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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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Perfection and other myths

Hey all! I know posts have been a little sparser lately; in addition to life being generally busy, it’s been a tougher season personally than I’d anticipated. Unsurprisingly, challenges cropping up means not everything works quite the way I want — including me. Being okay with mistakes and imperfection is the lesson I’ve been trying to get through my head the last 6 months.

In fact, I’ve actually been waiting to talk about it here because I wanted to feel like I had made significant progress first. Mistakes, or simply not being able to do and be everything you want, are realities we all have to come to terms with eventually. It’s not a strong suit of mine. If I make a mistake out of ignorance or some other factor I can’t control, that might be fine. But if I make a mistake out of an oversight, or anything for which I might have “known better,” it’s really hard to get over.

And frankly, it’s super unhealthy. It means I tend to be too rigid, am easily and often stressed, and have a hard time moving on and rolling with the punches. Unfortunately, it’s an issue that becomes even more painful and pointed for emerging adults. Many of us are feeling ridiculous pressure to perform perfectly in so many areas: work, school, family, social life, romantic relationships, even general adulting. The weight we often put on ourselves to be essentially perfect in all these areas can be crippling. It usually means we’re overworked and stressed, but can also lead to initiating or exacerbating mental health issues, physical illness, and strained relationships.

I’d love to offer some epiphany or magic formula for learning to not hold ourselves to such debilitating, difficult standards, but the truth is it’s a long often personal process. You’ve got to figure out what drives that feeling, and then how to combat it.

That being said, I have found a couple of things that help:

Talk yourself through it. I’m not a huge fan of the “what’s the worst that could happen?” trick because I can always imagine incredibly horrible things resulting from tiny mistakes. Instead, try asking “what’s likely to happen?” It brings a reality-check back into the thought process, and makes it easier to not feel like any tiny shortcoming will bring the whole castle down.

Reframe it. Instead of looking at the less-than-ideal thing and panicking that it went wrong, or focusing on what you should have done better, honestly assess whether there is a need to fix/address the thing or if it’s better to move on. If you can do something about it, do that. If not, tell yourself it’s just a small thing, that you’re allowed to make mistakes, that you don’t have to be perfect, and (try to) let it go.

Search your feelings. When you start to feel any of the negative emotions that can come with not meeting personal expectations of perfection (frustration, disappointment, stress, anxiety, etc.), acknowledge what you’re feeling. Name it, and analyze what’s making you feel that way. Think about how your body is expressing that emotion, through tension, cortisol, or some other thing, and instead of being in all those feelings, try to look at them from the outside. This perspective shift can work wonders.

Don’t project. I can’t stress this one enough. You feeling a need to be perfect is a you thing. Projecting that expectation onto other people and expecting them to live up to every mental standard you set is not only unrealistic, but unhealthy. It’s not good for you because you’ll be constantly disappointed, it’s not fair to the other person, and it can easily damage relationships.

No one cares. Being quite this blunt isn’t always helpful, but it is important to keep in mind that it’s very likely you care about this far more than anyone else. Things go wrong. People aren’t perfect. For the most part, other people won’t expect you to be. Remembering that can help make it easier to not expect yourself to be perfect either.

Find ways to relax. This looks different for everybody, so you’ve got to find what work best for you. Some of my favorite options that I can do often are spending time outside, cooking or baking, doing yoga, and meditation. Sometimes you might need a stronger emotional release like hard exercise or crying, and that’s okay too.

Use the buddy system. Have one or two people who you can talk to when you’re feeling this way, and who will remind you that it’s okay to not be perfect and to make mistakes. You’re still learning and growing and it’s a journey that none of us will ever fully reach the end of. And that’s completely okay.

Progress isn’t linear. You will have days or stretches where you’ll be doing a lot better, and days or months where you feel like you’ve backslid. That’s normal. Give yourself the grace to make progress at your own pace.

