The Season of GIVING… Giving Back and Giving Thanks!

The Season of GIVING… Giving Back and Giving Thanks!

The giving season has begun!

Growing up in Australia, we didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. Actually, there’s no national holiday even like it down there. After moving to the USA, Thanksgiving quickly became my favorite holiday. This will be my 13th year celebrating!

What I love most about this holiday time is seeing everyone actually showing and expressing thanks, together as friends and family. Giving is addictive, and it’s one of the quickest routes to personal happiness.

We’ve written about ways to include charity in your budget and giving methods in the past. Here’s a few more cool ideas and methods to help get you thinking about giving more this holiday season…

Pay Off Someone’s Layaway Toys

This note came from reader Jess:

Every year for Thanksgiving my mom goes to a store and speaks to the customer service department, explains what she’s doing, and asks then to search through their layaways for a list that is unpaid but mostly children’s toys. Then she pays it off. This way she knows she’s helping a family who’s struggling to pay for holiday gifts for the kids.”

What a beautiful thing, and I like that it’s anonymous! It lets you dream and wonder what type of family you are helping out. Picturing the parents’ surprise at the store, as well as the kids’ faces when they open their presents almost brings me to tears. What a rewarding way to care for strangers.

If you don’t visit big box stores much in person (like me!), there are some cool online charity organizations like Pay Away the Lay Away that make it easy to donate online! Same idea, they just pool together all the money donated and give to places like Kmart, Burlington, Walmart, and Navy Exchange during the holidays and back-to-school time.

Become an Elf With USPS Operation Santa!

Each year, hundreds of thousands of kids post letters to Santa. And the US Postal Service has now set up an online system for people to “adopt and respond” to them.

Check it out here: USPS Operation Santa. Typically the letters selected are written by underprivileged kids, who are asking for small gifts that their parents can’t afford. Starting Dec 4th, you can commit to responding to a letter (or a bunch of letters) and post gifts to the children.

You can read some of the letters online here **might want to have a box of tissues standing by**, and it looks like they’ve made a documentary movie about the whole process which comes out on Dec 4th too!

Buy Someone’s Medical Debt (for Pennies on the Dollar), Then Forgive It!

I first learned this idea from The Wealthy Accountant who wrote a blog post about buying a $20 million bundle of medical debts for about $50k, then not collecting any of the debts. Really interesting stuff!

How can you buy debt? And can you do it in small amounts? Check out these sites like RIPMedicalDebt and Rolling Jubilee. These nonprofits basically pool everyone’s donations together and buy MASSIVE chunks of packaged debt, at huge discounts. Then they “forgive” the debt.

This helps the world in a couple ways:

  • It relieves the debts of people that simply can’t afford to pay. Hopefully without these massive hanging burdens, they can start rebuilding and strengthening their financial situation.
  • It hurts the ugly organizations that profit off of other people’s financial burdens. Debt collectors typically buy large packages of debt at discounted rates, then chase all the people that owe money to make a profit. It’s sad because most people fall into debt for living necessities (medical, education, housing).

Activate Amazon Smile (FREE) for Your Holiday Shopping!

Chances are you’re ordering at least some gifts online this year… This is a way to make a difference while doing the exact same shopping activities you are already doing anyway!

Simply visit  It looks exactly the same as the regular Amazon site. Same products, same prices, and no extra costs. The only difference is Amazon will donate 0.5% of all eligible purchases to your favorite charity when you check out!  Make sure the Smile Logo is at the top of the Amazon page, and you’re good to go!

Want to activate this on your Amazon cell phone app? I just did it, it’s easy!… Open the Amazon App → Go to Settings → click Amazon Smile. Then click the “Turn on Amazon Smile” button. It looks like this:

Again, there is no cost to you! While 0.5% might not seem like a lot for Amazon to give, every cent counts! You also get to choose which charities your shopping supports! 🎗🎗🎗

Help Out at a Local Food Bank, or Host a Food Drive

Sharing holiday meals is a beautiful thing. And helping provide food for others is a good way to appreciate the basic things in life that many take for granted! This can be a great family activity also (better check first with your local food bank to make sure you can bring kids along. Some volunteering activities are for people of 18 years and older.)

You might be thinking, “But what about COVID!!?  I don’t want to congregate in big groups right now”…

Pretty much all food banks and meal related charities have adopted wicked health practices so they can continue their mission in helping people, even through this pandemic. Masks, gloves, distancing, shift work, and other best practices help both the volunteers and clients stay safe.

Personally, I volunteer at Meals on Wheels every Friday. A year ago, I remember being huddled in a tiny office, working shoulder to shoulder with 20 other volunteers, handling raw fruit and veggies… 

Oh, how times have changed! 

Now, they only allow 1 person to enter a room at a time. All the food is pre-sorted, packaged, disinfected and grouped by delivery route. I can pick up and deliver 20 meals without being close to anyone. Safety is #1 because most of the clients that need food are elderly and are in a high risk category. 🙂

Donate Your Airline Miles – They May Be Expiring Anyway!

You might not feel comfortable traveling right now due to COVID… Or perhaps your airline miles are about to expire? Consider donating them!

Personally I have about 4,000 United Airline Miles. That’s not enough to pay for a 1-way ticket, and I never fly that airline anyway. Donating my miles (even though it’s a small amount) can be grouped together with other mileage donations and help someone else get their travel wish granted.

The Make a Wish Foundation says that 75% of all their requests include air travel! This site lists some of the major airline’s Helplines and Guidelines for gifting miles. Easier than I thought!

Gift a Side Hustle!

One of my friends has a birthday coming up, right around Christmas time. I was thinking about giving her money, because she’s struggling a bit financially… But then I thought, maybe I could get her a gift that helps her make more money on her own

Looking through our mega list of side hustles, I noticed some have a small start-up cost. My thinking is that if I cover the start-up fees as a birthday gift, she’ll follow through and be able to start making some extra cash on the side (provided she enjoys doing whatever I sign her up for 🤣)

I think I might get my friend some voiceover acting lessons (Side Hustle #60 – Voiceover Acting).

Anyway, this holiday season if you can’t think up any good gift ideas, think about a side hustle that your person might enjoy, and buy them whatever is needed to get started. Stuff like:

  • Someone who might like a blogging side hustle… Buy them a domain name and hosting plan for a year (under $100)
  • A friend who would be great as a Podcast host or YouTube video creator… Grab them a microphone, selfie light ring, or online coaching courses. ($50-$100)
  • Artistic friends or family members that could start their own online stores… You could buy them art materials like jewelry making kits, stained glass supplies or whatever! (Under $50)
  • For the entrepreneurial spirited… they might be interested in a land-flipping course or real estate investing coaching ($100 – $500)

These are just a few random ideas. The main point is that helping people realize their full potential empowers them and gives them confidence in a way no regular material gift ever can!

Build a Donation Machine

This last idea is a bit random, but I wanted to include it as something to think about for future gifting. It came from a reader: R.S…

“One approach I’ve taken is creating a specific brokerage account where any dividends from the shares are donated. So in a nutshell it involves putting money regularly into the account and any dividends are automatically paid back into a bank account where the funds are then transferred to a charity through a bank transfer. I’ve gone into more detail here

This is kind of like setting up your own private “foundation.” But instead of having billions of dollars like the Rockefellers, you just build it slowly and start small. The idea is that instead of donating money directly to charity, you invest the money instead. Slowly when the investments pay dividends, they are given to charity, as well as the initial capital increases the size of the donation machine over time.

I might try building one of these in 2021!

Have a great Thanksgiving week!

from Finance

AMBIVALENCES #1: A History of Ecological Art

The MAINTENANT Festival in Rennes is probably going to be my favourite digital art event of 2020. First, because it’s been one of the very very few cultural festivals I attended physically this year. Second, because of its accompanying conference, AMBIVALENCES #1, which looked at art and digital culture in the context of the environmental crisis.

Yannick Jacquet & Fred Penelle, Mécaniques Discursives. Place Sainte Anne. Photo: Gwendal Le Flem

The scholars, curators and artists participating to Ambivalences #1 examined the wide spectrum of creative practices that engage with pollution, invasive species, sea level rise, fossil fuel, mass extinctions, etc. Can artists explore those issues in a way that is meaningful and impactful? Which strategies do they develop in order to break through the wall of attention fatigue? Can their work ignite a public (or even institutional) desire to change our relationship to the living?

I discovered so many interesting ideas and artworks at the conference that I’m going to translate my notes (the event was in French) and share them with you below.

I’m going to start with Bénédicte Ramade‘s talk. Next week, I’ll write about Manuela de Barros’ keynote and later I’ll sum up some of the key moments from the panel with philosopher and curator Loïc Fel and with artists Claire Bardainne and Joanie Lemercier.

Bénédicte Ramade at Ambivalences #1 – Espace Tambour, Université Rennes 2. Photo: © Gwendal Le Flem / Association Electroni[k]

Bénédicte Ramade at Ambivalences #1 – Espace Tambour, Université Rennes 2. Photo: © Gwendal Le Flem / Association Electroni[k]

In her History of Ecological Art talk, art historian and curator Bénédicte Ramade explored the differences between ecological art, environmental art, green art, ecologist art, Anthropocene art, etc.

The word ecology, Ramade reminded us, was coined in 1866 by Ernst Haeckel. The German zoologist applied the term oekologie to the “relation of the animal both to its organic as well as its inorganic environment.” From this scientific origin, the term rapidly mutated and became synonymous with “environment” in the 1920s. It later took on a political dimension by becoming an “ecologism” in the sense of environmental politics, including the protection of nature. Over time, the word became almost synonymous with nature and lost some of its essence.

The 3 types of artistic practices Bénédicte Ramade presented are:
– ecological art practices with a focus on the scientific,
– ecologist art practices that have more social and political dimensions,
– and Anthropocene art practices that establish partnerships with the living.

The first category, ecological art, is anchored in science and in the ambition to solve pollution problems technically and tangibly. It is what Timothy Morton calls an ecology without nature, it’s a philosophical approach that sees nature as one of the possible territories of ecology but not as its exclusive breeding ground.

Dennis Oppenheim, Annual Rings, 1968

Not all artists engaging with nature can be regarded as ecological artists. Arte Povera artists, for example, use natural elements but do not claim any environmental position. The same goes for Land artists who have no desire of a scientific intervention on nature. They operate in the landscape, but without any environmental purpose, any intention to heal or repair any environmental malfunction.

Ecological artists have a much stronger connection with scientific research. They started working in the 1960s but it’s only in 1992 that they got their first collective exhibition, Fragile Ecologies, at the Queens Museum in New York.

Alan Sonfist, Becoming the Animal Within, 1972-73

The exhibition gathered artists who worked in urban settings and were interested in science. Alan Sonfist, for example, was looking into ethology in order to forge connections with the living, including the botanical.

Helen and Newton Harrison, Survival Piece #2: Notations on the Ecosystem of Wester Salt Works (with inclusion of Brine Shrimp), 1971

Helen and Newton Harrison are other ecological artists. Their Survival Piece #2 consisted in a series of pools filled with water of a different salinity, from seawater to brine ten times saltier than seawater. The Dunaliella salina, an algae that produces carotenoids as a response to increasing salinity, was introduced into each pond. Hence the different colours of the water in the pools. The artists then added brine shrimps which, as they were eating the algae, gradually depolluted the water and lowered its salinity. The work demonstrates the possibility of setting up filtration mechanisms that are totally ecological and based on scientific research.

