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Power to the purchaser

Having finally gotten back from running way too many errands, at the tail end of a season of rampant consumerism, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the way we buy things. If you’re reading this, chances are you live in a mostly capitalism-driven economy. That reality, of course, come with pros and cons. One of the cons is that companies and corporations sometimes prioritize profit over integrity and ethical practices. One of the pros is that you, as a consumer, get to choose what companies you give money to.

This means that any practice or belief you hold to strongly can, in theory, be supported further through what you do or don’t buy (and who you do or don’t buy from). This might mean buying organic produce and free-range chicken products, not buying products that were tested on animals, or ensuring that something you buy is local or fair trade.

Sometimes, of course, convenience or cost may make sticking to any buying preferences difficult if not impossible. For many emerging adults who are on stricter budgets than more established adults, sometimes purchasing power is a lot more limited than we’d like.

Here are some quick numbers:

  • Despite Millennials earning only 62.6% of the pre-tax income that Gen-Xers do, housing for Millennials costs an average of 75% of housing costs for Gen-Xers.1
  • Millennials spend two-thirds the amount spent by Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers on entertainment.1
  • 60% of Millennials prefer to purchase generic brands over name brands.2
  • Nearly 50% of Millennials would be more willing to make a purchase from a company if that specific purchase supports a cause.2
  • 81% of Millennials expect companies to make a public commitment to charitable causes and corporate citizenship.3

In other words, a lot of us care how we’re spending our money — even though we have less buying power than older generations do now, and in many cases less than they did at our age. (Caused by things like the fact that in the U.S., college tuition and fees have increased approximately 225% over the last 30 years4, while the average wage index has only increased 26.6%.5)

I care about putting my money where my mouth is as much as is reasonably possible. I’ll buy less from — or cut out completely — brands whose ethics, environmental, and/or labor practices I don’t agree with. But sometimes it’s hard. I love to shop local and support small businesses, but having to buy a bunch of last-minute Christmas gifts meant that Amazon was infinitely more practical.

So how do we balance the two? I don’t have the perfect answer, but these are a few practices I’m going to be trying to implement more in 2019:

  • Read the labels. This is literally the easiest one. Look for labels (in-stores or online) that proclaim practices you want to support. And know when it’s just a marketing ploy: organic and fair trade can be certified, but words like “natural” don’t require any proof of standards
  • Source it. Find out where your stuff is coming from. Usually, the closer to home the more sustainably and/or ethically it’s been made. Not always, of course, but buying local also means a smaller carbon footprint!
  • Look into the company. I’m of the mindset that the bigger the company is, the more cautious I need to be about blindly purchasing from them, as large corporations too often hurt the little guy to stuff the pockets of higher-ups. I buy from a lot of chains and big retailers anyways, but I do try to buy less and at least be aware of their practices as a consumer.
  • Know the real cost difference. Keep in mind that sometimes cheap, mass-produced stuff won’t last as long or will be worse for you in the long run than spending a little more for practices and quality you can get behind.
  • Find other ways to support. If you find a brand whose practices you really like and want to support, say so. That can mean telling friends, following them on social media, buying more of their product, whatever.
  • Be honest about what you can afford. I’ll be honest: I don’t buy all fair-trade, sustainable, organic stuff. I can’t afford it all the time, and I know a lot of other folks can’t either. At that point, you have to determine which purchases are worth it to you, and which ones are areas where you’re okay sticking to the status quo.

This is something I definitely don’t do as well as I’d like, but I hope it’s one that we as a society can continuously improve at. As much as I appreciate low costs and convenience, I want to take care of all the people, creatures, and resources that inhabit our world — and that often means saying so with my wallet.

What do you do for more ethical purchasing? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018.

2 Millennial Marketing, 2018.

3 Horizon Media Finger on the Pulse Study, via Forbes, 2014.

4 CollegeBoard, 2018.

5 Social Security Administration, 2017.

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So you blew your budget

Despite meticulous, careful planning, I seriously blew my Christmas shopping budget this year. The biggest reason is that family grew on a few sides — like, last year I bought 12 or 13 gifts total and this year I bought 26 just for family. Plus some gifts cost more than expected, and being busy meant I didn’t make as many presents this year as I usually do.

None of those things are bad, but as someone who is very careful and intentional about finances, it does create a bit of a dilemma. Luckily I’ve found a few things that help bridge the gap.

First, the standard disclaimer that I knew everyone’s financial situation is different, which can make well-intentioned gift giving even trickier than finding the right idea. We all want to give something the person will enjoy and feels nice, but don’t want to break the bank or go too extravagant.

For emerging adults in particular, we’re usually considered grown-up enough to be expected to choose/buy gifts for people on our own, but often non financially established enough to be able to comfortably afford that. Which proves a sticky situation this time of year.