I hope that helps! If you have any ideas to add, feel free to comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

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Everything hurts (and it’s going to be okay)

The last 11 or so days have been, collectively, the worst stretch of time I’ve experienced. I’ve had worse individual days and moments, of course. And by absolutely no means do I have the market cornered on difficult situations. But in between events that impacted me directly (most significantly my car getting broken into and getting miserably sick), people and places I know and love have been facing impossibly more difficult circumstances.

I live in California, and while I personally haven’t been near the shooting and wildfires that have been ravaging the state the last week, they’ve been affecting folks and communities that are close to my heart. Places I used to go are no longer there. Friends have lost loved ones, everything they own, and in some cases both.

On Friday night, I stayed up stupidly late refreshing Twitter even though I was exhausted because it was the only way to know if people were safe (I firmly limit texting during emergencies so anyone at risk can conserve battery for the most necessary communications). Not only knowing that thousands of people are in danger and experiencing loss, but knowing many of them personally — and being able to do so profoundly little about it — is one of the most uncomfortable, terrifying experiences I can imagine. Certainly one of the most that I’ve been through.

Thankfully, first responders and citizens have worked tirelessly and sacrificed endlessly to ensure that as many people as possible have remained safe, as well as animals and property. It would be impossible to thank them enough. I also can’t understate my appreciation for the journalists, many of whom I know personally, that have been dedicated to covering one disaster after another and keeping the public informed while experiencing each tragedy themselves.

But that doesn’t change the fact that these moments are painful. So many have lost so much. Even for those that were further away, these kinds of tragedies strip away an element of home and security that, while intangible, is meaningful nonetheless. At the end of the day, so many people are hurting.

So what do we do when it just hurts? When there’s little or nothing we can do about it, or we’ve done all we can, and it still stings or surges up like a wave we had our back turned to? What do we say when no words would be enough to fix or fully comfort?

We stick together. We give each other hugs when we can, and find other ways to send love if we’re too far. We give what we can, whether it’s money or time or food or supplies or just a card. We tell people how much we care about them. We make sure we’re there for each other. We thank the people who have made the challenge more manageable, or kept people safe, or ensured people had correct and timely information. We keep our head above water, and tell other people when we need help doing so. We set aside our differences and work for the good of the community, both present and future. We speak thoughtfully and compassionately. We speak out when necessary. We’re honest about the fact that it might not be okay right now, and it might not get better soon, but it will get better. We hold onto hope and find strength in community.

I’m really proud to say that I’ve seen the communities affected by these tragedies do all of these things.

It still hurts. It’s not over yet. Kids, teenagers, emerging adults, and full-fledged grownups will be dealing with the effects of these events to varying extents through the rest of their lives. We won’t magically be okay overnight. But we will be okay. And that’s enough to keep going.

If you’re able to help or give in any of the ways I mentioned above, here are some helpful links (both general and a few that are particularly close to my heart):

Coming together amidst tragedy is unfortunately something we all experience at some point. But I’m honored to be part of communities that do so selflessly, even when the heartbreak doesn’t seem to let up. If you have any questions on or additions of more ways to help, please comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting.

(Photo credit goes to Jessica Burns via the LA Times.)

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Not another notification

Sometimes social media is way too much. Let me preface this with the fact that I am (hopefully obviously) in no way against social media outright. I think it’s useful, I appreciate the benefits, and overall for me the pros outweigh the cons. But some days, the cons loom really, really large.

As emerging adults — and specifically Millennials/Gen Z — we’re young enough to be native to the latest technology, and old enough to be responsible for the ways we engage with them and allow them to affect us. That’s no small ask.

If I’m being completely honest, there are few things that get under my skin more than older generations bagging on younger generations for being plugged in to technology. I’m on my phone a lot. But most of the time I’m using it to stay in touch with people whom I otherwise wouldn’t be able to, whether it’s messaging a friend about a joke I heard or Facetiming my family across the country. Following that, I’m likely using it as a tool; my navigation, calculator, news, to-do list, and more are all contained in that one handy device. And sometimes, it’s pure entertainment. I’m looking at cute animal videos or playing the one game I have and am completely okay with that.