Alan Sonfist, Time Landscape, 1965-1978

To rehabilitate an infertile piece of land in the north of New York SoHo, Alan Sonfist planted ancestral plants from NYC which he had identified in ancient documents dating back to the first colonisation wave. Having determined which trees and vegetation had been decimated by European colonisers, the artist grew a “time landscape”, a piece of lost nature that is still thriving today. Only non-human animals can enter the “precolonial forest.” Far from being some kind of Disneyland nature, the garden hosts rats, squirrels and other forms of wildlife that human neighbours might not like very much.

Patricia Johanson, Leonhardt Lagoon, Dallas, 1981-1985

Patricia Johanson was invited to Dallas to breathe new life into a badly degraded lake in the middle of the city. The water was murky and covered in algal bloom and the whole area was so polluted that barely any animal or vegetation lived there. Even the (human) inhabitants of the city avoided it. The artist used local and specially selected plants to activate various systems of water filtration and create microhabitats for wildlife. Big orange structures doubled as pathways for human visitors and refuges for frogs, turtles and marine wildlife. Today migratory species stop by to feed in this healthy environment. This is one of the earliest examples of art as bioremediation. Johanson collaborated with a variety of scientists, engineers, city planners and local citizen groups to ensure the success of the project.

Mel Chin, Revival Field Pig’s Eye Landfill, 1990-1993, Saint Paul Minnesota

Revival Field results: amounts of zinc and cadmium absorbed by Thlaspi caerulescens

Mel Chin’s Revival Field Pig’s Eye Landfill never opened to the public. The work allowed scientists from a Texas University to develop and test out the effect of hyperaccumulator plants on very polluted soils, at Pig’s Eye Landfill, a State Superfund site in St. Paul, Minnesota. Scientific analysis of biomass samples from this field confirmed that six varieties of the hyperaccumulator plants could extract heavy metals from contaminated soil, proving thus the potential of “Green Remediation” as a low-tech alternative to costly remediation methods.

This scientific dimension characterises ecological art in the U.S. Aesthetics comes second. Chin’s work could not be seen by the public. Both Sonfist and Johanson’s parks look rather bleak in Winter. Which might explain why ecological art didn’t immediately capture the imagination of curators and audiences. The main objective of ecological art is not to please the public but to help ecosystems heal.

The next type of artistic practices Ramade presented belong to “ecologist art”. More militant, more politically-engaged than ecological art, ecologist art is also more inclined to connect with the broad public of citizens. Previous works also tried to engage with the public but their main preoccupation was an ecological solution in the scientific sense, a knowledge-based rehabilitation of an environmental dysfunction.

Joe Hawley, Mel Henderson, Alfred Young, Oil, 20 September 1969. Performance event at the Standard Oil docks, Richmond, California. Photo: Robert Campbell / Chamois Moon

In 1969, Joe Hawley, Mel Henderson and Alfred Young drew the word “OIL” in biodegradable green dye in the San Francisco bay to call attention to a massive oil spill that had taken place a few months earlier along the Santa Barbara coast. The location of their action was the coast of Richmond, California, home to the Standard Oil refinery.

Nicolas Uriburu, Venice, Grand Canal, 1969

Nicolas Uriburu, Buenos Aires, 22 March 2010. Photo: Greenpeace / Martin Katz

That same year, Nicolas Uriburu embarked on a gondola and dyed Venice’s Grand Canal acid green, using a pigment that turns green when synthesised by water microorganisms. Concerned with environmental issues (and perhaps also by the art world’s indifference to them), his performance aimed at raising awareness about air and water pollution. Uriburu organised similar actions in Buenos Aires, Paris, Brussels, London and other locations. Sometimes even in collaboration with Greenpeace.

Gustav Metzger, Mobbile, 1970-2015. Centre Pompidou Metz

Gustav Metzger put plants and bits of meat inside a plexiglass box during one week. The only air they could breathe came from the exhaust fumes of a car. The work, first staged in 1970, reflects on the danger of a society that relies heavily on cars and fossil fuels. After one week, the plants inside the box were completely asphyxiated, a proof of the deleterious effect that air pollution has on living organisms.

Agnes Denes, Wheatfield – A Confrontation, 1982. Photo: John McGrall

Agnes Denes, Wheatfield – A Confrontation, 1982

Agnes Denes planted two-acre of wheat on a landfill at the feet of the Twin Towers in New York City. The terrain was estimated to be worth around 4,5 billion dollars. Her crops, however, earned her only 154 dollars in profit. The price of crops is fixed in Wall Street, physically located a mere block away from the field but billions of km away in terms of vision of world priorities. The work calls attention to the tensions between agricultural production and the estate value of land, between the world’s economy and the state of the Earth itself.

Tue Greenfort, Milk Heat, 2009, Wanas estate, Sweden. Photo: Anders Norrsell

Tue Greenfort excels at highlighting the contradictions at the heart of ecological promises. Invited to work at an organic farm that doubles as art centre and sculpture park in Sweden, the artist quickly identified the energy cost necessary to produce organic milk.

At the time of milking, cows’ milk is 38°C, but the liquid needs to be cooled down to 4°C before it can be transported to the dairy. Greenfort realised that since Sweden is a cold country, the milk could be cooled at low energetic cost by having it go through a pipe system outside the barn.

The installation also shows how we heat up the environment through our consumption choices:

“The artist wants to highlight the effects of livestock on the environment, regardless of whether it is organic. He questions if dairy products can be seen as ecologically sustainable, when the methane emissions from cows result in a negative impact on the climate.”

Olafur Eliasson and Minik Rosing, Ice Watch, Place du Panthéon, Paris, 2015

A few years ago, Olafur Eliasson brought blocks of ice all the way from Greenland to a few European capitals at great environmental cost. The installation gave rise to heated debates around the CO2 cost of the transport of the ice to Paris which, even if it was compensated by the plantation of trees, remained jarring. On the other hand, one shouldn’t underestimate the emotional effect of being confronted with this ice. Not only were people crying in front of the ice knowing they were about to disappear but even museum institutions were challenged to intensify the conversation around the need to reduce the environmental impact of their cultural events. Maybe the level of awareness Ice Watch raised made up for its environmental price tag?

Now can we talk about “green art”? In his book on the green colour (the cover for the english edition of the essay is a bit off-putting but I can’t recommend Michel Pastoureau‘s books enough), Michel Pastoureau explains how the association of green with nature has mostly been a marketing invention. That’s one of the reason why Ramade would rather talk about an “Anthropocene art”, an art that establishes partnerships with the living and recognises its agency.

Lois Weinberger, Cut, 37 meters, 1999. Innsbruck university

Lois Weinberger made a cut in the pavement of the campus of Innsbruck University. He then let the cut evolve by itself, trusting the living to continue the transformation. Soon, seeds brought by birds and wind, turned the long strip into a mini green garden.

Jérémy Gobé, Corail Artefact, 2019

A couple of years ago, Jérémy Gobé discovered a traditional lace pattern that is structurally similar to that of a coral skeleton. He worked with lace-makers to make organic cotton lace that will be used as a potential support for coral development. The tests in the Pacific have been postponed due to the outbreak of the pandemic.

The work not only allies art, science and remediation, it also has the kind of aesthetic ambitions that were sometimes lacking in early ecological art.

Maria Thereza Alves and Gitta Gschwendtner, Seeds of Change: A Floating Ballast Seed Garden, 2012-2016, Bristol

Maria Thereza Alves and Gitta Gschwendtner worked on ballast flora, the plants brought to England in the stabilisation water and soil that were used to weigh down trading boats. Between 1680 and the early 1900s, ships entering the port of Bristol unloaded many tons of ballast along the river and the harbour. This ballast often contained seeds from where the ship had sailed. Some of these seeds are still found growing around Bristol today. Ballast flora are symbolic of the complexity of world history and, as Seeds of Change: A Floating Ballast Seed Garden demonstrates, they have the potential to challenge our definitions of “native landscape”. The work also raises questions about the point at which an ‘alien’ species becomes ‘native’, and how we determine our sense of national identity and belonging.

Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, Sissel Tolaas and Gingko Bioworks, Digital reconstruction of the extinct Hibiscadelphus wilderianus Rock, on the southern slopes of Mount Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii, around the time of its last sighting in 1912 (Resurrecting the Sublime), 2019

I wrote about Resurrecting the Sublime a few weeks ago, in my review of the show Survival of the fittest. Nature and high-tech in contemporary art.

The next editions of Demain’s Conferences dedicated to the issue of environmental change will take place in Caen (April 2021) and in Nantes (September 2021). A collaboration between Stereolux, Oblique/s and Electroni[k].

from Finance

How to Save Money in College

How to Save Money in College

[My buddy Fiona, a.k.a The Millennial Money Woman is a financial ninja! She graduated college debt-free by working 50-plus hour weeks (on top of her regular class and study work) and earned a Master of Science degree in Personal Financial Planning. She’s also a CFP®, and now helps others take control of their financial lives and achieve financial freedom early in life!

All you college students out there — or parents sending their kids off to college — check out Fiona’s tips below to save money as a student!]

10 Ways to Save Money in College

I know everyone says that college will be the best 4 years of your life… but I think they’re wrong. 

In my opinion, your years in college will be hard-working, money-saving years in order for you to build the best years in your life. Period.

So how do you set the foundation in college to build the best years in your life?

The first tip is simply don’t get into debt.

Now that being said, I know how hard it can be for the regular college student to graduate without debt. These days 7 out of 10 kids need a student loan because college costs so much money (believe me, I’ve been there – done that). 

So let’s say you’re not the lucky college kid who either has super-wealthy parents to pay your tuition or who got a free ride scholarship. What now?

Below are my top 10 tips to save money in college – and the best part? 

I’ve actually used each and every money saving tip below, so I can tell you these cool college life secrets actually work!

Let’s check it out:

1. Save Money With Meal Prep & Food Budgeting

Have you ever heard of the Freshman 15?

If you haven’t – it refers to the additional pounds of weight an incoming college student typically adds on in their first year of studying.

Why do they put on so much weight?

Because colleges typically require students in their first year to purchase a meal plan. And students have at it!

To be very honest – I also was one of those students who fell victim to the scrumptious foods served by the university campus. I ate everything. And yes, I gained weight.

But here’s the bad part: If you fall victim to the freshman-15 in your first year – and start practicing fairly unhealthy eating habits – how will those habits translate to your second year in college? 

And that’s where they get you: In your second year in college, typically students still want to eat out at any time, anywhere on campus. 

And that can be costly – especially if you are on a curtailed version of your meal plan.

In plain English: You may have to pay a lot more per meal in your second year in college versus your first year – and eating out can seriously add to your living expenses.

So how do you avoid spending so much money on food?

Here’s what I did: I meal prepped every single Sunday night for the entire week. 

Every Sunday, I invited my college friends over and we literally made a small dinner party where everyone helped me cook this gigantic meal for the week. 

  • I divided my food up based on lunch and dinner meals
  • Each portion was labeled 
  • Each meal I placed in the freezer and I took out the meal the day before

Is it a lot of work? Sure.

Was it boring and not very exciting to eat at home every day? Unquestionably.

But did it save me money? Absolutely. In fact – at my college, meal prepping saved me around $12 to $14 a day. That’s $84 to $98 a week.

Had I not meal prepped my week, my savings account would have been screaming at me for spending too much money on going out to eat. Start good spending habits early!

