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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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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!

Gifting season

Thanksgiving is now over, and Christmas season has begun — and unless you are way more proactive than most of us, that probably means you have some shopping (or making) to do. Some people are really easy to come up with gift ideas for, and some people, well, aren’t.

For the record, I do not have the gifting thing all figured out. There are a minimum of 10 people I get gifts for every year (this year will be 12 or 13), and every year someone’s gets left until the last minute. But between a big family and a lot of years of trying different things, I’ve come across a few tricks to make picking out presents easier.

For your sake, set a budget. Usually I set a rough budget for each person’s gift because otherwise I’ll struggle to cap my spending. This year, I’m trying something a bit different and setting an overall budget; this makes individual gifts more flexible, but keeps little bits of overspending from accumulating. (I usually keep it between $15 and $30 per person, but sometimes a particular gift demands more.)

Keep a list of gift ideas going. If you see something a few months early that’s perfect, get it. But if you’re in the car and they happen to mention needing or wanting something, or you just think of something great, write it down and go back to that list for later. There are a few people for whom I have a running list of ideas and when present time comes up, I just choose an item or two that feel most fitting.

Ask people what they want. For some people this effort will be fruitless (you know who you are), but a lot of people will actually give you an idea or two. And even if you can’t make the ideas they offer happen, it can spark another idea.

If people tell you specifically what they want, be sure to get that exactly. For example, my best friend is insanely helpful and because she knows I can struggle with gift ideas, will mention something she wants and where to get it, and usually sends out an organized, itemized, hyperlinked interactive PDF of her Christmas wishlist to the people who ask her for ideas. Then it’s exactly what she wants, and there’s no awkward waiting in the return line.

Go practical. Last Christmas, my mom and I were shopping for my boyfriend and we got him a couple of nice dress shirts and new ties since job interview season would be coming up fast. It’s not super exciting, but it’s useful, and something that is inconvenient to buy for oneself.

If you’re buying clothes, double check size and include a gift receipt. I know what size most of my immediate family and close friends are, but will check similar clothes in their closet (that I know they wear) for sizes if I’m in doubt.

If you don’t know them super well, food or movies. Movie theater certificates or semi-universal treat baskets (Trader Joe’s is my favorite place to put them together) are perfect and not expensive ways to get gifts for people you aren’t quite sure how to shop for but do want to gift something enjoyable to.

If they don’t need stuff, go for experiences. I’ve used this one a fair amount with people, and we’ll do dinner and a movie or a day trip to a place they really love. Then you get to spend time together and they don’t have any more stuff they don’t need.

If you’ve got a big category of people, do a category of gifts. When I was younger I would pick one craft and make a bunch for all of my grandparents every year (I grew up with at least 10 at any given time). One year it was framed prints of different photographs I had taken, one year it was super cute Christmas cookies. It doesn’t have to be crazy, but the fact that you made it helps it feel less generic even if you made a bunch.

Go splitsies. Sometimes there’s something I want to get for someone that’s out of my budget, so I’ll ask a mutual friend or family member if they want to split the gift with me. Especially since as an adult you’re responsible for more and more funding on your own, joint gifts can be super helpful.

If you suck at this, slow and steady. I am very slow to come up with gift ideas and get stressed if it’s left til the eleventh hour, so I start at least planning Christmas gifts a couple months early. This year I’m a little behind — which means one person is totally handled and three people are partly handled — but I’ll have more time than usual in December to shop, so I’m not too stressed.

I know that was a lot, but hopefully it’s helpful in the coming weeks of holiday prep. What have you found most helpful when getting presents for people? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! (I’m actually super interested, because I’m gonna need ideas.) As always, thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

‘So what are you doing with your life?’

In case you weren’t already panicked, the holidays are quickly approaching. Or, if you’re like me, you’ve been near-constantly aware of this fact for the last several weeks and are just trying to remain calm. Don’t get me wrong — I love the togetherness and goodwill that a lot of holiday traditions bring, and I really do love the chance to spend extra time with my family and friends.

But the downside of all this, especially for emerging adults, is hearing the same exact questions over and over and over until you just want to snatch a whole pie and run for cover.

For most people, the list of questions runs something like this:

  • (If you are in school) So how’s school? What are you studying? What are you going to do with that?
  • (If you aren’t working) So have you found a job yet?
  • (If you are working) So how’s work? What do you do again?
  • (If you aren’t dating) So are you seeing anyone?
  • (If you are dating) So when are you getting engaged?
  • (If you are engaged) So when are you getting married? This is often followed up by assumptions regarding details and unsolicited input
  • (If you are married) So when are you having kids?

Of course the people asking all these questions (often pointedly, whether that is their intention or not) do care about you and are just interested in what’s going on in your life. Maybe they’re unaware of how the question comes across to you, or don’t realize that you’ve already had to answer it six times this afternoon. In some cases, you may have discussed all of this clearly and they frankly just didn’t listen. But loved ones are who they are, so sometimes different tactics are needed.

In the cases of a lot of stories friends and acquaintances have told me, these questions are unfortunately often coupled with projected expectations, approval or disapproval, and a note at the end of the question that sometimes feels like it’s asking the person answering to prove that they are somehow doing enough for wherever they’re at.

So here’s the advice: If you’re an emerging adult dreading these questions, have stock answers prepped. I have a little cache of stock answers I give to people for all the usual questions I get (which is about half that list). The answers are honest with some detail, but not too much, since I don’t love to discuss my life plans in-depth. Having answers prepped ahead of time also helps me, as an introvert, feel less caught off guard — and therefore less put off — by the questions. Still, as off-putting as they can be, try to be polite. Part of being an adult is handling junk that annoys you maturely. In general, these people really are trying to be nice and not to make you uncomfortable. That said, if someone is completely disregarding your feelings, you also don’t have to take crap. Be polite, but clear.

If you’re one of those friends or family members who might be asking the questions, please think about whether you have asked before. If you aren’t sure, then just say that. Honesty is welcome, but listening attentively is also important. Additionally, keep in mind that while yeah, these are milestone kinds of things, a lot of these questions are also deeply personal. The person you’re asking might not be ready to talk about it yet, or not in that setting. They also might not be happy with the answer. For example, I really don’t like being asked about job searching, but understand that it’s a relevant and reasonable thing to be asked at gatherings; I don’t like talking about it because things aren’t where I want them yet, plain and simple. So some of the discomfort in the situation may be due to that. But if someone has made it clear that they don’t want to talk about something, or has had to repeat themselves to you several times, please respect their answer.

Finally, for everybody in the room: Give some grace. Give grace to yourself for asking a genuine question or not wanting to give an answer, and give grace to your friends and family for being a little overeager to ask the same questions on a loop or being less than enthusiastic about them.

Remember what the holidays are about, and try to laugh at the moments life throws at you — even when it’s the same questions over and over. Then, rinse and repeat.

Just for fun, if you’re willing, I’d love to hear some of the least favorite questions you’ve been asked or heard of others being asked at gatherings. Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!