Of course, there are times to put the phone, or other tech, away. It’s never cool to be disruptive or impolite at a show or event. When you’re having more than the most casual of conversations with someone, they deserve your attention. Sometimes it’s just time to go to bed or go outside or read a book. But I want to be clear that the issues arise in when and how technology like phones and social media get used, not the fact that it’s used at all.

Including the ones for this blog, I consistently use six social media accounts on four platforms. I have limits set for all of them to keep any from becoming too much of a rabbit hole — or at least, from letting myself go too far down it. Some of them have time limits or a number of posts I’m allowed to scroll through before moving on, some of them I try to check a limited number of times per day. A couple of them are more of a self-contained “honor system” where I’m honest with myself about when it’s no longer serving a good purpose and I put it away.

But sometimes those don’t work. This morning I opened up my phone and within a few minutes just felt inundated and bogged down by the quantity and content of posts and ads and opinions and so on. I’m pretty introverted, and sometimes forget that even social media takes energy and a mental/emotional toll to engage with. When it starts to feel overwhelming like that, I walk away. Usually I’ll stay off of certain platforms for a while or set stricter limits on the time I do spend. There are no set rules to it, just an acknowledgment and response to knowing that the dopamine we get from scrolling isn’t worth the rest of what it’s costing me right now.

The lesson here is simple, but not always easy. It’s entirely up to us to know when it’s worthwhile to engage with such complicated beasts as social media. To know when it’s too much, when it benefits us or helps build relationships, when more important things are in front of us, and when we could just use a break.

It’s something most of us are still working on, and will hopefully strike a better balance of as time goes on. What are your favorite tips for not letting social media become overwhelming? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

P.S. If you’re looking for a song in this vein, I highly recommend “Look On Up” by Relient K.

(Photo is a free stock photo again because of the whole camera phone conundrum.)

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Stretched too thin

We’re gonna kick this week’s post off with a very exciting announcement: My boyfriend proposed (and I said yes)! He is wonderful and made the whole experience incredibly special, and I’m very excited for the future.

That being said, the present is *ahem* quite busy. I work full time, try to exercise, have some upcoming plans with friends as well as two large upcoming trips, blog, do general adulting like cleaning the apartment, and now am also wedding planning. I am very used to juggling tasks and priorities, but the last couple of months have been less busy than I’m used to. Which for the most part was really nice.

As someone who’s prone to feeling overwhelmed quickly when here’s a lot on my plate, I was pretty proud of myself for not getting particularly stressed with the things starting to pile up. Until this morning. A big project with a tight deadline came in at work and I momentarily lost my cool.

Most of us, as emerging adults and people in general, have phases where we feel like we’re stretched too thin and we don’t know how or if we can get it all done. I know several people who are in the middle of one of those phases now. And while I’ve talked on here several times about what to do when you’re tired, need to take a day, or burnt out, today I wanted to talk about ways to dig in and get it done. Because sometimes that’s all you can do for a while.

Break it up. I don’t know about you but it’s rare that I can sit down and devote more than an hour or two to a single project before I need a break. So set a timer for 45 minutes, an hour, or some decent chunk of time that works for you and don’t touch anything else until that time is up. Alternately, you can break the work up into smaller, more reasonable goals. You’ll feel like you’re making progress even if it’s just checking off one small thing at a time.

Jam out. Depending on the kind of work you’re doing, listening to music can be a really, really good way to pass the time and keep yourself at a good pace. I have an instrumental playlist just for that, or I’ll throw on some music I know well enough that I don’t have to pay it much attention, and dive into my work.

Have snacks and water nearby. This will keep you from getting distracted every time you get up to get a bite to eat or a drink, and make sure you don’t skip too much sustenance or get dehydrated.

Set rewards. Tell yourself that when you accomplish a given task, you can have a treat of some sort, whether that’s food, a break, or something else. For example, my reward for working my butt off at work today will be no expectation of getting anything productive done at home tonight, and I bought myself a present when I finished my last big freelancing project.