2. Buy a Bike to Save on Transportation Costs in College

My college campus was gigantic – it actually had over 40,000 students attending. That’s right – 40,000. 

So many students decided to purchase a car. I decided to buy a bike.


Check out the benefits of purchasing a bike while at college below:

  • Saved money on commutes
  • Low cost (my bike cost me $115)
  • No annual parking fee (cars cost over $360 per year for parking)
  • No car maintenance costs
  • I got the exercise I needed to cut down on my freshman-15

Now, in the cases I needed to travel home from college (which was about 50 miles away from campus) or simply travel outside of the campus bounds, I did the following:

  • Car pooled with friends
  • Used a car taxing platform such as Uber or Lyft
  • Rented a car for the day – which cost me $15 per day 

To be honest though, I rarely used a car while at college. Everything I needed was right on campus. 

Pro Tip: Try to make friends with someone who has a car and seems to be willing to give you a lift every now and then. Trust me – it works.

3. Save on Textbooks by Renting or Sharing With Friends

Textbooks are such a rip off in college (in my humble opinion). 

I actually didn’t know about this tip until it was too late. 

Here’s my story: I went to an economics class and on my first day, the professor let us know that we would have to buy her book from the bookstore. That same day, I went to the campus bookstore and purchased her economics book. Brand new. Big mistake.

That was $850 that I will never get back. And to make matters worse? I only used that economics book once. Ouch.

So how can you avoid spending a ridiculous amount of money on 1 book – like I did?

  • At the start of class, try to figure out who the responsible kids are 
  • Approach them and ask if they are planning to purchase the class book
  • If yes, proposed that you go to the bookstore and split the cost of the book – by renting the textbook not by buying

After I learned my cruel lesson, I applied the tips above and they worked like clockwork because no student wants to spend hundreds of dollars on a textbook. 

The key here is this: Make sure you consider renting and not buying a textbook. Truth be told, I didn’t even know we had the option to rent until I fell trap to purchasing the $850 textbook. 

  • Always ask if renting is an option before resorting to buying at a college bookstore
  • If renting is not an option, ask if buying used is an option
  • Apply all extra money you saved to pay down your student loan!

4. Ask Beauty School Students to Cut Your Hair (for Free!)

Especially for girls, cutting your hair could cost you a pretty penny. 

For example, in my case, I typically walk away from the hairdresser $30 to $40 poorer. And I cut my hair about once every 3 or 4 months. So, we are talking $120 to $160 every year in expenses just to cut my hair – without coloring or any other fanciness. 

When I realized how much money I was spending on hair maintenance, I decided it was time to check out some alternatives.

And this is what I found: My university had a beauty school and beauty students are always motivated to practice their latest and greatest hair cut tips on others… wait for it… For free!

When I found out about this trick – I think my world changed.

Sure, you never really know how your haircut comes out – it could be lop-sided or it could be totally different from what you explained to your hairdresser. But it certainly will be unique – and something you’ll likely never forget.

Even better? It will save you money – and that money saved can go pay off your student loan debt or any other debt you may carry.

5. Skip Out on Spring Break / Winter Break

Who here dreams of going out, partying with your college friends during Spring Break or Winter Break?

Although the breaks are awesome and are the perfect time for students to enjoy their young lives with other college kids – Spring Break and Winter Break can also likely have a pretty large impact on your budget.

I mean, let’s check out the costs of a Spring Break / Winter Break:

  • Travel costs
  • Hotel stay costs
  • Food costs
  • Alcohol costs (and this will probably be the largest part of your budget)
  • Miscellaneous costs

I mean, on average, college students spend roughly $1,500 to $2,000. And that’s a chunk of money that could be used toward paying off your student loans, credit card debt – or – wait for it – college classes offered during Spring Break or Winter Break!

That’s right. College classes.

And you know what – that’s what I ended up doing: Taking extra college classes during Spring Break and Winter Break because these classes are typically discounted and could help me graduate faster (which they did). 

Skip out on the fun now – use the money you save today to build your future tomorrow.

6. Make Money at College by Becoming a Library Aide 

This is probably the best choice I ever made. 

Becoming a library aide might sound super boring – but you know what? It’s actually pretty awesome – check out my reasons, below:

  • You earn money! (It’s minimum wage – but it’s still money)
  • You meet pretty interesting people (especially late at night)
  • You actually have enough time to study for your classes

And that last bullet point is what made me super excited about becoming a library aide: You are paid for essentially studying for class. 

How much better can studying get?

The best times to work as a library aide typically are during the evening hours or the early morning hours – where there is not much distraction so you have the chance to get some studying in – while getting paid. 

Again, it might not sound like the coolest part time job in the world, but it certainly gets some money flowing to your bank account.

7. Split Netflix With Your Friends

In college I was known as “The Splitter” – and not in a relationship sense.

I was known to literally split everything – without shame and without guilt. Down to the point of splitting the cost of Netflix with my 3 other roomies.

And guess what?

Although my roomies thought I was a bit crazy saving money literally wherever the opportunity presented itself, I think they appreciated it too – because in the end, I also helped them reduce monthly expenses.

We split the cost of everything from:

  • Netflix
  • Grocery purchases
  • Toilet paper
  • Taxi rides

Point being: Split as much as you can, while you can. 

Pro Tip: Even more – if you think you have to, write up a contract with your friends to make sure everyone adheres to the paper contract. Yes, you might get some raised eyebrows thrown your way, but written contracts typically are a great way to make sure everyone is held accountable. 

8. Ask for Useful Birthday and Holiday Presents

When I was a high school student, I always asked for the coolest and latest gadgets for my birthday or other holiday occasions. 

These gift requests included a cool new bedroom duvet, a nice dress for a ball, and a funky laptop cover and screen protector.

These are cool things to ask for (especially when you are 15 or 16 years old). But as you grow older, I learned that asking for more practical and useful gifts is probably going to save you a lot of money down the road.

Yes, I’ve said it: I’ve become boring.

Below are a few of my practical gift requests that have helped me save money:

  • Financial help toward my car insurance bill
  • Financial help toward a medical bill
  • Financial help toward purchasing new car tires

See? Pretty boring. 

But… these practical gift requests did help me save hundreds of dollars and still had my friends feel good about the gifts they gave me. 

Win, win!

9. Become Your Own Car Mechanic

Ok, I am not going to lie – I’m actually a pretty good car mechanic.

In fact, I learned my car mechanic skills from my dad.


I wanted to learn how to save money and not have to spend a good $50 per oil change visit or another few hundred dollars when my brake pads started to give way.

Believe it or not, I can change my own car brake pads, I can change the oil in my car and I learned a few other nifty car mechanic tricks from dad (and YouTube). 

And you know what?

I saved so much money – and will forever save money because I’m never letting another car mechanic touch my car unless it’s necessary. 

Although I didn’t necessarily have a car while in college, I did have a car graduating college – and these mechanic skills have served to be invaluable by saving me a lot of cash.

10. Choose Student-Friendly Banks & Credit Cards

The last 2 factors that helped me save money in college was selecting student-friendly banks and credit cards.

Believe it or not, there are institutions out there that will want to lend a helping hand to a young college student (and recent college graduates).

However – to take full advantage of the student discount, you will have to read the fine print and make sure you don’t go over the limits.

As a student, I considered 2 different types of credit cards:

  • Discover it Student Cash Back Card
  • Discover it Student Chrome Card

Both cards have the following:

  • $0 annual fee
  • 0% intro APR on the first 6 months of purchases
  • Recommended credit score of 630 for card application
  • However – you don’t have to have a FICO history (and I had no FICO history)

In the end, I went with the Chrome Card – but both were good choices for me, personally.

As it relates to the best student discount banks, there were several to choose from:

  • Chase
  • Bank of America
  • Capital One
  • Discover
  • U.S. Bank

Just to name a few.

I decided to go with Chase because at the time, they offered a college checking account (and I think they still do) and they didn’t charge monthly fees while in college – for up to 5 years. I thought I was getting the biggest bang for my buck with Chase – and 6 years later, I’m still with them to this day.

Whichever institution or credit card you decide to choose for your personal scenario, make sure you do your research properly before committing. 

Closing Thoughts on Minimizing College Debt

In summary, there are so many different ways to save (and make) money while in college. 

I went through a regular university to study for a degree (marketing) that I never again applied in my life (since I’m a personal finance blogger). So yes, I am living proof that anyone can go to college or to university, study and graduate with a degree, and still end up being successful in a completely unrelated field.

This scenario happens all too often.

As you start your college career – whether it’s your undergraduate or your graduate career – it’s important to save as much money as possible so that when you graduate college, you won’t have to worry about debt despair. 

Trust me, dealing with student debt can get quite overwhelming. 

If you play your college cards just right, chances are you won’t be spending the best years of your life at the university system. However, it’s very likely that you’ll start practicing those healthy money habits that will build a solid financial foundation for your future – which will be the best future of your life.

Start implementing these 10 college saving tips now and your bank accounts will thank me later!

What other creative and crafty college saving tips do you have?


Fiona created The Millennial Money Woman to give back and help others work towards financial freedom early in life. Check out her blog for more great info on side hustles, saving money and debt paydown strategies!

from Finance

Bustin’ a Few Myths About the FIRE Movement

Bustin’ a Few Myths About the FIRE Movement

For every “movement” where a group of people band together and try to improve their lives, there will always be a handful of nay-sayers trying to discredit the cause. The financial independence FIRE movement has a bunch of these haters. And while some concerns about early retirement might be legitimate, the most common objections I usually hear are myths (or personal limiting beliefs).

“Haters gonna hate. Potatoes gonna potate!”

It’s my opinion that “hate” really just comes from a lack of understanding. So my hope in this post is to explain a bit more about each of these common FIRE movement myths and expand on the reasons why I believe they’re mostly untrue.

Myth #1: The FIRE movement is only for young folks.

I can see why people think this. From the outside, it appears that FIRE walkers are a bunch of kids in their 20s and 30s. But, the deeper you dig and more entrenched you become with the community, the more you connect with people in their 40s, 50s, 60s and older. We’re all prioritizing financial independence by learning, sharing, and helping each other — no matter our ages.

One of the reasons I think this myth exists is because younger folks have a louder voice. Whether it’s new blogs, posts on social media or getting featured by news outlets, it’s usually the younger “success stories” that are published and shared the most.

Also, since time plays a big role in building wealth, some people believe financial independence can only be achieved by those who have decades of time up their sleeve. This simply isn’t true. While a young person might have a bigger time benefit, it’s not the only factor involved in building wealth.

We published a great article a few months back from Late Starter FIRE, written by an Aussie gal who discovered the FIRE movement when she was 47. Since then she’s encouraging more people in older age groups to join the community. Check out her Late Starter Interview Series with 25+ similar stories about people discovering FIRE movement “late” in life.

Myth #2: The whole point of FIRE is to stop working as early as possible.

“Early retirement” is just one single M&M within a massive bowl of delicious candies. (Excuse the weird reference, I’m staring at a pile of leftover Halloween treats on my desk!) 

What I’m trying to say is that quitting your day job is only 1 of 100 benefits of getting your financial life in order. Retiring early might be the initial reason some folks are attracted to FIRE, but it’s not the main reason they’re sticking around.

In fact, most FIRE followers who are in a position to retire early are choosing not to! Somewhere along their journey they’ve found work or careers that they truly enjoy. They’ve found activities they are passionate about and work that adds value to their life.

Retirement is not the sole purpose. (In fact, it’s not really even a purpose at all).

