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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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Gotta budget for your friends’ lives too

Back to budgeting! Emerging adulthood is tricky. In the midst of learning how to handle and manage our finances, we often forget necessary budget items. Maybe you consistently save for car repairs, but not for car replacement. Maybe you forget to calculate a trip you have planned for into your month’s eating out budget. But one of the big ones we often forget — and frankly, one of the ones that’s hardest to plan for — is budgeting for friends’ lives.

There are mostly big occasions for this: birthdays, graduations, weddings, babies, and the like. For example, I’m going to a couple of friends’ weddings in the next few months, and am realizing that I had not budgeted enough in the “wedding gifts” category. Many weddings also require travel, lodging, and new clothes (especially if you’re in the wedding party).

I’ve been thoughtful to budget for Christmas, but hadn’t quite planned for the fact that late spring brings, in quick succession, four important birthdays and now a few weddings.

So what to do when you go over budget?

First, don’t panic. Be mindful not to go too over budget, but it’s the kind of thing that’s going to happen now and then. You can’t plan perfectly for everything. So take a deep breath.

Try to minimize spending where you can, and/or pull funds from other categories. I won’t be spending as much on food (particularly eating out) or miscellaneous things the next couple of months in order to help offset the costs of big friend events.

Prioritize, and say no if you have to. I’ve had to say no to attending events because the travel and/or other costs were simply too much amidst other events or commitments. It’s a bummer, but it’s a spot that everyone is in at some point or another, so your friend(s) will more than likely understand.

Figure out how much your budget was off by. Then you can adjust it for the future. On that note, it’s also a good idea to have some general, “extra” savings for times like this so when you go over budget you’re pulling from excess or flexible funds instead of necessary ones.

We try to plan for as much as we can, but it doesn’t always work. When it doesn’t we adjust. It may mean adding more to that budget category in the future or stocking away a little cash, but there are usually ways to make sure we’re there for as much as possible of friends’ important moments.

How do you address budget spikes? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

Boring adult stuff (that’s actually good to do)

Today we are back to the practical. Sometimes adulting isn’t fun. Sometimes it’s being your own inner parent and doing all the responsible stuff. It has occurred to me that a lot of emerging adults — myself definitely included — are still skill-building in that area.

I’m not talking crap; we’re all still learning, and I know a lot of established adults that don’t know how to do or don’t make a habit of all the things we’re going to talk about. Last disclaimer: This isn’t a comprehensive list. But it’s a big first step.

Documents/finances

  • Make a budget and track your spending
  • Save donation receipts (and any other relevant crap) for taxes. Here’s a list of what some of that crap might be:
    • Donation receipts
    • Pay stubs
    • W-2, W-4, W-9, or any other government income forms that apply to you
    • Receipts or record of other tax deductible items
    • School-related financial info
  • On that note, file your financial junk/important docs for when you need it, especially your birth certificate and social security card
  • Build up an emergency fund (3-6 months of expenses)
  • Research investing/retirement saving (and then start doing it as soon as you can which means take up any employer matches asap). Talk to people at various ages to get a solid range of advice
  • Pay for/renew stuff slightly early whenever possible

Home Ec

  • Cook some decent stuff. This means actual recipes, and quick fixes like making a simple roux (for which I honestly just make a paste of flour and a little water to thicken sauces, or cornstarch if you don’t want to use flour).
  • Clean the bathroom and the kitchen WELL
  • Make a bed properly
  • Do your laundry properly
  • Iron a shirt
  • Sew a button
  • Buy a good vacuum. Seriously
  • You don’t have to buy name brand everything, but some of them are worth it — like stain cleaner (Tide, Oxi-Clean, Zout)

Fix-it

  • Be able to check your oil and fill your tires on your own
  • Take your car in for basic maintenance (oil change, tires rotated, etc.). There are almost always coupons for these services so be sure to look/ask
  • Hang a picture straight
  • Know where important house stuff is (fire extinguisher, electrical panel, fuse box, hot water heater, etc.)
  • Build Ikea furniture — this is as much about following instructions as handyman skills
  • Have a freaking tool box: hammer, small rubber mallet, Phillips and flathead screwdrivers, measuring tape, level. Buy them just before Father’s Day or Black Friday to get good deals on quality ones — this would be a cool thing to ask your dad/parent to help you with for bonding