Surround yourself well. My coworkers get all the credit for pulling me out of the totally negative spot I was stressed out in this morning. They’re task-oriented, and acknowledge the challenge while remaining functionally positive (in other words, not necessarily chipper, but optimistic that we’ll get the job done well).

What helps you most when you’ve got a lot on your plate? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

(Photo is a free stock photo because y’all have already seen all my city photos.)

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Happy 100

I’ve measured my life in Augusts for almost as long as I can remember. Actually, for as long as I’ve known how to measure time. It started the way it usually does with kids — when summer ends and school starts. Then my boyfriend’s and my anniversary in early August got added on. This year, it’s also the one-year anniversary of this blog. Technically the anniversary is next week, but this is my one-hundredth post, so we’re counting it.

I don’t always love looking back because I know I don’t remember it accurately. Some things do become more clear with time — like how high school was not as decent as I thought it was then — but other things soften and some things just fade. And all those shifts make it hard to examine the past clearly.

The last year has honestly felt really, really long. When I set up this blog and published the first post, I remember where I was sitting (in my parents’ backyard in much too hot of weather to be doing so). Though it’s difficult to remember quite how I felt right then, I know my life felt suspended. I had made it through college, I knew the physical region where I wanted to look for a job, and I had finally snagged a part-time job for the meantime. Little things were in place, but the future seemed like a giant abyss.

Less than 6 months later, I had moved to a whole new area and into a new apartment with friends, started a full-time job, finally (mostly) stopped having to do long-distance with my boyfriend. Things were the best I could have reasonably expected.

Of course, life throws curveballs. Family tragedies, social challenges, unexpected pressures, and the sometimes crippling weight of my own expectations rolled in. And the thing about being a more-or-less self-sufficient adult is you just have to figure out how to handle what gets thrown your way. You grow, or you crumble. Sometimes you crumble and then grow.

I’ve changed a lot more in the last year than I anticipated. Some of it is for the better: I’m more confident in a number of areas, more settled into where I’m at in life, and more straightforward with my thoughts. Of course, there’s also stuff that I’m still working on — some if it is honestly in a bit of worse shape than it was this time last year.

It would be gratifying to share a big long list of all the things I’ve learned, advice I could give to people who might be in a similar spot, but I still really feel like I’m learning. And it seemed much more important to start with a thank you.

Thank you to all the people who continue to read and be supportive of not just the blog itself, but its purpose and the space it was created act as for those of us who are making our way through emerging adulthood in all its wonder and confusion. Thank you to everyone who offered kind and encouraging words over the last year — I seriously can’t believe how great y’all are. Thank you to the people who have tolerated me pacing and huffing when I had writer’s block and a post was due. Thank you to the mentors, leaders, and peers who have taught me basically everything I’ve shared on here. And thanks to you, emerging adults: I hope I’ve made our journey feel even the tiniest bit less murky.

I do have two pieces of advice, and one request. Advice first.

The biggest things I’ve learned this year can be summed up in this: Absolutely everything changes in either substance or feeling, and you really can make it through anything.

People change, jobs change, areas change, the world changes. Constancy is a very, very rare thing. I do believe that a few things don’t change — like hope and love and faith — but how they feel can still change. How you interact with even the most constant, steady forces in the universe will change. Because you’re changing. Your only job is to try to push those changes toward the better.

Life is hard. Sometimes it’s really hard. I’m not trying to be either cynical or flippant, it’s just a fact. Some challenges will feel worse than others, and you might get hit when you’re already down, or as soon as you get back up. There’s a lot about life that we have zero control over, but we can always choose to keep going. So no matter what small accomplishment it start with, no matter how insurmountable the odds, you can win just by continuing. Even if it’s not on the same path, you are full of more courage and strength than you know, and can keep moving forward.

Finally, a request. I would absolutely love to hear — particularly from emerging adult readers — what you’d like to see more of on this blog in the coming year. I’ve got some cool posts lined up but am not made of ideas, nor am I in your shoes. What info would be most helpful and/or enjoyable to read?

As always, let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thank you for a stellar first year, and happy adulting!