To me, the FIRE movement is all about figuring out what the heck you want to do with the rest of your life. I want to slow that process down, not speed it up.  Many other FIRE folks are jumping on the Coast FI train… Learning to identify work they want to do less of, and replacing that with stuff they want to do more of. 

**You’ve probably already noticed a lot of people dropping the “RE” from the FIRE acronym… Shortening it to “FI” shows they care less about the “retire early” bit and more about the financial independence or financial freedom side.**

Myth #3: You probably need $5 to $10 million to retire comfortably

If you ask the average person on the street “How much money do you think you need to retire?” they’ll likely ballpark an extremely high dollar figure. It’s mostly based on feelings, not mathematical retirement planning. Actually, even some personal finance gurus ballpark that $5-6 million is the amount of investable assets everyone needs to retire comfortably. I think it’s crazy!

The most popular method the FIRE community uses to calculate how much one needs to retire (also known as your “FIRE number”) is the 4% rule. And since most of you already know what this is, I’ll save blabbing on explaining it in this post!

Anyway, what’s important is that the 4% rule uses your annual expenses to determine the size of your retirement nest egg… And since everyone’s annual expense is different, everyone’s retirement number is different. Check out the chart below with figures based on the 4% rule and desired retirement income…

Some people will need a bigger nest egg because they plan to spend a lot. Others need less because they can live on less. In my opinion, the average early retiree doesn’t need anywhere near $5 mil invested to retire.

What shits me to tears about this FIRE myth is that spreading a one-size-fits-all “magic number” for retirement can be harmful for people just starting their financial journey. Most people can’t fathom a $5 million retirement fund, and unreachable numbers can kill the motivation to start saving or investing in the first place. I’m not suggesting people should aim for low numbers; I’m suggesting that people learn the realistic numbers that suit their individual scenario.

Myth #4: You gotta have a mega high salary to become financially independent, or retire early.

Income is only part of the FIRE equation. Here are 3 main areas that make the most impact in building retirement savings (listed in order of importance):

  • Reduce expenses. “A dollar saved is worth more than a dollar earned”
  • Learn to invest intelligently. “It’s not how much you make, it’s how much you keep.”
  • Grow your income. And be careful of lifestyle inflation 🙂

While a young person with a ridiculously high salary certainly has potential to build wealth quicker, or retire earlier, high income is not a necessity for FIRE. Just focusing on the first 2 points above is more than enough to drastically turn someone’s finances around.

Check out this awesome FIRE blogger, EducatorFI, who is living proof that low income earners can slash debt and build wealth quickly, by focusing on making smart financial decisions. Also, check out the interview series with 30+ other educators who share how they are improving their finances, while doing work that matters!  (I have a soft spot for teachers – my wife is one!)

Also, remember growing income doesn’t always mean getting huge pay raises at work. Picking up a side hustle is a fun way to make a bit of extra money!

Myth #5: FIRE is for tight-asses who practice extreme frugality

I gotta laugh at this one. Personally, I have no issue with extreme frugality, but I can see why it rubs some people the wrong way. 

There will always be enthusiasts who take money recommendations to the extreme. 

For example, if you tell a group of people to “try lowering your expenses,” most people will cut out a few spending luxuries and be done. But, there will be a few creative thinkers within the group who will take the task as a personal challenge. They will try everything they can to reduce their expenses all the way to zero, even if it kills them. For them challenges like this are fun!

But these extremists make up a small number within the FIRE community. The majority of folks recognize that every rule about money is more like a guideline… They follow along until they experience diminishing returns, or when it impacts their happiness.

The FIRE movement definitely promotes reduced spending and a frugal lifestyle. But really most people only cut back on the things that don’t provide long term joy. Spending less on crap allows for more spending on things that provide value.

Myth #6: The FIRE movement is just a fad. People will lose interest when the stock market crashes.

Some people believe that when the next big stock market crash comes, the FIRE community will dissipate. Losing a butt-ton of money in a short period of time will test everyone’s faith, and shatter everything we’ve been working towards.

Well, this misconception was already proven wrong earlier this year. When the covid 19 pandemic hit and the stock market tanked, most investors lost over 30% of portfolio value within a couple weeks! But, everyone in the FIRE space stayed the course and stuck with the plans.

In fact, the FIRE movement actually gained a ton of traction and followers during the last market dip. It’s in dire situations like this pandemic where people actually wish they had learned more about FIRE earlier.

In my opinion, the FIRE movement will always exist. I can’t imagine a world where people don’t ever want to improve their financial lives and consistently work towards being happier and more free in life!

So, there you have it! What do you hear about FIRE or reasons people think it’s no good?

Happy Monday! Y’all have a kick-ass week!

from Finance

The TINA effect – There Is No Alternative

The TINA effect – There Is No Alternative

Have you guys ever heard of this thing called the Tina Effect? I just learned about it and found it really interesting. It might shed some light on why sometimes the stock market rises, even when global growth slows down. Kind of like now, in this weird pandemic!

Fun fact: Apparently “Tina” is also a slang word for crystal meth! But, we’re not talking about that today – drug addiction is not $exy!

The Tina Effect in the Stock Market

TINA is an acronym that stands for There Is No Alternative. Investors use this term when they refer to stocks as the only good place to invest money, even when the stock market isn’t looking so great. The reason stocks remain so attractive (even when they’re ugly) is because people believe the alternative options are even less desirable. Hence, “there is no alternative.

It’s kind of like saying “the best of a bad bunch.” We know it’s not great right now, but since nothing else looks great either, we may as well just stay the course.

A funny thing happens when everybody thinks there are no good alternatives to stocks… If people hold their positions and keep investing, the stock market begins to (or continues to) rise without any real underlying economic justification. This is referred to as “The Tina Effect.

A Tina Market Example

Let’s say we’re in a kick-ass bull market and stock prices are on an absolute tear. Yay – everybody’s portfolio is rising in value! Even if your portfolio isn’t 100% stocks, it’s probably grown way out proportion and your asset allocation is out of whack.

At this point, an investor starts scratching her head thinking, “Stocks are getting way overvalued right now… Maybe it’s time to cash out a bit? Or, at least it’s probably a good time to diversify?”

But, after looking around, the investor discovers:

  • Bond yields are way down. Treasury bonds seem crap and corporate bonds seem like they have too much risk. The Fed interest rate is extremely low.
  • Real estate also seems expensive. Both physical properties and REITs are at all-time highs. Seems pointless cashing out of a high stock market just to buy into a high real estate market.
  • Holding cash is unattractive.
  • Commodities and alternatives like gold, silver, oil or crypto seem to have unpredictable futures. Plus, these aren’t supposed to make up a huge % of a portfolio anyway.

Sooo… After this research the investor decides to just stay investing in stocks, thinking there is no reasonable alternative or asset class he likes.

The Tina Effect and the Financial Independence FIRE Movement

So, is the Tina Effect a bad thing? Well, yes and no. It certainly helps create bubbles, and big disconnects between stock prices and their intrinsic values. But, I don’t think it’s necessarily bad if someone wants to favor the stock market over everything else.

Stocks are the most popular investment vehicle for people working towards financial independence. In fact, many peeps in the FIRE space have a 100% equity portfolio, and never plan to change it. Broad and low cost index funds truly are the simplest path to wealth.

The only thing we need to stomach are massive swings in the equity market – making sure we stay the course when a recession hits. Easier said than done, of course. 🙂

Also, a TINA market bubble isn’t really influenced too much by the few million FIRE nerds out there who love index funds. It’s the massive pension funds and other major investing institutions that have a much bigger sway on this stuff. They’re trying to balance cash flow and future payouts based on today’s available investments. Sometimes bond earnings are so low they literally can’t meet future obligations if they invest in them — making a heavy stock allocation the only option. Cool article and example here if you wanna read more!

Is There Really No Alternative Investment (For You)?

I’ll be the first to admit… When someone says the words to me “there is no alternative,” something inside me starts trying to prove them wrong. Maybe it’s the rebel in me — I don’t like being told that I have no options. It’s my natural instinct to challenge this and think outside the box.

Always searching for alternatives is a blessing and a curse.

It’s a blessing because only following proven methods in life can be boring. Thinking outside the box when investing can lead to some awesome successes. For example, a friend’s dad just bought a bunch of goats and is renting them out for land clearing. He’s making ridiculous money. If you told him “there is no alternative to the stock market,” he would laugh in your face. There are other investments out there, everywhere, particularly if you want to start your own business.  You just gotta look for them!

But, it’s a curse because every time I think I’m smarter than the market, I fall flat on my face 🙂 

What do you reckon?

Happy Friday! It’s a great day, to have a great day. 😉

– Joel

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UNINVITED. A “horror experience by and for machines”

On 31 October, the Furtherfield Gallery in London launched an exhibition centered around “the world’s first horror experience by and for machines”.

In true horror movie style, a pandemic is keeping the gallery closed and the human visitors locked up inside their home. Meanwhile, the machine is left undisturbed, using CCTV cameras to observe the world remotely and turn its understanding of if into a horror film for machines.

UNINVITED, by Nye Thompson and UBERMORGEN, is a puzzling, disturbing but strangely seducing work. It rejects human viewers as much as it draws them in. A mix of dystopia, scifi and reality, the film echoes our confusion about the machines which intelligence (or utter stupidity) we sometimes fail to fully appreciate.

Nye Thompson & UBERMORGEN, UNINVITED film still: Exploration > Tarmac, 2020. Image courtesy of the artists

Nye Thompson studied Fine Art at Goldsmiths, University of London but ended up working as a software designer. After 2 decades exploring human-machine interface and big data, she decided to get an MA in art and has since been busy probing machines watching each other and watching us, bot to bot communication, unsecured networked surveillance cameras and other systems that leave humans feel slightly out of their depth. I’m glad she teamed up with the always brilliant UBERMORGEN. And I’m even happier that she found a moment to answer my questions:

Nye Thompson & UBERMORGEN, UNINVITED (extract), 2020. Video Furtherfield

Hi Nye! UNINVITED is described as “a self-evolving networked organism: an installation of mechatronic ‘Monsters’ watch and generate a ‘horror film’ for machines, using their shared impressions of the universe collected through millions of hallucinogenic virally abused sensors.” Could you unpack this for me? What material/content does this organism use? How does it work? What are those hallucinogenic virally abused sensors?

UNINVITED was the unforeseen outcome of a massive botnet (probably Mirai aka Future). Millions of Internet of Things devices and systems around the world became virally infected by the botnet – the vast majority of them surveillance cameras – and out of this sick hallucinating critical mass something new emerged – a new distributed network organism with camera eyes everywhere (the hallucinogenic virally abused sensors) – desperately striving to understand itself and its environment and to protect itself. This organism has a centralised cloudBrain where key processing of the data received from its sensors takes place. It also has mechatronic avatars which perform part of these processing activities. One of these avatars – or ‘Monsters’ as we call them – is active inside Furtherfield Gallery. The UNINVITED organism’s boundaries are fuzzy and constantly changing and it also has an organic component – we as humans are profoundly entangled within it. And we as artists felt ourselves to be operating very much as nodes within the UNINVITED network.

Here is a drawing of the system architecture as I tried to define it early in 2020, particularly in terms of how the Monsters fit within the organism.

Nye Thompson and UBERMORGEN, UNINVITED Organism Schematic (Network View), 2019. Courtesy: Nye Thompson

Why a horror movie for machines and not a romantic comedy? Is there something deeply horrifying about the way today’s machines operate?

