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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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Remembrance and responsibility

Today is the Fourth of July. Almost 250 years ago, what’s now my country declared its independence from the nation ruling over them. The holiday is often celebrated with barbecues and fireworks, and in my case watching Independence Day and Armageddon because it’s family tradition.

The United States has come a long way in almost 250 years. Countless men and women fought, and many died, to bring us to where we are today. When our founding documents were written, “We the people, by the people, for the people” didn’t include all people. I’m proud to say that we’ve recognized how many more are included in that ideal.

But I’ll be honest. We still have a long way to go. Please don’t get me wrong, I love my country. But refusing to acknowledge its faults isn’t love; it’s blind nationalism. There are still a lot of people who don’t get treated like equal citizens. There are those who demean and harm immigrants, when immigration and opportunity is what our country was built on. Far too many of us forget not just the legacy, but the lives of the nations that called this land home before we took it over, and those who still do. There are those who have fought for our freedoms and rights in the armed services, only to be pushed to the outskirts of society without proper thank or care.

We overpay executives and underpay teachers. We can be arrogant and selfish. We overbuy, under-give, and let the waste pile up. We forget the lessons of our elders and dismiss the young out of hand. We create problems and then act like it’s not our responsibility to help fix them. We ignore the hard truths in favor of sound bites and sensationalism. We are quick to idolize, and quick to tear down. We let our citizens and our fellow humans suffer, sometimes at our own hand. We excuse and enable abuses of power. We feed on anger and pointing fingers until we’ve slung so much mud we don’t recognize ourselves. We forget where we came from, and we forget our neighbor.

But we also have good. We band together when tragedy strikes. We speak out until change is realized. We dig our heels in when the work gets tough. We defend our ideals with every ounce of strength we have. We learn from the generations before us. We labor to give our children the life we wanted. We create, innovate, and explore out of wholehearted curiosity and opportunity. We speak dozens of languages, represent scores of cultures, and still remain individuals. We uphold free speech, free press, and democratic values. We value education and grit, not just pedigree. We root for the underdog. We are a country made of histories, a people made up of infinitely more peoples. We do not have one definition. And that’s what I’m proud of.

So happy Fourth of July to all 50 states, as well as all the U.S. citizens who inhabit Puerto Rico, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, plus U.S. nationals in American Samoa. This holiday, let’s honor our veterans, learn from our history, and care for our neighbor. That sounds a lot like freedom to me.

How do you celebrate Independence Day? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy Fourth!

P.S. If you’re looking for specific ways to help make a difference, you can:

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Thanks Dads

Happy Father’s Day! I’m super lucky to not only have two dads in my life, but a bunch of wonderful grandpas, uncles, and other father figures as well. And all of them — my dads especially — have taught me so much more than I could ever properly thank them for.

My dads cooked and baked with me, and taught me some of their best tricks in the kitchen. They taught me how to not just build and fix things, but also how to decorate them. They taught me to love being outdoors and how to find adventure in small moments. We’ve shared movies and tv shows and books, because even when they weren’t your usual preference, you cared that I liked them.

Most importantly, they taught me how to try new things. They had my back when I was afraid I might fall, and helped me get back up when first tries were a little rough. They give the absolute best hugs, and are always there when I need them.

But it’s not just my dads. My best friends’ dads, my uncles, my grandpas, and close family friends have been so present that it feels like there’s never a dad out of reach. And perhaps the best part is that they’re all different. There’s no one way that a dad has to look or act. Some make ridiculous dad jokes, some love being outdoorsy, some will play board games all day. Some are loud and boisterous while others are quieter. Some are Mr. Fix-It, while others are less mechanically inclined. But of course, they do share the common thread of loving and taking care of their kids (even those who aren’t their kids by blood).

If you’ve got a dad, dads, or a dad figure in your life, make sure you take some time to tell them how much you appreciate them. I know I wouldn’t be who I am today without both of my dads, and they mean the world to me.

What do you appreciate most about your dad? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy Father’s Day!

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Moms are actually the best

Happy Mother’s Day! If you are a mom, I hope your day makes you feel as appreciated and special as you are. If you have a mom (or mom figure!), I hope you let her know how much you care about her.

I’m lucky enough to have two moms. Unfortunately I don’t get to be with either of them in person today, but beyond the usual call and gift, I wanted to say on here how grateful I am for them.

Moms are supportive and patient, but also tell us when it’s time to get our crap together. Moms are people we can joke around with, but know better than to cross. Moms are often our first and strongest role models. My moms taught me life basics like using a spoon, potty-training, etc., and adulting basics like using tools, cleaning, and finances. One mom taught me to love reading, the other how to create and craft — both taught me to love learning. My moms taught me how to cook and bake, and in that regard I also have to thank my grandmothers — and my friends’ moms and grandmothers — for teaching me and sharing secrets in the kitchen. My moms taught me how to process my emotions, and that someone can have vulnerabilities and still be strong.

And beyond that, they taught me what kind of a person I wanted to be: someone who is smart and kind, knows when to speak and when to listen, who is always willing to learn and ready to teach, who to call when I needed something (them), who is compassionate and always considers the perspective of others.

I know not everyone’s mom has always been the kind of presence in their life that they needed. I know not everyone knows their mom, and that not everyone’s mom is around anymore. But I also know that chances are when you hear the word “mom,” there are people who come to mind that aren’t your mother, but who do love you and stand by you and mentor you. Sometimes mom is a symbolic word, so hopefully in addition to appreciating our moms today we can also share some of the best qualities they instilled in us.

What makes you grateful for your mom? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy Mother’s Day!

Something like love

Today was going to be a recipe for y’all, but honestly I wasn’t pleased with how it turned out and I won’t put up a recipe I don’t stand behind. Which forces me to face the calendar. When it comes to Valentine’s Day, I only have two modes: all-out (for friends and family) and forget this (for forced romance). I have friends who are single, dating, engaged, and married — and sometimes having peers at significantly different life stages than you can feel odd or even make you question how you’re doing.

Therein lies the great challenge of emerging adulthood. There is no longer an instruction manual, there is no longer one standard path (or at least a standard timeline), and it leaves a lot of us feeling confused or stuck in-between. The good news is no matter where each of us is at, there’s a lot of love to go around.

So today we’re doing something different. No romance, no expectations of flowers and chocolate, no candy hearts that no one wants to eat anyway. Instead, I took some time to list out all the people and things that remind me of love.

  • Family – Some family we choose and some family we don’t, but these people are the ones who taught me more than any what love looks like
  • Friends – My best friends know they’re in the family category, but whenever I’m with good friends it reminds me just how much love people have in their hearts
  • Faith – When everything else is cracked or crumbling, there’s a hope and love that rest here, and it’s what I always return to
  • The ocean, the stars, and the forest – These three pieces of nature are my touchstones and my constants when the world feels too harsh or too cold, and in each of them there’s a peace I haven’t found anywhere else
  • Food – Y’all think I’m kidding. Nope. Food (in reasonable levels of indulgence) reminds me of all the love and care people are willing to put into things, and the simplicity in familiar things
  • Music, books, and other stories – All of these remind me in different ways that none of us are alone
  • Animals – Dogs, (friendly) cats, and pretty much any other little creature that makes our collective hearts melt — because some things remain joyful no matter what

So if today isn’t your favorite day — or even if it is — take a little time to think about the things that make you feel loved. If there are particular people (or pets!) on that list, go ahead and let them know. How do you remind people you love them? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! As always, thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

P.S. If you need a song for the day, I highly recommend “Candy Hearts” by Relient K

(Photo credit goes to my second mom, for always sending pictures when I wish I could be there.)