5 July 2017
I LOVE that there are college gals and grandmas alike who read Em for Marvelous, since I love learning from people both younger and older than me! I was tickled pink when one of the requests I received in my survey earlier this year was for a post about my advice for new college graduates. Since our 2017 graduates are just beginning to settle into life off-campus, I thought now would be a perfect time to offer a few thoughts. Here goes, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments…
1. Start now. At 22ish, your adult life is in many ways a blank slate, so fill it with as many good habits as you possibly can. It is SO much easier to start well than to have to break a bad habit later on, whether the habit is drinking soda every day, being a couch potato, or racking up credit card debt.
2. Join a church. This tip is mostly for folks who are already Christian (but if you’re not Christian and curious, I would definitely recommend visiting a few churches to see what you think!). Instead of waiting until you have kids to find a church home, find one now! It is so important (and can also just be so fun and lifegiving!) to have a church family, especially if you are far away from your actual family. Churches in general have a bad rap on programming for young adults, but from what I’ve seen many of them are really trying to turn that reputation around with a greater focus on and cool ideas for 20 somethings. Give the local church a chance. I loved Val’s thoughts about this here, and wrote a bit more about finding a church myself.
3. Revel in your scrappy season. I recently looked back at a few photos of our first apartment and was reminded how frugally we lived in that season. We didn’t have a washer or dryer. Our mattress was on the floor. There was more than one table made out of a cardboard box :) But it was fine! Your early twenties are the PERFECT time to live below your means, because your peers are mostly doing the same (which means less pressure to keep up with the Joneses).
And don’t just tolerate this season, but EMBRACE it! Get fired up knowing that you are getting ahead by living below your means now. Buy things off Craigslist when you need them. Learn to cook a few cheap and healthy meals. Pack your lunch. Seek out free entertainment. And remember this:
People think of whatever they were raised in as the baseline for a decent life. In other words, they think they are supposed to start where their parents ended up. But your parents took decades to attain the lifestyle that you now think you’re supposed to reach in your mid-30s at the latest. (Megan McArdle)
4. Don’t be afraid to find your mate. Friends, I’m not going to go all Princeton Mom on you. But as someone who was happy to get married at 25, I guess all I’m trying to say is if the right person comes along, don’t be afraid to get serious. And perhaps don’t just “wait until the right person comes along,” but spend time actively pursuing that right person. Being married to John is the greatest blessing of my life, and I’m glad we’ve gotten to grow up and experience so much of life together.
5. Start saving money. If you haven’t already read my thoughts about the magic of compound interest, go do so now. Time is the most powerful part of the building-wealth equation, and it’s the ONLY part you can never make up. Wealth gives you freedom – freedom to give generously, freedom to retire early, freedom to visit your family, freedom to travel the world, freedom to save all the pets, freedom to _______ (fill in the blank with whatever matters most to you). It’s a good thing.
6. Learn how to use money. If your history with money is rocky at best and I’m making you nervous with all this money talk, know that you can flip the script inside your own head right this minute. Decide you’re going to be a smart money person from this point on, and then do something about it! (Trust me, few things feel as good as feeling in control of your financial situation.)
A few places to start? Consider signing up for Financial Peace University* (or read Total Money Makeover). Learn how to spend money. Pay off credit card debt and never get it again. Sign up for eBates. Work to get the three big purchases right. Read this post by Ben Carlson. Read all of my past Marvelous Money posts :)
7. Don’t think you have to move away. Or at least, place a value on living near your family like everything else as you weigh options for your post-college life. If you haven’t read this post yet, you might find it a bit chilling – I did. I think our generation is so transient, mobile, and “connected” that we sometimes forget that settling down near our families and/or where we grew up is a worthy option — after all, even if we live across the country, we can still FaceTime, right? It seems like a no-brainer to follow an opportunity, and that giving up an opportunity to stay near one’s family might be looked down upon. To be honest, I didn’t think much about the long-term possibility of never living near my family again when I moved away at 22. Would I do it again? Almost certainly. But I don’t think I thought about it quite enough at the time, and I want to make sure you have that option.
Is anyone surprised that three of my seven tips involve money? No? :) Friends, I would LOVE to hear if any of my thoughts resonate with you, or if you have any piece of advice (big or little) for our new grads or early twenty-somethings! I can’t wait to hear what you have to say!
*If you’re curious about FPU, sit tight! I have a post you will love coming soon.
16 June 2017
If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I think my parents were and are really good at parenting. I haven’t figured out all of their secrets (yet), but one key seems to be consistency.
My Dad, in particular, had a number of phrases that were on repeat throughout my first 18 years — if I’ve heard them once, truly, I’ve heard them a thousand times. They have shaped the kind of person I am, and will undoubtedly be issuing from my lips a thousand times in the next 18 years as John and I do our best to raise our children. I wanted to share a few of them with you today, in honor of Father’s Day.
Kate and Kim, repeat along with me…
If you’re going to give, give graciously. Let’s start with a particularly hard one to learn :) This meant that it wasn’t enough to simply shove a coloring book across the table at my sister if I begrudgingly agreed to relinquish it; no, I was supposed to politely place it in her hands, ideally with a smile. No bare minimum shortcuts at the Ayer household, much to our dismay while growing up. My Dad taught (and still teaches) me so much about going the extra mile AND doing it with your heart in the right place.
You might not have meant to, but you didn’t try hard enough not to. Again with the heart focus. This phrase would be employed when I’d, perhaps, knock my sister over as I ran past her, then whine, “but I didn’t meeeeeean to” when told to apologize. Again, we weren’t allowed to take the easy out.