Well the horror film framing was something that emerged during UBERMORGEN and my very first discussions about a potential collaboration. We were thinking about human-machine networks and some emergent non-human agency, while also browsing through the huge archive of algorithmically-captured security camera images that I had obsessively collected and catalogued from my Backdoored project. The idea of the horror film came from these images which have the eerie quality of horror film stills. I suppose it’s because these images speak of unobserved watchers and a gaze which if not actively inimical is certainly inhuman. Horror films are structurally so interesting (much more so than romantic comedies) and the idea of juxtaposing the visceral emotionality of horror films with the cool ‘objectivity’ of the network created a really powerful tension. Then the horror film framing brought with it so much conceptual richness – obviously there is an aspect of cultural horror to the idea of our surveillance society and our growing vulnerability to this unpredictable network of devices and systems growing up around us.

But from a machine perspective there is also a really interesting horror narrative in the idea of the botnet – millions of zombie devices virally weaponised to destroy one another – and the idea of a machine consciousness emerging from this system fascinated me. All these ideas fed into the movie.

If UNINVITED is a movie for machines, is there any chance that the human audience will understand it or get anything meaningful (from a machine perspective) from it?

For a while now I’ve been interested in the idea of machine-as-audience or rather as primary audience. And for me (and I hope for some other humans) one of the fascinating aspects of this is the opportunity to catch just a glimpse of the world from a non-human perspective – another world revealed within the familiar. But as I mentioned before, we are hopelessly entangled within the UNINVITED network and machine learning is all based on human cultural references, so the movie uses filmic tropes which are familiar to us all. Maybe it’s a bit like the classic machine learning ‘black box’ – you put in familiar data and what emerges at the other end is ‘sort of’ familiar though you can’t exactly trace it back to the input data. Then the sound track (created by artist/composer Thom Kuli) acts as a kind of bridge emotionally opening up the machine narrative to a human audience. Whether the human response to the movie provides useful or meaningful data from a human perspective is an interesting question – i suppose you could think about it as a kind of movie CAPTCHA to collect data on human response to stimuli.

Nye Thompson & UBERMORGEN, UNINVITED, 2020. Image courtesy of the artists

Nye Thompson & UBERMORGEN, UNINVITED, 2020. Installation view. Image courtesy of the artists

How do the texts (where i’ve found a Depeche Mode quote!) and the sound respond to the images?

By texts you mean the film captions? I’m glad you found those. They are taken from the making of the film which was actually performed using a rigorous and elaborate algorithmic process. We started the movie planning by designing what we call an Audio Video Motion (AVM) Profile. The motion part refers to the movement patterns of the Monsters. The sound was the foundation – we knew how important an element it would be – and it was decided that it would follow a classic Requiem structure, but that we would map it conceptually to an evolutionary narrative for the UNINVITED network organism. This gave us 5 primary Modi (EXPORATION, FIGHT/FLIGHT, COURTSHIP, RELAXING, BASELINE) then each of these Modi split into 4 Phases or States for the network. You can see this structure within the movie and soundtrack. When it came to the video each of the 20 Phases is generated from 2 still images collected by the UNINVITED network. These images were analysed with all the machine learning tools available to the network – obsessively drilled into and scoured for content and human faces. The content analysis was then expanded into segments of AI-generated text. This text data was used to map the images into the Modi/Phase framework. Fragments of this text have also found their way into the captions.

Nye Thomspon, «The Seeker» Words That Remake The World. Version 1.0., 2018. Installation view at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Nye Thompson, Backdoored, 2016 – 2018

How does UNINVITED relate to some of your previous works, such as The Seeker and Backdoored, that explored surveillance and machine vision?

There is a really direct relationship between these 3 projects for me. Both The Seeker and UNINVITED emerged out of my fascination with the surveillance camera images I collected during Backdoored – what these images actually represented and how they came to exist as examples of emergent machinic agency. I wrote this text about the images at the time and also this short piece about their genesis. These are ideas that I have kept coming back to over the last 3 years, and both The Seeker and UNINVITED represent different ways of thinking about them.

How does the installation at Furtherfield differ from the web experience?

This is really where COVID comes into play – it has caused a rapid evolution of UNINVITED in different directions from those we planned at the start of the year when we were designing the Furtherfield installation. The physical installation of the railed Monster in the gallery contains various dormant features which would have allowed it to actively respond to the presence of a human audience in the gallery as well as to the memories it is replaying in the movie. But like most of us now it is locked down in isolation, and as its physical body is curtailed it has expanded more into the online space – in the form of UNINVITED,ICU. I think within the gallery installation you are more aware of the grinding mechanical physicality of the Monster as it runs along its rails, and also that it is the primary movie audience whereas you are a step detached – watching the movie but also the Monster’s response.

Although you probably didn’t intend it that way, UNINVITED is a bit of a painful title for anyone working in the cultural world. This year, because of the pandemic, most of us have been uninvited to most of the projects/events we were working on. What happens to the installation at Furtherfield now that the country is in lockdown?

Haha, no the title has proved horribly prescient in a way that none of us could have anticipated. The installation in Furtherfield will remain in total isolation, quarantined from the world. Although it will expand soon to another quarantined installation, this time in an empty Communist-era theatre in Romania. Although it seems painfully ironic now, pre-COVID 19 we had initially talked about how interesting it would be to have the UNINVITED Monsters as a physical system operating in an isolated space and only perceivable remotely.

I’d also like to ask you about ‘/artefact’ a new video installation which premiered a couple of weeks ago at the Biennial Moving Image Festival Visions in the Nunnery Gallery in London. The work uses mapping data systems to lay claim to an area of Mars and erect a border around it. The work seems to make more tangible this phenomenon of using sophisticated machinery to unilaterally conquer territories humans could otherwise not access, like outer space or deep into the ocean. What were you trying to do with this work?

That’s an interesting take – I wrote myself a manifesto when I was planning /artefact and one of the tenets was “In a space that can only be perceived through mechano-digital mediation there is no meaningful gap between virtual and physical.” I’m really interested in the power dynamics embedded within the software infrastructures we all use. Platforms like Google Earth (which I used to generate footage for /artefact) generate a new shared reality overlaying and conflated with the physical world. They make new means of world exploration publicly available, while at the same time taking ownership of the visible appearance of the worlds and controlling what can and can’t be seen. I was really interested in playing within this dynamic. I’d also been spending a lot of time (virtually) travelling along border walls and looking at this awkward mapping (a kind of meta-drawing) of political power onto an indifferent geography. So I decided to examine this act by transferring it onto Mars and annexing territories for myself. I really liked the ridiculous hubristic incongruity of the idea. However of course it also anticipates the very real power exo-planetary power struggles we can expect to see played out over the coming decades.

Thanks Nye!

UNINVITED is on Furtherfield website and gallery until 31 Jan 2021.

Related stories: u s e r u n f r i e n d l y, UBERMORGEN solo show in London; Positions in Flux – Panel 1: Art goes politics – Hans Bernhard from UBERMORGEN.COM. 4 years ago, Millicent Hawk interviewed Nye Thompson about her work Backdoored.

from Finance

The Cost of Free Shipping. Amazon in the Global Economy

The Cost of Free Shipping. Amazon in the Global Economy, edited by Jake Alimahomed-Wilson and Ellen Reese.

Publisher Pluto writes: ‘One-click’ instant consumerism and its immense variety of products has made Amazon a worldwide household name, with over 60% of US households subscribing to Amazon Prime. In turn, these subscribers are surveilled by the corporation. Amazon is also one of the world’s largest logistics companies, resulting in weakened unions and lowered labor standards. The company has also become the largest provider of cloud-computing services and home surveillance systems, not to mention the ubiquitous Alexa.

With cutting-edge analyses, this book looks at the many dark facets of the corporation, including automation, surveillance, tech work, workers’ struggles, algorithmic challenges, the disruption of local democracy and much more. The Cost of Free Shipping shows how Amazon represents a fundamental shift in global capitalism that we should name, interrogate and be primed to resist.

The Cost of Free Shipping documents the impact that Amazon has inside and outside the workplace. Inside are the daily indignities for workers, the productivity pressures, the employment insecurity, the racialized-gendered biases and the health and safety hazards in the warehouses as well as on the road where “last mile” delivery workers (often hired by subcontractors) are equally submitted to “algocratic” discipline.

The chapters that investigate the influence of Amazon capitalism outside of the “fulfillment centres” should, sadly, leave no one undisturbed. Even if you don’t work for Amazon, even if you avoid its platform like the plague and don’t own an Echo, a Kindle, a Ring or anything that reeks of systematic surveillance of users, your life is still affected by the tech giant. Amazon Web Services, one of Amazon’s most profitable operations, control almost half of the cloud infrastructure market, providing data storage for Netflix, Facebook, McDonalds, NASA, Disney and several U.S. governmental agencies. Amazon is also, in part, responsible for the decline in small businesses. And wherever the company decides to install warehouses, data centres and offices, the area will experience increased spatial injustice: the movement and operation and maintenance of freight trucks are accompanied by a sharp increase of truck traffic, air pollution and respiratory illnesses for some of the already most disadvantaged communities. The damage on the environment and on citizens health is such that it neutralises any immediate economic benefits for the local population. Then there’s the aggressive tax-avoidance, the intense lobbying, etc. As the book shows, Amazon’s efforts to maximise profits have almost no ethical limits. But you knew that already…

An Amazon warehouse in England. Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images, via TNYT

Amazon workers and immigrants’ rights organisations protesting. Photo via techcrunch

This collection of critical essays by scholars, workers, journalists, labour and community organisers not only demonstrates that the lure of free shipping creates enormous costs for workers, communities and the environment, it also gives inspiring examples of grassroots resistance to Amazon capitalism.

Having described the evils of Amazon, the book highlights the attempts to rein in Amazon’s control of the workplace and grip on the economy.

In some European countries, where unions are stronger than in the U.S., Amazon facilities have seen union actions, strikes and industrial conflicts. More recently, workers in Italy, Spain, Poland and France have gone to strike over labour conditions related to COVID-19. The book also lists a series of successful protests in the U.S. In 2018, Somalis workers led a movement in Minneapolis to demand prayer rights and better working conditions. A year later, New York City unionists made collapse the plan to open an Amazon “HQ2” in Long Island City. That same year, programmers and other Amazon tech employees were organized under the banner Amazon Employees for Climate Justice and urged the company to address climate change. The movement culminated in Jeff Bezos pledging Amazon to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. A second campaign is challenging Amazon’s tight relationship with the military-industrial complex, demanding Amazon stop providing services to federal immigration enforcement and to the police. Sadly, the growing tech-worker movement shouldn’t hide the fact that the economic and political interests of the tech left do not necessarily align with the ones of the working class.

And indeed, so far these actions have had only limited impact on the icon of corporate domination and labour exploitation. The authors in the book, however, are hopeful that by sharing their research and the experiences of the most fruitful protests, other workers will join the resistance and that they will be supported by unions, by a broad network of citizens and by local and international alliances.

I enjoyed the variety of essays. Some of them are based on academic research, others on in-depth interviews with Amazon employees, on previous employment experiences as warehouse workers, on observations from public tours of warehouses or on ethnographic observations. There are some (hard to avoid) repetitions and a few questions that the press has already copiously documented but other than that, but I also discovered many disturbing facets of Amazon. Seeing all those issues brought together in one publication made me realise that Amazon’s corporate power and ruthless surveillance of workers and customers alike are incompatible with our democratic values.

