. So, for example, in Edenicity, most commutes are four minutes or less. And your maximum travel time anywhere in the city is less than 10 minutes, door to door, with no traffic to fight.
This creates a whole lot more opportunity for innovation, and will have a noticeable impact on GDP and also attract some of the most innovative and highest paying businesses in the world. For details have a look at the Reference Design, which you can download by going to edenicity.com and clicking on News.
▲ Tips for staying on track
It can be hard to live the way I've talked about when cities are not designed for it. So here are some tips for making this plan work and getting that extra $1,000,000:
The good news is that cities are not all created equal. The Cheapism blog entry of June 3rd 2019 listed 22 bike friendly cities. I've lived in two of them, and doing so saved me over $80,000 just in transportation costs alone. Moving to one of these would do a lot to keep you on track.
The other thing you can do is create authentic rewards to yourself to motivate you to continue to stay on this plan. Think about the extra money and years of life you'll have. What are the most exciting, uplifting and meaningful things you can do, experience, or have with, them?
Finally, keep your eye on the prize and not your shortcomings or anybody else's. Celebrate every good bike ride or vegan meal with a smile of achievement. Put your rewards on a schedule so you can enjoy them when you earn it. Focus on the future, not the past. You could invest some of it and multiply your fortune. For that, though, I suggest consulting a financial planning expert. Maybe at some point they'll even advise you to invest in edenic cities! I'll talk a lot more about the financial structure of edenicity in Episode 8.
▲ Close [music]
If you enjoyed Episode 6, please be sure to subscribe so you don't miss an episode, and please join me next time when I'll discuss what we can learn about city design from drug addicted rats. You'd be surprised—and I guarantee it will restore your hope for humanity.
I'm Kev Polk, and this has been Edenicity.