Get *cultured*

  • Learn to ask good questions about people, current events, etc.
  • Learn tricks to remember people’s names in a conversation
  • Media freakin’ literacy
  • Read actual books
  • Buy a decent bottle of wine (especially if it’s a gift)
  • Do not tip your server less than 15% at a restaurant. Servers are often paid less because of tips, so they rely on them to make a living wage. Typing your bill total x 0.15 in your calculator will tell you the correct amount to tip

Misc.

  • Know your/your family’s medical history
  • Handle your healthcare
    • Dentist every 6 months
    • Optometrist every 2-3 years if you don’t need glasses, 1-2 times per year if you do
    • Primary care doctor every 2-3 years if you’re healthy
    • OB/GYN every 2-3 years
    • Also, TELL YOUR DOCTORS THE TRUTH. They’re not gonna judge, and they can’t help you if they don’t have all the info
  • Register to vote PLEASE
  • Be an actually informed voter! This means reading your voter information guides (often on state, county, or city websites), researching propositions and candidates, looking at arguments from both sides, and looking at who is funding a campaign — especially the last one can often give a clue as to the intentions of a measure or candidate
  • Update your vehicle insurance and actually put it in your car
  • Figure out how different forms of insurance work. (At least kinda — I’ll have some more info on this one coming later.) Here are some of the most common types:
    • Health
    • Dental
    • Vision
    • Life
    • Renter’s/homeowner’s
    • Car or other vehicle

I realize several portions of this post were U.S.-centric, so I apologize if any of the info was less helpful to readers who don’t live in the States. If there are any of these that were vague, ones you’d like to hear more about, or ones that I missed, let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

Traveling on an actual budget

As promised, here is the post I mentioned about traveling! The last three weekends I have taken trips of some sort, and it occurred to me that traveling is probably one of the most desired and difficult things for emerging adults to pull off. Especially when looking at the Instagram accounts of other people our age and wondering where the heck they got the money (and/or time off) to hit up such insane destinations.

Here’s the disclaimer: None of my trips were holy crap levels of cool, and I wouldn’t have been able to afford them all on my own. But each is still a good look at managing to travel without draining one’s bank account.

Weekend 1: The Day Trip

Length of trip: 6-8 hours

Total spent: ~$50*

My brother and I went to some local farms about an hour away from my house that offer craft fairs, apple picking, and other fall-related activities. Main costs were activities (who doesn’t want to make a candle and pick organic tomatoes?), gas, and then some food.

Weekend 2: The Big Trip

Length of trip: 4.5 days

Total spent: $111.38*

After almost 3 months apart, I got to fly to Maryland to visit my boyfriend for a few days. Overall, the trip cost much more than the number listed here, but the flights out were a gift and my boyfriend paid for way more than his fair share, so that brought the number down. Most of this cost is food and Lyft rides around parts of Washington, D.C., where we spent that Saturday.

Weekend 3: The Road Trip

Length of trip: 3 days

Total spent: $125.42

As mentioned in last week’s post, I took a trip to my old college for the first time since graduating. The drive was about 7 hours each way, and I stayed for 2 nights at my friend’s apartment. Most activities were free, so food and gas were the only real costs. On the way back I picked up another friend headed the same direction, which helped cut gas costs.

*I’m omitting the cost of any presents I bought because while it did impact my spending, it wasn’t necessary to the cost of the trip and technically comes out of my gifts budget.