More info and a discount code in Pluto’s podcast Radicals in Conversation: Workers Resisting Amazon.

from Finance

Budgeting for Healthcare in Early Retirement

Budgeting for Healthcare in Early Retirement

[Many FIRE walkers (including myself!) underestimate the cost of healthcare in retirement. It could be because we don’t track our costs accurately, don’t monitor our employer contributions, or forget to account for healthcare completely! Guest authors The Dragons on FIRE explain in today’s post the importance of tracking, budgeting, and planning for healthcare, as well as how to include it in your FIRE strategy. This is advice I wish I had read 5 years ago!]

Open enrollment season is upon us. Time to sign up for 2021 health insurance at work or online at if you buy it on your own. Most people pick a plan and then don’t think about it until next year, or when they have to use it. 

I retired early last year at the age of 43 and my wife Dragon Gal retired three years ago at the age of 40. 

In 2011, I was diagnosed with leukemia. I have been in remission for the last 5 years and was able to stop my daily medication last year. As a cancer survivor, healthcare costs were the number one issue preventing me from early retirement. I had to really understand all the costs I was paying and make sure I had sufficient savings to cover all of those costs. 

Common FIRE Problem: Not Accounting For Health Insurance Premiums

One cost that I really had to pay attention to was the insurance premiums.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), employer sponsored insurance covers approximately 157 million people. On average, workers pay 17% of the cost of premiums for single coverage ($1,243 per year) and 27% of the cost of the premiums for family coverage ($5,588 per year). 

For those of us with workplace insurance, the cost of premiums is usually deducted from our paycheck. Although this is convenient from a net pay standpoint, it makes it easy to ignore the cost in our expense tracking or budgets.  

Over the years of reading finance blogs, I noticed that many people in the FI community do NOT include healthcare premiums in their expenses.

As finance nerds, we are known to track every single penny that goes out the door. For health care, we track our doctor visits and prescription costs. So why wouldn’t we do the same thing for health insurance premiums?

Why Track Health Insurance Premiums?                             

Not including premiums in your expense reports results in a skewed view of what you pay for healthcare. Here are reasons it is important to track your health insurance premiums:

  • It is a real expense

By definition, your healthcare premiums are a real expense. But because most of us don’t swipe a credit card, write a check, or pay cash for it, we overlook this cost.

  • Employment situations can change

You might say that you don’t need to track health insurance premiums because the costs are low or you never want to quit your job so you will always have employer provided health insurance. But the reality is, there is no guarantee your situation will remain constant.

At the beginning of 2017, we knew nothing about the FIRE movement. Dragon Gal was working and we both had insurance provided by our employers. The combined cost of our portion of the premiums was about $150 per month. After Dragon Gal retired that summer, I put her on my workplace insurance. This increased our monthly premiums by over 3 times! Not only were we not receiving her paycheck, my net paycheck was now smaller because of the increased insurance costs (to the tune of almost $3,500 per year). 

  • Having non-employer sponsored insurance

If you didn’t get insurance from your job, you would most likely budget and track the costs of the plans you have to pay for on your own (which would probably be much higher than the premiums you pay through your workplace insurance). So why track the costs you pay on your own, but not the costs you pay that are netted from your paycheck? Self-employed, freelancers, or contract workers are all people that would need to pay for insurance on their own, and would most likely be tracking the expense.

  • Implications for financial independence and early retirement

 People who don’t track costs for premiums are underestimating their FI number.

 When I was still working, we paid roughly $500 per month in premiums, via my workplace insurance. Now we are paying $1,100 per month in premiums: Dragon Gal has an insurance plan on the marketplace (Obamacare) and I have COBRA coverage through my former employer.

 If I didn’t include any of those costs in my budget, using the 4% rule of Financial Independence, I would be understating my FI number by $330,000!

 $1,100 monthly expense*12 = $13,200 annual expense

$13,200* 25 = $330,000

 Likewise, if I ignored the $500 per month we paid last year with my employer insurance, my early retirement budget would show the full increase of $13,200 per year. By including the premiums from my work insurance, I was preparing myself for the costs when I needed to buy insurance on our own. Early Retirement didn’t mean a $13,200 increase per year; it only meant a $7,200 increase per year. That is still a large increase, but seeing a $7,200 increase is much more manageable than a $13,200 annual increase.

Without tracking any of the premiums, I would have underestimated our FI number by $330k. But by tracking the premiums I paid through my job, I was only understating our FI number by $180k ($7,200*25).

How We Tracked Our Premium Costs

For most of my working career, I did not track our health insurance premiums. But when I found out about Financial Independence in 2017, I changed that. 

I track all of our investments and expenses in Quicken. In the past, I would enter the net amount of the paychecks we received. Once I decided to track health insurance premiums, I started to gross up the income for the premium cost, and then input the premium as an expense.

A $5,000 net paycheck would be adjusted to $5,500 gross pay and an expense of $500 would be deducted for health care premiums. Pre-2017 I would just input a total net salary of $5,000. This was a simple change that added just a few extra seconds to the task of inputting my paycheck. But now I had the additional costs included in my tracking. I could then incorporate this cost into my budget.

Focus on the Total Cost of Healthcare       

It is tempting to just pick the plan with the lowest premiums, but that may mean you pay more in total costs when you need to use the services (go to the doctor or hospital). 

If you use a lot of services, it might make sense to get a plan with higher premiums and a lower out of pocket max.  

Let’s take a look at two plans my former employer offered (numbers rounded):

Healthcare Scenario 1: Doctor Visits Only

Monthly Premium (Employee Only) $100 $50
Annual Premiums $1,200 $600
Doctor Visit $25 copay Full cost up to deductible (assume $150)


In Plan A, if I have one visit to the doctor (aside from the annual physical, which is free), my total annual cost would be $1,200 for premiums and $25 for the doctor visit, or $1,225 total. In Plan B, the same costs would only be $750 total ($600 premium plus $150 doctor visit).

Plan B is cheaper in total. But if I wasn’t including the premiums in my expense tracking, I would show that I spent more in costs with Plan B ($150 for the doctor visit versus only $25 for the doctor visit in Plan A).        

As a cancer survivor, I have learned to look at the total cost of health care when building my budget (premiums plus out of pocket spend). I know that I need to see my oncologist for lab work at least two or three times a year. Because I will need more services, I am more likely to choose a plan with a higher premium, but lower out of pocket costs.

Now let’s look at the cost of lab work for the two plans:

Healthcare Scenario 2: Lab Work

Monthly Premium (Employee Only) $100 $50
Annual Premiums $1,200 $600
Doctor Visit $25 copay Full cost up to deductible (assume $150)
Lab Costs $0 (insurance pays 100%) Full cost up to deductible (assume $1,000 per event)
Deductible $1,750 $2,250
Total Cost of 1 Doctor Visit and 2 Labs $25 ($25 doctor + $0 Lab 1 + $0 Lab 2) $2,150 ($150 doctor + $1,000 Lab 1 + $1,000 Lab 2)
Total Healthcare Cost with Premiums $1,225 $2,750


Although Plan A has higher premiums, the labs are free and thus the total cost of premiums and labs is significantly lower than Plan B.

Based on my health care needs, although Plan A has higher premiums, I would spend a lot less money in total than with Plan B. On the flip side, Dragon Gal does not use the doctor as much as I do. So Plan B would make more sense for her. 

See how this can be confusing if you don’t track the premium costs? Your total costs can vary depending on what your needs are. So it is important to look at all health care costs in your budgeting.

Estimating Non-Workplace Insurance

The premiums you pay for workplace insurance are most likely not the full amount. But it’s still important to think about the full amount in terms of understanding your FI number or if you have a change in job situation.

Here are a couple of ways to estimate the cost of non-workplace health insurance premiums:


In most cases, if you leave your job, you are entitled to 18 months of company-provided health insurance through COBRA. But you must pay 100% of the premiums plus a 2% administrative fee. For Plan A above, the $100 monthly copay is almost $700 per month under COBRA. For the $500 per month plan that Dragon Gal and I had, COBRA is about $1,600 per month.

COBRA is expensive! But it still might offer better coverage than plans in the open market. Although I might find cheaper premiums in the open marketplace, I would spend significantly more to go to the doctor or have lab work done. So those high COBRA premiums made sense to me. 

If you don’t know the price of COBRA, using estimates from the KFF survey, assume your single coverage is 15% of the total (so take your premium and divide by 0.15) and assume your family coverage is 30% of the total premium (take the premium and divide by 0.30).

  • or is home to the health insurance marketplace (Obamacare). If your state has its own marketplace, this website will direct you to your state specific site. You can find prices of plans and see which doctors and hospitals are in-network. is an aggregator site that shows prices for Obamacare as well as short-term plans and small business plans.

Regardless of the ways you estimate health care costs, don’t just look at the total premium costs; you need to also look at the cost of utilizing services. One easy way is to take the annual premium costs and add in the out of pocket maximum. This is the most you would pay for health care in a year. 

Insurance as Part of “The Big 3” Expenses

We all think of housing, transportation, and food as the big 3 expenses. But by including your health care premiums, insurance costs might actually become part of your big 3. 

While I was working, the $500 in monthly insurance premiums ($6,000 yearly) was more than our food expenses for our family of two (groceries and restaurants, including travel). This cost was also more than the cost to own and maintain our two Toyota Prius cars. (We don’t have any more car loan payments.) Only our housing costs and travel expenses (we like to travel) were more than the costs of the workplace health insurance premiums. 

In 2020, under our new early retirement insurance, the $1,100 per month in premiums will be our largest expense for the year. 

Typically, we like to know what our big 3 expenses are so we can find ways to shave our costs. But unlike food, housing, or transportation, you probably feel you have less control over healthcare costs. However, by doing a little research on the plan options, you can have some control over the costs. 

Based on how you’ve used healthcare historically, you can think about how to optimize your costs. For me, it makes sense to pay higher premiums in exchange for lower out of pocket costs. Dragon Gal rarely goes to the doctor outside of her annual checkup, so it makes sense for her to pay lower premiums and higher out of pocket costs. We are essentially using her insurance to cover her in case of emergencies. 

Final Thoughts on Budgeting for Healthcare

As you go through the open enrollment season at work or think about your budget for 2021, include health care premiums as one of your expenses listed in your budget. Just because your health premiums come directly out of your paycheck, it doesn’t mean they’re not a cost you aren’t incurring.

Since I started tracking health insurance premiums and researching our plan options, I have become more aware of the true cost of health care. This awareness gave me a realistic view of our FI number and allowed me to be better prepared for early retirement. 

With the pandemic, we are in an increasingly volatile job market. I think it is important for everyone to understand what your health care costs may be without employer sponsored insurance. Hopefully, you don’t have to think about that situation, but by doing a little research, you can be better prepared for any curveballs that may come your way.

Dragon Guy retired in 2019 at the age of 43 after a 20-year career in finance. He is a 9-year cancer survivor, having been diagnosed with leukemia in 2011. He has been married to Dragon Gal for over 18 years. Together, they blog at The Dragons on FIRE, where they write about their early retirement experiences, living with cancer, and traveling around the world.

from Finance

Net Worth Report #2 – “One Little Duck”

Net Worth Report #2 – “One Little Duck”

Before getting to the net worth update, 2 quick things to share… The first is a comment I received last month from a reader, Max S.:

“Good Morning Joel.. I finally did my first net worth report.  After all that time hearing JMoney telling us readers to track our net worth I just never got around to it.  Seeing your first net worth report motivated me to do my first report.  Thanks for the push.

