Back in college I always joked about how I couldn’t wait to be a “real person.” You know, someone with a degree, a job, and even a family. I’ve “arrived” at my youthful definition of adulthood and found there’s much more to it than I once thought. It’s impossible to capture the essence of maturity in one blog post, but here are some steps that have been part of my journey.
1. Make a financial spreadsheet. I’ve always been a saver and planner, but for years the numbers were just swirling in my head, or floating around on bits of scrap paper. Then my husband Neil, an engineer and Excel-lover, made an epic spreadsheet that’s tracked and motivated our financial goals for years.
The spreadsheet helped us visualize the progress of short-term goals like saving for a down payment or a baby . It’s also how we budget and track our net worth, retirement accounts,credit card rewards, and more.
Not sure where to start? Plug your numbers into our 9-page sample spreadsheet. (The numbers are fake, the formulas are real.)
2. Give money. It’s all too easy to put off charitable giving until we feel more financially secure. Regular giving will never feel easy, as we’re all prone to increasing our expenses along with our income. If you give a little when you have a little, you’ll be more likely to give more when you have more.
3. Volunteer overseas. We each traveled separately on an international mission trip and found it very worthwhile. We are so grateful for the opportunity, as it truly changed our perspective and deepened our sense of purpose. Of course, you don’t have to cross borders to help out. The step outside my comfort zone wasn’t quite as large during domestic service trips, but they were still profound experiences.
4. Pay off debt. Many people our age are still nursing student loans, while adding credit card debt, car loans, and mortgages. While we can’t control the cost of college or the borrowing choices we made as teenagers, we can move forward by taking debt payoff seriously.
Debt is a major source of financial stress, so why add more of it to your life? Get your numbers into our sample budget spreadsheet and explore the possibilities—could you cut from areas like entertainment, travel, or clothing to get out of debt faster? Is there are any way to the lower the top three expenses of housing, transportation, or food?
5. Max out retirement accounts. In your 20s and 30s, retirement feels far away, almost mythical. Perhaps that’s why 40% of millennials don’t have a plan for retirement. Yet it’s so important to temper enjoying the present with planning for the future.
Even before your debt is completely out of the way, it makes great sense to start investing because an early start allows compound interest to work its mathematical magic. We struck a balance of investing 15% of our income while aggressively paying down student debt. After that we increased our rate of investing.
6. Have kids. Raising children is so hard at times, but it’s softened my heart unimaginably. And while most sources say kids cost a pretty penny over the long run, having them also motivated us to get our financial act together more than ever. Read about How Having Kids Has Improved Our Finances.
7. Make time for friends. Often as people marry and have children, friendships fall into the background. As a mom of little ones, I completely understand the draw to hunker down and just try to survive! But there is no time that you need your friends more than as you enter the new roles of spouse and parent. While we don’t go out with friends as much as we did before babies, we continue to see them at church, invite people over for dinner or coffee, and plan fun little outings with other families.
8. Dream big. I can be pragmatic to a fault. Case in point: when a curly-haired cutie asked me out to lunch on the second day of college, I answered dryly, “I already ate.” (We’ve been married ten years now.)
If I just slog through the details of daily life without a bigger purpose in mind, I’m at risk of only doing what others expect of me. And that’s very dangerous for both my finances and my soul. Dreaming big helps you clarify your motivation for any grownup action items. We’re much more likely to follow through on steps that fit into a bigger picture.
We also find ways to incorporate elements of our dreams into life today. That’s why we’re Rocking the Burbstead!
Sometimes I can’t believe the college girl who turned down a lunch date is now a “real person” with a family, an IRA, and a financial spreadsheet. None of those inherently comprise adulthood, but they’ve been part of my journey. What about yours?
What’s on your grownup checklist? What is your next action step toward a bigger goal?
Did you know almost half the world’s population lives on less than $2.50/day?
A huge portion of the world lives in abject poverty. For example, recent droughts in India have increased prostitution, child labor, and the incidence of child brides because people simply don’t have enough resources to provide for their children. Many Dalits “don’t exist” on paper and thus do not have reliable access to government assistance.
Did you know that for $1/day, you can change the life of a child in poverty? For many people in developed nations, $1/day is an amount you’d barely even miss. That can’t even buy you a coffee. It’s about one Chipotle burrito per week. Whatever $1 means in your budget, if you can spare it, I encourage you to consider adding a real worth investment to your portfolio.
Why not inflate someone else’s lifestyle instead of your own? After all, $1 per day can’t inflate your lifestyle noticeably. Investing $1 per day isn’t going significantly alter your retirement plans. But it could radically alter the trajectory of someone else’s life, while also inflating your usefulness.
It could be the difference between infanticide and life. Between starvation and nutrition. Between ignorance and education. Between being sold as a child bride or prostitute, and having a wholesome childhood. Between a family being broken up or staying whole. Between untapped potential and opportunity.
There are so many great charitable causes out there, but child sponsorship is something near to my heart because children are often innocent victims of forces much greater than themselves. They have not chosen their way into bad circumstances. They are completely powerless to improve their situation.
Yes, some organizations take donations that do not actually benefit the children they claim to help. Corruption and fraud exist and that means donors have to exercise caution. That’s why we started our research with personal recommendations from friends who have visited the organizations we donate to, and eventually visited one of our sponsored children.
Let’s cover some common questions and concerns.
Does this conflict with parents from providing for their children?
The organizations we give to practice holistic efforts to help entire communities. Therefore, the parents often have access to vocational training, education, employment opportunities, and micro loans. While we can’t vouch for every possible scenario, the efforts of the organizations we’ve chosen to support include helping parents as well.
Also, many children who benefit from sponsorship are orphans. And since the quality and reach of orphan care varies quite a bit across countries, we are happy to help “orphans and widows” which James 1:27 describes as “true religion.”
How do you know the money is going to benefit the children?
During our international mission trips, Neil and I separately witnessed the huge gulf between sponsored children and street kids. Our sponsored children live in very simple but safe homes. They attend school rather than begging or trying to sell things on the street. They receive sufficient food and clothing, as well as an education. They often receive help with career training, higher education, and even marriage if they do not have a family to help with this.
We personally met the “house parents,” school teachers, program directors, and even the president of one organization we sponsor a child through. I also was able to meet our child’s mother, who spent almost our whole time together saying “very thank you.” It was incredibly humbling; you can read more about it here.
There are many good organizations that do child sponsorship and poverty relief, but I can’t vouch for them personally as I can for India Gospel League. I’ve personally seen the work of IGL and find the organization to be highly efficient, effective, and holistic. Friends of mine visited Compassion International’s work in one country (Ethiopia) and found their ministry to be worth supporting. I’ve also heard great things about World Relief.
Would you consider inflating someone else’s lifestyle through child sponsorship? This cause hits even closer to home now that I have children of my own. I can’t imagine being in a position where I couldn’t provide for them; it’s too heart-breaking to even think about. Yet many parents across the world find themselves in this situation, often due to forces outside their control.
Please don’t let fear of corruption hold you back from helping the needy. Do a little research. Check out a charity rating website like Charity Navigator. Ask friends if they could recommend an organization, or even volunteer with or visit a group to learn more. If you prefer to help domestically, go for it! Or if you want to help adults, consider supporting a microloan program, vocational education, or refugee needs.
Inflating some else’s lifestyle is a real worth investment that will have a solid return, and it’s very rewarding to know you can change someone’s life, even if you may never meet the person. It truly is “more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
Any questions or recommendations? Have you ever sponsored a child or microloan?