Here is my advice, condensed as much as possible:

  • Driving is often cheaper than flying, and then you still have transportation when you get there. As a rule of thumb, if you’re going alone and can do the drive in one day, consider driving. If you’re going with two or more people and can do the drive in three days or less, consider driving.
  • If you are flying, search around for airline prices. There are tons of discount airlines, but even the bigger names have fare sales and such, which can be great if your dates are flexible.
  • Find a couch to crash on. I am constantly updating a list of people I know in various cities, states, and countries so that if/when I end up there, I can pretty please ask to crash on their couch. Do offer to buy them a bottle of wine or take them out to eat as a thank you, but it’s way cheaper than a hotel.
  • Don’t eat all your meals out. The big trip I talked about above was an exception, but usually I try to limit traveling to one meal out per day. For the day trip, we packed a lunch and only bought a snack, and for the road trip I spent a whopping $47.43 on 3 days of food (which included drinks). Pack snacks or small meals, and don’t be afraid to go to a grocery store or market instead of a restaurant.

It’s also worth noting that each of the trips above could have been done more cost effectively, but also that I wouldn’t have been able to afford either of the latter two without other people being generous. After three consecutive weekends of travel, I’m also cutting back on spending for a while. I’m definitely not the expert on inexpensive travel, but being able to travel is important to me, so it’s something I’m going to keep working on.

What are the best tips you’ve learned for traveling on a budget? (Also I’m not asking facetiously, I really would love to hear them.) Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and I hope you go somewhere cool this week!

Millennial trends reviewed (by Millennials)

Hey all! Today is a super special treat that’s been in the works for a while but is finally ready. My best friend Megan runs a killer blog called The Chronicles of Megan, and now that I’ve started my own we’re doing our first joint post! Her blog covers Millennial lifestyle topics, specializing in beauty content, and I’m on here trying to tackle the many-fold challenges of adulting.

So for our joint venture, we decided to take a fun and still sincere look at Millennial trends. Of course, we in no way want to suggest that this is the experience or perspective of all Millennials (for more on that, see my intro blog post), and while we definitely identify with some of these trends we don’t necessarily endorse all of them.

We wanted to cover the broad categories of lifestyle trends, some of which are general, and some of which are specific to this generation. We ended up with seven topics: Fashion & Design; Food; Visual Culture; Technology; Finances; Unattachment; and Destigmatizing Taboos. Four of them are covered below, and the other three are on Megan’s blog. With all that said, let’s dive in!

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Food

Megan: I’m just gonna say it: Food is almost sacred to Millennials.

Rachal: It is. I don’t think there’s even an almost about it.

M: You’re right. Beyond basic nutrition, it fulfills other needs like social dimensions and gives us access to a small amount of luxury, since we often can’t afford many.

R: Definitely. Not only is it a communal experience, both in cooking and eating, but provides us the opportunity to imbue further meaning into what could otherwise be a boring necessity. For example, I was visiting a friend in San Francisco recently, and we spent the entire day making homemade soup and dumplings just because that was how we wanted to spend our time with each other. And that’s what matters.

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M: Hipster food has more purpose than being Instagram-worthy. Food has evolved into this whole other outlet for creativity and avenue of defining who we are. I mean, just look at avocados — you know that if someone posts their avocado toast on their IG feed they’re either hella basic or from California.

R: Or maybe that’s how they’re choosing to invest the money for their down payment.

M: Okay, Dr. House. *insert eye roll emoji*

R: Seriously, though. It doesn’t feel like anybody used to be so obsessed with specific ingredients. Now it’s like, “Rosé!” Before, nobody was like, “Merlot!”

M: Hipster food trends do need to calm down though.

R: I swear if I see one more “deconstructed” menu item, I’m gonna lose it. Just give me my freaking burger (please).

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Technology

R: The exponential growth of technology tracked so closely with our own growing up that the timelines of the two are permanently intertwined for us.

M: Yeah. Thinking about the first iPod makes me think of middle school. The release of smartphones marks the beginning of high school.

R: And that’s our exact experience, while for older Millennials elementary school dial-up may be followed by the installment of school computer labs.

M: Because we grew up with ever-advancing technology, we have more than a strong connection to our old devices. We have a fondness for the nostalgia itself. These things had such an impact on our childhood, so throwbacks are very tangible. That’s why reboots of not only television shows, but things like arcades and video games (i.e. beercades and Pokémon Go) are popular.