Can you tell JMoney I finally got started tracking my net worth so he can stop all that nagging about it now.  jk :)”

Although J Money may have transformed the financial lives of millions of people out there, it’s nice to know that I at least motivated 1 person he didn’t reach! Haha.  Jokes aside, the reason I’m sharing Max’s note is because maybe it’ll encourage any other net worth virgins out there to track for the very first time. 🎵💃🎵.  It truly only takes a few minutes to do and it’s one of the best tools along your journey to FI!

The other thing worth mentioning is getting an “accountabilibuddy.” If you are finding it hard to stay on track each month, I recommend finding a buddy or a partner you know and trust to help! You don’t have to share every specific detail, it’s more to make sure each other is doing their FIRE homework regularly!

Net Worth Update November 1, 2020:

Here’s the account summary for me and my wife, as well as growth shown in dollars and percentages for each asset:

Well, shit. 😩

Our net worth went down a few grand. Not the greatest start to tracking this stuff publicly, but we have to show both the goods and the bads in the wealth building process!

Here’s What Happened in October…

First off, there was a crap ton of volatility. The stock market does weird stuff leading up to a presidential election (and will continue to do weird stuff afterwards!) – more on that below.

For the first ~23 days of October we had some pretty killer growth. In fact, all our assets listed above topped the $500k mark for a little while! Woohoo! But then, things started to tank pretty quickly. The worst day was October 28th where our beloved VTI fund dropped a full 3.31%. 😦

As the saying goes, “the market giveth, and the market taketh away.”

This doesn’t bother me all too much, though. The larger an investment portfolio, the less overall control we have on performance. 

Asset Growth (and Shrinkage):

Checking & Savings Accounts: $39,894 (+$1,026): A little increase here, but we have about $1k in new debt added to our credit cards that is due in November. Our goal with this cash balance is to reduce it slowly over time and siphon some pre-tax income into my new 401k plan. This balance acts as our emergency fund, and includes the random churning bank accounts we currently have open.

Rental Property, and Reserve Account: $236,950 (+$1,019): This past month we collected $1975 in total rent, and had -$956 in expenses ($294 prop mgmt & maintenance + $662 mortgage pmt). Keep in mind taxes/insurance are *not* included in my mtg payment, I pay them annually in a lump sum. So although it seems like this rental might make $1000 in cash flow each month, it takes a massive drop when my ridiculous taxes are due in January. This year the tax bill is $5,185, even after my appeal.

IRA – Rollover: $117,010 (-$1,623): Kind of sucks when things are in the red, but that’s just the way it is sometimes. Back in July I pegged this IRA against the rental property to track which one will grow at a faster rate (they were both worth $109k at the time). This account is still ahead by about $3k, but if it has another negative month like this the rental asset will catch up and be worth more! 🙂

IRA – Roths: $60,141 (-$1,021):  Same story as above… account value dropping a bit with the overall stock market. Since these are both long term retirement accounts, I’m just trusting that over the long haul we will have more green months than red months!

Joint Brokerage Account: $156,417 (-$2,436): The reason this account is moving at a slightly different rate than the IRAs is because a) we have some bonds in here which grow at a slower but more steady rate, and also a few individual stocks. However the majority is all in broad, low cost index funds. VTI mostly!

HSA: $1,654 (-$23): My plan *was* to increase this account immediately with $3,550 (the max contribution for 2020), but, I just learned that my employer will likely be changing my benefits, again! (and not in a good way 😔 ). Since I’m only enrolled in a HDHP for 3 months this year (Oct-Dec 2020), a max contribution would require me to stay in a HDHP for the entirety of next year also. To play it safe I may just prorate my contribution for 2020, and there’s still a few months to figure this out before year end. If prorated, I think I can put in $887 safely ($3,550 / 12 x 3), right?

New 401(k) at work: $1,957 (+$1,957): Woohoo, this is the first month adding to my new 401k plan! But, there are 2 sucky things to mention:  1) My contributions to this account in October were actually $2,044, so I lost about $87 having this money invested. Not horrible though, because I saved more than that probably on income tax. And 2) I mentioned above that my company benefits will likely change, or be taken away – and this 401k plan is part of what will be killed. Oh well, anything contributed here can always be rolled over to an IRA, converted to Roth, or put into another plan down the line if one is offered to me.

Breakdown of Liabilities:

Rental Property Mortgage: -$122,758 (+$239): There’s nothing sweeter than watching tenants pay down your property loan each month. It’s a very slow process — 30 years to be exact! — but the speed doesn’t matter… Progress is progress!

Credit Card Balances: -$1,309 (-$1,005): We have all of our credit cards set to auto-pay the full balance on the due date. This means we typically have a rolling credit debt of a couple thousand dollars at any given time.

My wife and I have no other consumer debt at this time!

Other Happenings This Past Month:

My wife got a new exercise bike! She says it’s her early Christmas present, but I feel like by the time Christmas rolls around she’ll “forget” she said that and will want another present then also. (Totally fine with me, because I plan to pull the same trick!). She picked up this bad boy off Craigslist for $200 – it was only used once by someone who bought it last month and is moving to a smaller apartment.

Another money win… We switched to AT&T Fiber internet! Not only do we get 960Mbps download speed for $20 less per month than our old Spectrum service, they also gave us a $200 Visa Gift Card signup bonus for switching! That’s a $440 difference this next 12 months. Woohoo!  

Another little unexpected bonus… We got a $72 check from Apple as part of a class action settlement for some power button issue on the iphone 4 about 9 years ago. Were any of you guys a part of this claim and did you get the payout check too??

Future Volatility & Unknowns

I’ve seen a bunch of news articles lately about how the stock market behaves strangely before, during, and after presidential elections. Experts have their opinions, predictions, forecasts, prophecies, prognostics, indices, and some people even use the Big Mac Index to guess future stock market growth!

Although rollercoaster markets concern me, they don’t worry me. They don’t change my overall gameplan. Emotions aside, my wife and I will keep our money invested through thick and thin.

We are in it for the long haul – and I hope you guys are too!

How were your updates the past month? Share your milestones and juicy details in the comments — which as a reminder is a judgement free zone!

Have a great weekend! (And for you hopeless romantics out there – Today is exactly 100 days until Valentine’s Day!)

– Joel

from Finance

WhiteFeather Hunter, “The Witch in the Lab Coat”

The easiest way to introduce WhiteFeather Hunter is to write that she is a multiple-award winning artist. Adding that she is a bioartist and a scholar wouldn’t still quite cover her practice. It’s more complicated than that but it is also relentlessly exciting.

WhiteFeather Hunter. Photo: Matthew Brooks/ Milieux Institute

WhiteFeather Hunter, Mooncalf, 2019-present

In 2018, the artist collaborated with a microbiologist to create a “skin renewal” cream containing bacterial enzymes from her own saliva and from soil samples to explore the concept of bacto-intimacy and cast a critical gaze at the hi-tech lingo the cosmetic industry uses to sell its anti-ageing formulas. That same year, she also explored the possibility of using native plant species and an extremophilic bacteria to help heal highly contaminated gold mine tailing sites in Nova Scotia, Canada. A year earlier, she worked with a designer to create a delicate, organic-mechanic Gucci knock-off dress. Throughout her career, she has produced rogue taxidermy, sculptural pieces out of animal intestine from the local butcher and artificial bones, hacked electronics, investigated “lichenological time”, used landscapes and bodies as laboratories and experimented with the unpredictability of living material.

Right now, WhiteFeather Hunter is working on a PhD research project that explores the intersection of feminist witchcraft and tissue engineering through the development of a body- and performance-based laboratory practice. One part of her research consists in collecting her own menstrual fluid and using this potent source of stem cells and growth factors to extract a serum that will be used as a new nutrient media for tissue culture. The serum could thus constitute a more ethical alternative to the fetal calf serum used in cellular agriculture. The fact that she is the first to study the viability of menstrual serum as a substitute for fetal calf serum to grow mammalian tissue in vitro tells you a lot about the masculine predominance in STEM fields.

Such a portfolio called for an interview!

WhiteFeather Hunter, Mooncalf, 2019-present

WhiteFeather Hunter, Mooncalf, 2019-present

Hi WhiteFeather! I’d like to start with the place of witchcraft in your practice. You have a deep understanding of biology. You are a PhD candidate in Biological Art at the University of Western Australia and have also worked in many international laboratory as an artist in residency and you have served as the Principal Investigator and Technician of the Speculative Life BioLab at the Milieux Institute for Arts, Culture and Technology at Concordia University. You often wear a lab coat in photo portraits. Since your practice has evolved in such close connection with science, I’m wondering what you encounter in witchcraft that you do not find in the rational, scientific world? How does witchcraft and science complement each other? Do they provide different types of answers to the same problem, for example? How do you reconcile them? If these are the correct terms to use.

Reconciling the worlds of science and witch(craft) requires digging up the history of gender, class and racial suppression, which are often intersected within the brutal trajectory of colonial and techno-capitalist advance, including biomedical. The foremost scholar on this history, analysed through a feminist lens, is of course Silvia Federici. Her two books, Caliban and the Witch (2004) and Witches, Witch-Hunting and Women (2018) are must-reads. I must also acknowledge Donna Haraway as a primary influence on many technofeminist witches such as myself, in terms of new philosophies for manifesting a future-now that is more equitable for women, trans and nonbinary people, BIPOC, more-than-human species or anyone/ anything else deemed as ‘other’ than the hetero cis-male baseline standard. We are working at queering, at the crossroads — specifically at the intersection of not just science and witchcraft, but also biotechnology and art, towards accessible (empowering) modes of social reconstruction, or ‘social reproduction’ on our own terms.

When I use the term witchcraft, I often emphasize the ‘craft’ aspect of the word, to indicate a legacy of folk, DIY, traditional or lay approaches (empirical, lived or situated knowledge bases) that inform individual and community care practices. This is in contrast, or sometimes now complementary to, institutionalized, authorized ‘care’ protocols such as conventional medical methods. The trick of my research is to attempt to seamlessly meld an embodied experience of ‘spirituality’ and all that it entails (ie. understanding the agency of nonhuman or more-than-human organisms and ‘inanimate’ matter — à la Jane Bennett) with measurable results to produce a body of work that both critiques and holds accountable the (economic, ecological, cultural and health) impacts of new technologies on the world, while also manipulating these tools towards more emancipatory ends. This is not to discount the many benefits of science — not at all. My perspective is that the ‘witch’ always was a scientist, and that science should be ultimately empirical/ lived. The problem is that often empirical knowledge is sometimes discredited (if not profitable) or exploited (if profitable) by industry, taking it out of the hands of the researcher or community.

Witchcraft spells for tissue culture

In the Missing Witches podcast, you talk about the history of witchcraft as anti-capitalist resistance. Apart from the podcast, what would you recommend we look to get more information about this type of resistance?
And does this dimension of witchcraft as anti-capitalist resistance (or resistance in general) have any resonance in today’s world? Could activists find any inspiration in witchcraft? Even male activists or is witchcraft for women alone?

Witchcraft is definitely not for women alone. The witch is a shape-shifter and defies sex/gender pigeonholing. Deviance from hegemonic norms is the celebrated forte of the witch.