Life isn’t fair and You can’t always get what you want. (The latter, usually sung to the tune of the Rolling Stones.) I was under no illusions growing up that everything was always going to go my way. Somehow, my parents were able to balance this blunt reality with a sense of possibility and hope, but I’m thankful I never had the opportunity to be crushed by the realization that the world wasn’t going to bend to my will, because I was reminded of it early and often.
Photo by Tanja Lippert
Steps are our friends. Way before FitBits and Apple Watches became commonplace, my Dad cheerfully expounded on the benefits of getting our bodies moving. He can often be found standing instead of sitting while reading, he’ll never miss a chance to accompany someone on a walk, and it was no surprise to any of us when he rigged himself a standing desk at work. With the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle becoming more and more clear, my Dad was definitely ahead of his time on this one.
Pleases and thank yous aren’t rationed. Simple enough. This was an extremely common catchall reminder that it’s hard to overdo it on politeness and kindness.
Don’t be overly fastidious. As the father of three girls, this was my Dad’s main offensive against raising a gaggle of “girly girls.” We were taught to be unafraid of mud, comfortable with sweat, capable of taking out the trash, and unlikely to leap to the top of a chair when a bug was spotted in the room.
Photo by Nancy Ray
Two wrongs don’t make a right. I bet this is a familiar one to many of you! My Dad always encouraged us to take the high road, to hold to our standards even when others weren’t holding to theirs. This was the basis of integrity in our family.
That’s the price you pay for an active childhood. This was my Dad’s favorite phrase when we came in sniffling from skinned knees. While we crawled up in his lap to be comforted, he was gently reminding us that a few bumps and bruises were a small price to pay for the glory of a childhood spent wild and free in the great outdoors.
Everything in moderation. Longtime readers will know that this is a life maxim of my Dad’s that I have latched onto hook, line, and sinker (mentioned here and here, for starters). In eating habits, in paying off debt, in establishing traditions — pretty much in everything besides my faith — I think it’s healthier, more sustainable, and more enjoyable to stick to a middle road than lurch to an extreme.
There’s nothing like a good Dad, and I’m so glad I have mine. I love you, Dad!!
Friends, I would LOVE to hear: what common phrases did your parents repeat throughout your childhood that have stuck with you?
8 June 2017
You know something I’m grateful for? John re-learning to play the guitar in 2015! I was pregnant, he hadn’t picked up a guitar since middle school, but of his own accord he decided that he wanted music to be a part of our family life and so he busted out some YouTube videos and was playing all of our favorite songs in weeks. (Side note: what?! It would have taken me YEARS to do the same!)
Fast forward a few months, and there was only one downside to our frequent family singalongs. A black, bulky guitar case had taken up permanent residence in our family room — which was not exactly my idea of a good time, interior decorating speaking.
I was itching to ditch it, but was wary of falling into a trap Shawn Achor describes in his book The Happiness Advantage:
Had the path of least resistance led me astray? I thought back to that initial experiment. I had kept my guitar tucked away in the closet, out of sight and out of reach. It wasn’t far out of the way, of course, but just those 20 seconds of extra effort it took to walk to the closet and pull out the guitar had proved to be a major deterrent. I had tried to overcome this barrier with willpower, but after only four days, my reserves were completely dried up. If I couldn’t use self-control to ingrain the habit, at least not for an extended period, I now wondered: What if I could eliminate the amount of activation energy (the time, choices, and mental and physical effort) it took to get started?
I took the guitar out of the closet, bought a $2 guitar stand, and set it up in the middle of my living room. Nothing had changed except that now instead of being 20 seconds away, the guitar was in immediate reach. Three weeks later, I looked up at a habit grid with 21 proud check marks.
What I had done here, essentially, was put the desired behavior on the path of least resistance, so it actually took less energy and effort to pick up and practice the guitar than to avoid it. The strategy is universally applicable: Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt, and raise it for habits you want to avoid.
Obviously this applies to more than just guitar playing, ha! We had gotten into such a good rhythm of family singalongs, and I didn’t want to derail us by storing the guitar out of sight and out of mind. But I wanted it off my floor. So after some thought and Googling, I bought a guitar hook and we hung John’s beauty right behind our sofa. Problem solved! The guitar was still easily accessible, we no longer had a big case taking up floor space, and we gained some fun new wall decor, to boot.
Have y’all ever used this trick to form or break a habit? It’s a good one!
26 May 2017
It’s hard to believe, but this year’s summer fun list is even longer than last year’s! Every age with June has been sweet, but I’ve heard from many people that 15-24 months is an exceptionally fun stretch, and I believe it – we just can’t get enough of our girl!! I fully intend to check off every one of these things together before September 22, and I’m ridiculously excited about the thought.
Off to print and hang this list on our fridge! Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend, friends!
— dine under the lights at Vin Rouge
— take June to splash at Fews Ford
— decorate June’s bike and walk in our town’s Fourth of July parade
— spearhead a street potluck
— invite friends over for a cookout in our backyard
— take June to a splash pad
— make berry cobbler
— go to a Bulls game
— road trip to Maine
— roast s’mores in our fire pit
— jump off the wharf at the Island
— outdoor movie at Koka Booth or the Art Museum
— picnic at a Back Porch Music concert
— spend a day at the beach
— film our second June in June movie
— ice cream at Maple View
— road trip to Michigan
— pick blueberries
— have a classic cookout with hot dogs, grilled corn, pasta salad, potato salad, and more :)
— lemonade at the Honeysuckle Tea House
— camp with friends
— check out the books, flowers, and potstickers at Brewery Bhavana
— make pavlova
— try a canoe ride
— celebrate Cow Appreciation Day
What’s on your summer fun list?