R: And that even extends to tech that we can’t really claim, like vinyl and typewriters — I own both. We’ve also passed that on to the next generation, a lot of whom feel a nostalgic connection to tapes even though we’re the ones who grew up with them.

M: It’s almost like since our lives have been so saturated with technology, that we reject it at times because we need to unplug since we’ve become more and more connected, starting from childhood.

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R: Yeah. Now we’re constantly connected through social media, email, texting, and so on. It’s even shaped how we consume entertainment primarily through streaming services, rather than traditional methods like cable. Because our primary consumption of entertainment is so technology-based, our next instinct is to go back to nostalgias like Nintendo and vinyl. The good news is living our lives online provides more avenues to be connected with people, especially ones that are far away. But it’s also inescapable.

M: Right. Because technology is so ingrained in our culture and ever-advancing, it’s almost necessary that we self-teach. For example, in my Web Design class we didn’t even have a textbook — by the time one could be written, edited, and published, the technology had already changed. It’s a very normal thing to learn from just “googling” it or watching a YouTube tutorial.

Finances

R: Speaking of textbooks, we’re all broke. And as much as it sucks, staggering amounts of student debt are a trademark Millennial trend.

M: As a collective whole, we’re in debt up to our eyeballs until the next few decades.

R: Even for those of us that are fortunate enough not to individually have debt, we’re still financially unstable. Of course, some of that is due to the fact that many of us are just starting out in our careers and independent lives, but it goes beyond that. After the “Great Recession,” our reality shifted, and that shaped how we approach money and spending.

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M: Even though Millennials love to embody “treat yo self,” they also question if they can buy that one slice of pizza before pay day. This is also why we love free stuff.

R: Yeah, I mean I went into an art show the other weekend because I was walking by and someone said they had free snacks and drinks.

M: We like to take those opportunities, especially since we can get stuck in the catch-22 of needing the degree to get the job, and then when you have the degree being told you need experience you don’t have because you spent your time getting the degree. It just makes finding a job that much harder, and it feels like our hard work doesn’t get us as far as it did for our parents.

R: The patterns and practices that previous generations relied on to secure their slice of the American Dream were often no longer possible for us. As much as it’s funny to joke about not being able to afford to buy a house because we eat avocado toast, we really have no idea how we’ll be able to afford the quintessential white picket fence lifestyle — or if we even still want it.

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Unattachment

M: Millennials are so transitory, and there are a lot of uncertainties in our lives. Because of financial instability and rapidly changing job markets, we tend to see a lot of our situations as temporary and so we try not to get attached to things that don’t seem realistic any longer. We question the white picket fence lifestyle and some of us have almost rejected it as the norm. For example, I can’t picture myself raising a family or being attached to a place to permanently call home, at least for the foreseen future.

R: I think you’re right. It’s as if we’ve let go of the fractured American Dream we watched older generations chasing. Instead, we’ve developed a Kerouac-esque affection for lostness and sewn it into the word “wanderlust.” That wanderlust is romanticized in our Instagram feeds, and entire professions have emerged from it. Because we can’t have what we were told that we should want when we were growing up, and have seen the unhappiness of people who have everything, the last thing we want to do is settle. We want to go out and experience different cultures and sceneries and histories.

M: It’s even a thing now to gift people on Airbnb an experience instead of an actual object. We still like our stuff, but we’re willing to have less of it for more experiences. As our values have shifted, we have felt more free to simply live our lives without societal pressures to perform or present a certain way.

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I really hope you enjoyed today’s post, and be sure to check out the other half of our take on Millennial trends on Megan’s blog. (Also shameless plug, you should totally follow her on Instagram @chroniclesofmegan and Twitter @meganchronicles.) It was a ton of fun to put together, but was also an important chance to highlight some of the benefits and challenges within popular Millennial culture.