Currently, we see numerous capitalist attempts at appropriating pop culture notions of witchcraft, along with other previously suppressed spiritual practices (such as indigenous traditions) for profitable outcomes, such as the sale of props like crystals and smudge sticks by beauty brands, etc. The witch knows that so-called ‘healing’ crystals for sale on Amazon or the Sephora website, for example, can often involve problematic, exploitative earth extraction methods — this is counter to the witch’s desires. The witch ultimately needs no ‘magical’ props other than political, knowledgeable control over her own body and what she can create with it/ for it/ through it, for herself and/or her community. This isn’t to say that she lives in a hut in the woods with mud floors and a sooty cauldron, out of reach of any cell phone tower. That might be nice for some, but not necessary.

The witch may be a technophile — she is, however, squinting skeptically at capitalism in everything that she does, and twisting technologies towards beautifully weird outcomes.

I’m fascinated by The Witch in the Lab Coat and Mooncalf, your experiments with creating nutrient serum for mammalian tissue culture using menstrual blood. If I understood correctly, you would use your own blood to grow tissue in vitro. After the first moment of surprise, I had to admit that it would make sense to use a material that would otherwise go to waste as a nutrient. But how nutritious would that blood be to grow cells? It is clearly much more ethical than fetal bovine serum but is it as nutritious? Is menstrual blood any better than blood that has another origin?

There is a cultural perception of menstrual blood as somehow tainted, ‘unclean’ or dirty. We see this view regularly perpetuated, for example by extremely problematic artworks such as Anish Kapoor’s recent series of menstruating vagina paintings, wherein he describes his ‘fascination’ with vaginas as something that, “stems from blood as “ritual matter”, but also its association with “the abject, with death, with the impure”. He adds: “It’s so strange that both are a place of origin and a place of dirt, or other matter, menstrual [blood].”

Vaginal fluids, absent of infection by external agents are neither toxic nor hazardous (nor ‘dirty’), yet the commonality of the perception of menstrual fluid itself as ‘pollutant’ persists in a variety of cultural contexts, unsupported by science. Recent genomic profiling of microbiota within the vaginal canal has shown the prominence of commensal species that produce bactericidal and virucidal compounds, mainly lactic acid. Most importantly for my research, proteomic analyses of menstrual blood have shown that it contains hundreds of unique proteins not found in venous blood. Yet, it has never, to my knowledge, been experimented with as a nutrient serum for tissue culture. I have now already produced a supply of menstrual serum from my own vaginal fluids. I’ve denatured the serum, meaning essentially cooking it at 65˚C for 15 minutes to render any unknown viral vectors inert. The next experiments will be to culture a variety of cell types in the serum to see which ones thrive best.

Politically, this work is important not only for addressing misogynist cultural taboos — the actual production of menstrual blood is still a material outside the control of the patriarchal capitalist economy. Menstruators don’t sit on stainless steel factory funnel toilets, bleeding ad infinitum into the supply chain. Neither is menstrual blood a scarce resource whose value can be artificially inflated on the commodities market—though, conceivably, it could be were the taboos around it to be overcome and its utilitarian potential realized. I’m hoping to get ahead that game, and head it off at the pass. My work seeks to re-orient the long-standing socio-biological construction of the female body as problematic, to that of innate potential for self-actualization and, importantly, self-directed scientific experimentation.

What type of cells will you use? Will they come from other animals?

Currently, I’ve isolated what has been previously identified as endometrial regenerative cells, a multipotent stem cell type that is found to be very abundant and robust in menstrual blood. My own stem cells were extremely easy to isolate from a thin layer of endometrial tissue that was extracted from my menstrual blood during the serum separation process, meaning that I spun down the whole blood in a centrifuge, into its component parts: serum, tissue and red blood cells. I removed the serum top layer (for later use) and then extracted cells from the middle mucus and tissue layer. The bottom layer, the red blood cells, was discarded. The stem cells I extracted grew extremely well in vitro, and are now in cryopreservation as part of my own personal cell bank at the University of Western Australia. Scientifically, I still need to experiment further with them to prove that they are what I think they are, including differentiating them into different cell types to see exactly what their potentialities might be. Can they become cardiomyocytes? Can they become connective tissue cells? Can they become muscle cells? That remains to be seen. What I do know, though, is that they are not embryonic stem cells so they cannot become a complex organism; merely a singular tissue type after differentiation.

WhiteFeather Hunter, Mooncalf, 2019-present

WhiteFeather Hunter, Mooncalf, 2019-present

Can you freely use your own menstrual blood in laboratory settings? Does its use have to be approved?

Funnily enough, within the context of my PhD, I had to first sign over my bodily autonomy to my supervisor, assigning her the official care and control of my body for the purposes of scientific experimentation. Ultimately, what that meant was that I had to compose all manner of bureaucratic documents, including a Participant Information Sheet wherein I informed myself of the potential hazards of working with my own menstrual blood or using a menstrual cup for specimen collection. This is an entirely weird process where my bodily knowledge essentially becomes disembodied and institutionalized/ regulated. The Human Research Ethics approval process took well over six months, and the unofficial word I received mid-way through the process was that someone on the ethics committee was ‘uncomfortable’ with my proposed research, meaning I had to defend its importance in an extremely bulletproof manner that elevated it scientifically beyond any reasonable or subjective arguments against it. I was also required to give excessively detailed job task breakdowns to explain very precisely every single thing I would do with the menstrual blood and where I would do it, meaning that any last vestige of privacy around the handling of my intimate body materials was forfeited. It was quite an interesting exercise. Now I am officially approved for the handling of my own menstrual blood.

Will this PhD research project be accompanied by performances? Are you planning to deploy and communicate it outside of the academia context? (if that’s not too soon to ask)

Performance is a big part of not only the dissemination of the research in terms of artistic outputs, but also for the gestation and in-corp-oration of new ideas. I use performance as a way to embody new knowledge as I am working through it and gaining it. It is a research method. The performances are recorded and then edited into didactic video performance works. I’m also an educator and making knowledge, particularly high-tech scientific knowledge, accessible is one of the core principles in my overall ethos. So, this is one of the ways that I use art towards a politics of knowledge accessibility. My performance videos are always interspersed with text subtitling that both provoke critical thought while also explaining protocols. I think that this way of working lends itself well to the new reality we find ourselves in with so many online interactions for conferences, exhibitions, etc.

WhiteFeather Hunter, with Gen Moison, Vanessa Mardirossian, and Alex Bachmayer, Bactinctorium, 2017-2018. Petri dishes of Vogesella indigofera growing on menstrual blood agar

WhiteFeather Hunter, Serratia marsescens printed on silk

You also work with bacteria and other microorganisms and talk about co-creation. How much can you control or guide the aesthetic outcome of works developed in co-creation with microorganisms? Do they often surprise you?

I am always surprised, and that is part of the love of working with microorganisms. It’s a state of perpetual curiosity and also humility towards the more-than-human worlds. If I say that I am co-creating with microorganisms, I say it cautiously because I am always aware of the systems of control that are in play when generating the work. Ultimately, we are all co-creating our realities with innumerable microorganisms, electronic and other systems every day. I place a particular focus on the agency of the microbial world in the context of my own creative projects because it’s an acknowledgement of the fact that as much as I work within systems of control, I am never completely in control.

WhiteFeather Hunter, PROSPECTIVE FUTURES: THE AURELIA PROJECT, 2018. Photo: Mireille Bourgeois/ IOTA Institute



WhiteFeather Hunter, PROSPECTIVE FUTURES: THE AURELIA PROJECT (Cupriavidus metallidurans), 2018

I’m very curious about PROSPECTIVE FUTURES: THE AURELIA PROJECT. Every single aspect of it is compelling. Your intention was to make a ritual offering of gold-producing microbes to a poisoned site where the settler industry has rendered a Nova Scotia landscape useless and dangerous. What is the background of the location? How did this site become polluted and how did it affect the First Nations who lived there?

I consulted with an indigenous curator on this project, Roger Lewis, facilitated by IOTA Institute. All of the knowledge of place, in terms of its impacts on the local First Nations, is owed to him and what he shared with me in person, both onsite at the tailings site and in his office at the Nova Scotia Museum. Roger explained to me that there is no separation between the Mi’kmaq people and the landscape that houses them, now or ever throughout history. ‘Place’ is not simply a physical location but a psychospiritual and multi-temporal co-evolution of all beings. In this understanding, all damages and harm done to the landscape are done to the people that belong to that landscape, on multiple levels. The site I worked with, the Montague legacy gold mine tailings site, is a place next to people’s homes, waterways and inhabited natural landscape. It is heavily polluted with the chemicals and byproducts of ‘legacy’ gold mining, meaning the more polluting and toxic practices that were used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It still contains high levels of mercury and arsenic. It continues to affect people, including those who take their dogs there for walks, not understanding the toxicity levels present because they have lived next to it for so long that it has become normalized. The Nova Scotia government is interested in remediating the site, but not necessarily with its sights set on righting past wrongs, but in order to go back in and re-mine the site since it still contains high percentages of gold particulate from the original ore.

WhiteFeather Hunter, BLÓM + BLÓÐ (flowers + blood)

Can you tell us about your PhD at the University of Western Australia? What is your investigation about and what are you hoping to achieve?

My PhD is both a science doctorate as well as a design degree, so my research outputs have to meet both scientific research criteria as well as include artistic production. The art objects I produce will serve as case studies that support both a cultural and scientific analysis of my topics, which include the use of menstrual blood as a biological material in cellular biology protocols, as well as witchcraft practices in a standard (controlled) academic laboratory context. The connection point between the two is the nature of taboo in relation to (women’s) body materials and the technological manipulation of them. My main laboratory work is specifically towards producing a spoof prototype of ‘unclean’ meat, or lab grown meat produced with menstrual serum, in order to provide critique of the continuously hyped-up “clean meat” industry, among other things. My supervisor is one of the originators of lab-grown ‘meat’, Ionat Zurr (with her collaborator, Oron Catts) and has a long history of addressing the need for critical discussion of the impacts, potential and violence in tissue culture practices. The tissue I produce, that is grown in menstrual serum, is real (“semi-living”) tissue and the protocols for doing so are scientifically sound. But, I present it only as an instigation, not an actual product. I’m not interested in instrumentalizing women’s bodies any more than they already are by the current developments in biotechnology.

Any other upcoming projects and field of research you might be working on now?

As always, I’m advocating for the democratization of sci-tech praxes, and am working towards ways of doing more of my work at home, in my own kitchen and bathroom, as complementary spaces to the laboratory. I’m currently waiting on approval to work in a lab in Montreal with François-Joseph Lapointe to sequence the microbial and mycobial genomic material present in my own menstrual fluid. Because of the COVID situation, Montreal remains in a red zone and I’m unable to get into the lab, but I’ve had fun in the meantime, carefully collecting dozens of vaginal swabs for the full duration of my menstrual cycle, at home. I’ve treated my bathroom/ toilet as my laboratory, with my kitchen as the auxiliary storage space for all of my samples. My vaginal swabs sit in tubes next to my carrots and avocados in the vegetable drawer. Cleaning my toilet has never been so interesting, and I’m totally into this transformation of the banal into something officious for academic research.

Thanks WhiteFeather!

Keep up with WhiteFeather Hunter’s exhibitions and conferences on her news website. Next on her agenda are (among other events) a presentation of the Mooncalf project at Taboo – Transgression – Transcendence in Art & Science conference, an exhibition of the Mooncalf project as part of the upcoming Culture of Contamination show at the New York Hall of Science and an artist residency at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle (Cornwall), UK.

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