Also, I have some issues with the materialism and the contractualism that have seeped into the holiday season for so many of us, but at the end of the day, I still like giving loved ones gift that hopefully make them happy in some way. So we’ll start off with some ways to save when holiday shopping:

  • Gifts in bulk. I hate giving duplicate gifts, but I also have a crap ton of family. My way around this is usually to choose a category of gift and then try to individualize them for each person. For example, personalized ornaments or a batch of sweets with a note about why I’m grateful for them.
  • DIY when wise. Sometimes, DIY can prove more expensive and more time-consuming than just buying, but if you can do it cost-effectively, it can mean a lot to people that you made something for them rather than just going to the store and buying it.
  • Memories over stuff. Connecting a small gift to a memory or meaningful moment can be a lot more special for a loved one than stuff at all. Experiences, photographs, or even their favorite candy bar with a note show that you care about and know them, not just that you can buy stuff for them.

Sometimes, of course, it’s too late to save. Or just plain hard. I could have gone less overboard with Christmas shopping this year, but I’m not sure I could have stayed in budget, and the closer I got the more I’d be unsure if I was getting each person enough (again, the contractualism thing). So what about after the budget has already been blown?

Here are the most useful methods I’ve found for recovering from going over budget:

  • Cut back in other flexible areas (aka fun stuff). I went over budget on Christmas shopping, so I won’t get to eat out for, like, a couple months. I still have to eat and I’m not going to avoid all fun activities, but I am cutting back quite a bit on what was already a small budget (fun spending makes up about 10% of my monthly budget).
  • See if there are areas you can redistribute. I overspent on Christmas this month but needed way less gas than usual. So I moved some funds around in my budget and brought the deficit down a little.
  • If it’s worth it, it’s okay to pull a little from savings once in a while. Savings isn’t meant to be hoarded forever — but it is meant to be used with careful discretion. I try to save 30% of my income every month (and fully realize that isn’t possible for everyone, though saving some is), and try to only dip into it for large expenses like a vacation — still, of course, setting limits on how much. But I put a little less into savings this month so I know that it’s covered, and because I’ve already saved carefully and doing so doesn’t threaten my emergency fund.
  • Don’t compromise what you shouldn’t. Your bills still have to get paid. For me, how much I donate to charity or people in need every month is also non-negotiable, and not something that consumerism (no matter how holiday-themed) gets to threaten. Those things come first, period.
  • Adjust your budget so you don’t do it again. Few categories of purchase are truly one-time things. So if something ends up costing more than you realized, adjust your budget accordingly so that next time you’re ready. In my case, I’ll be cutting back slightly on fun spending throughout the year as well as lowering the budget for each gift to make sure I’m in a better spot next year.

How do you avoid going over budget, and how do you handle it when you do? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and have a warm and happy holiday season!

(Photo is a free stock photo because I am definitely not done wrapping gifts.)

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Recipes: Homemade chicken soup

Hi all! Sorry posts have been a little extra intermittent lately — trying to stay on top of everything amidst work, travel, wedding planning, and the holidays has proved a challenge. The weather is (finally) chilly here so, especially on a busy schedule, soup is a go-to meal for me.

Once again, let me sing the praises of using a crock pot. This is a super easy recipe, and as long as you’re careful of the sodium content, really healthy. Let’s get to it!

Ingredients:

  • 1 yellow onion
  • about 1.5 lbs. potatoes (I used baby golden potatoes, but any work)
  • 1 full stalks celery
  • about 2/3 lb. carrots
  • 1.5 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts (you can use any, but this is the easiest to deal with)
  • about 6 cups chicken broth
  • 1-2 cups water
  • a hearty amount of garlic powder and Italian seasoning
  • salt & pepper to tasteIMG_8302

Instructions:

  1. Halve onion, peel outer layer off, and cut off ends. If you like onion, you can chop a little into small pieces for the actual soup, but mostly it’s here for flavor during the cooking process.
  2. Wash and chop all remaining veggies into whatever size you’re comfortable being in a bite.
  3. Layer veggies into crock pot in this order (so the things that need to cooke more are on the bottom): onion, potatoes, carrots, celery. Then top with seasoning.IMG_8301.jpg
  4. Add chicken breasts on top, and season again.
  5. Pour broth and water around chicken.
  6. Cook on low for 7-8 hours.IMG_8307.jpg
  7. Remove chicken from bowl and shred (can just use two forks), then return to crock pot and allow to warm.
  8. Serve and enjoy!IMG_8308.jpg

Cost about $17, makes about 8 servings

For my first time making soup, this was definitely a success. It had plenty of flavor and was really hearty, but next time I make it I’d like to try adding more seasoning, as both the chicken and potatoes were a tad bland for my taste. You can also substitute some of the veggies if there are ones you like better, or use egg noodles instead of potatoes (add them for the last hour of cooking instead of at the beginning).

Also note that technically I spent more on ingredients, but only used 1/2 or 2/3 of each thing on this batch, as the cost above reflects. This also makes so much soup. Unless you really, really love soup, it might not be a dish to make for just yourself. If you aren’t already cooking for more people, you can give some to a friend or potentially freeze some for later in the season. Just make sure to be careful that the baggie doesn’t break!

What’s your favorite comfort soup? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!