What aspects of Millennial culture stand out most to you? I’d love to hear in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

 

Broke-ish

Money, money, money. The root of all evil. Necessary. Nice to have. Time is. There’s a lot to be said about money. Like religion, politics, and sex, it can be a strange or touchy thing to talk about. But today we get to talk about it. I’ve waited to do any posts on finances because it’s one of the areas in which it feels like I have the least help to offer, but today that’s the point.

For most emerging adults, the trick is saving enough for the future while still being able to afford necessities and maybe a few niceties. I’ve read a few books (several of which are listed on my Resources page), a lot of articles, and even helped host an event on tips and advice for saving, spending, and investing. Unfortunately, I’ve encountered the same problem with these sources. Most of them offer great advice for people with a full-time (often career-track) job, who have money to invest and places to cut extra spending.

But frankly, that doesn’t apply to a lot of emerging adults. Many of us are already spending close to our minimum, only working part-time or not making enough to invest, or are trying so hard to save for things like an apartment that regular financial advice feels five steps ahead and completely unhelpful for the moment.

Right now I’m trying really, really hard to save so that one day in the hopefully-not-too-distant future I can actually afford to pay rent. No less than 75% of my weekly paycheck goes directly into my savings account, and the more I made that week, the more gets saved. Of course, there’s necessary spending: gas, some food, toiletries, and the like. I also count gifts as a necessary expenditure, even if I may set a stricter budget for purchasing them. Luckily my parents are being incredibly awesome and letting me live with them for free, which means I don’t currently have to pay for rent, utilities, or most of my food.

However, I can be prone to taking the strict budget too far and sacrificing having a life. While that can be effective, it’s not good for my mood or mental health, so I’m trying not to cut out all unnecessary spending, but rather limit it to affordable things with friends. (Note: This means a pizza and a $3 movie at Walmart, not big trips or buying a bunch of stuff I don’t need.)

These are the best tips I’ve learned so far:

  • Carefully track how much you’re earning, spending, and saving. For me, that means at the end of each day I input all of my financial changes into a Google spreadsheet*, and at the end of the month I total how much I’ve earned, spent, saved, net changes, as well as if I owe anyone or they owe me. To top that off, I have an Excel graph that tracks how much I’ve earned, spent, used for gas, and my gross total from month to month. This is what I’ve found most useful, but it can be a pain, and there are apps and programs that can help if you don’t want to do it all manually.
  • Have a goal for how much you want to save. Ideally, you’d know the exact amount you want to have, but I only have a rough guess so instead I set a goal for how much I want to save per month.
  • If your parents are still paying any of your expenses, find out how much they cost. I sat down several months ago and had a conversation with my mom asking about how much I cost in insurances, phone bill, and food so that when I’m on my own I’m not as caught off guard by the additional expenses.
  • Treat yo self — but not too often. The other day, I splurged and bought a sweater. It wasn’t a necessity, but I absolutely loved it, and I used the money I had been planning on spending on eating out that day to pay for it. It’s alright to go for small splurges, but don’t let them get out of control or your saving will get siderailed.
  • Credit cards are helpful for building a credit score but BE CAREFUL. I have a credit card so that I can build my credit history and score (since it’s often a checkpoint when renting), but only use it to pay for gas. Don’t spend money you don’t have, and pay that thing off in full every month.
  • It’s okay to say no because you can’t afford something. If something you don’t need doesn’t fit in your budget or the spending rules you want to keep, it’s okay to say no. If other people don’t understand that, they might not have your best interest in mind. I’ve had to say no to multiple trips I really wanted to take because I just couldn’t afford them, and it sucks, but it means further down the road I’ll have more freedom.

I realize this was long, and it’s in no way totally comprehensive. But I hope that it was helpful, especially for those of us that are semi-independent and used to questioning whether we can afford pizza. Down the road I’d love to offer more advice and resources for setting up a good financial situation, so keep an eye out for that. If you have questions or tips on what helps you manage money best, I’d love to hear them — comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. As always, thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

*If any of y’all want to see the Google sheet I use (with all of my personal data removed of course, there are just some example numbers), swing over to my Contact page and I’d be happy to share the doc.