Adulting 101 for Millennials
Just kidding, boomers aren’t going to treat you with respect as long as they can blame you for all the world’s problems. (If you’re stewing about this, check out this fun game.)
Unfortunately, they’ve got a point: you don’t know how to be an adult. It’s hardly your fault when your parents were more concerned with getting you home before dark and checking your Halloween candy for razor blades than teaching you how to sew or balance a checkbook. It’s hardly your fault when your school didn’t offer the home ec, shop, or driving classes that your parents’ school did. And let’s not forget, the profileration of smart devices post-dates the need to have learned these things, so now you ask Siri for how to do things that you should have learned 15 years ago.
Tell Me More About How Much You Hate Millennials, You Old Fart
If I hear one more middle aged white person tell me how good I have it because I was born in the 90s, I’m going to…
I am here to help. I am a millennial in her 30s and I’ve figured out how to be an adult. Mostly.
I always wanted to be grown up. I hated being a “kid.” I’ve wanted to have a career and my own money since I was eight. I pursued odd jobs around the neighborhood. I babysat, weeded, and mopped. I was also a voracious reader and learner, bored by my classes at school, so I devoured books that were way “above my reading level.” I was smart, to be sure. And my parents made me do chores. Overall, I was a mature kid.
When I moved out, though, and was legally an adult, I was stunned by the nastiness of many older adults who refused to take me seriously. they condescended to me simply for being young. Hell, it still happens because I have a youthful face: I have people my age calling me a whippersnapper!
That said, as I actually did have a long way to go as an adult, I realized why some of these boomers held their assumptions: a lot of my peers had no idea how to do laundry, cook, balance a checkbook, or handle friendships or relationships in an adult fashion. And no one was teaching us how. Rather, they’d coddled us for years then expected us to grow up as soon as we rounded age 18. I’ve even heard boomers encourage early-twentysomethings to have kids to help them “grow up.” No, no, NO!
Thankfully, we now have adulting classes. Of course, we’re being mocked for taking them. But if our parents and/or teachers had just taught us these things rather than passing the buck, perhaps we as a generation would be better equipped to handle life.
I see my fellow millennials post rather embarrassing things about adulting. Sometimes I admit I’m disgusted to see someone my age complain about having to do laundry. As someone with mental illness, it is a struggle for me sometimes…but I still “adult.” However, I understand that it’s hard to handle if you went your entire childhood without having to do a speck of laundry.
So, for the sake of our generation’s reputation and because I do believe we all need to do some simple things, here’s a basic guide to adulting:
Whether you’re using a laundromat or are lucky enough to have a washer and dryer in your residence, the basic principles of laundry are the same:
Wash like with like. Like colors together, like textures together. Never try to wash a bright red item with a white one. It won’t end well. Similarly, wash towels with other towels or “fluffy” items, and wash lightweight items with other lightweight items.
Invest in a drying rack. Never put something in the dryer if the label says to drip dry or dry flat, unless you’re trying to make a sweater for your cat. In fact, a lot of your clothes that are dryer-safe will last longer if you hang them to dry—and again, you’ll save a bit of money on your power bill.
Fabric softeners are a scam. If you follow proper laundry techniques, you don’t need this shit. Save your money.
- Most items can be washed in cold water even if the label advises warm water. This will save energy as well: good for the planet, good for the power bill
- Turn graphic tees inside out.
- Tie up sashes and pull cords first.
How do I know? My parents taught me to do laundry at a young age, and then I worked in the costume department of a theatre for three years.
Bleach is your friend. Don’t be scared of it. Dilute 1 part bleach in 10 parts water (e.g. 1 cup in 10 cups of water, or a smaller amount if you need it), wear rubber gloves, and use a spray bottle or clean dish sponge to kill mildew on the walls of your shower. Be sure to get the underside of the toilet seat, too!
Invest in a hand towel. When you have guests over, no one wants to dry their hands on the towel that dried your butt. Come on.
- Wipe your mirror and counters regularly with an antibac cleaning solution.
- Wash your toothbrush in the dishwasher every so often.
How do I know? Again, parents, plus an aversion to mildew.
Vinegar is your friend. Mix half vinegar and half water and use it as a spray solution to clean countertops, your stovetop, your sink, and especially your faucet. White is preferable but you can use apple cider vinegar as well. You can also use the 50–50 mix in your coffeemaker to clean it (and believe me, you want to). Simply “brew” the mixture, turn off the coffeemaker and let it sit for a while, then empty the pot and repeat with 100% clean water.
Microwave your dish sponge. While sponges are cheap enough that they really should only last a few uses, you can still reduce the spread of potentially harmful bacteria in your kitchen by microwaving a WET, METAL-FREE dish sponge for 60 seconds. And every adult should know that you don’t microwave metal, right? RIGHT? So if your steel wool or metal dish sponge gets gross, just throw it out. Really. Just toss it and get a new one.
Keep your microwave clean. Microwave a glass with that good ol’ vinegar mixture so that it steams the walls of the microwave, then wipe off. You should take out the glass turntable and wash it with warm water and dish soap.
Be careful what you put in the oven, and keep it clean. You can cook food in glassware that’s designed for the oven, metal pans, and aluminum foil, and that’s IT. Please don’t try to double your cutting board as a pizza pan. You should also clean the oven regularly. Follow the instructions on the can of oven cleaner closely, and be sure you wear gloves and that the oven is OFF.
- If it says “refrigerate after opening,” refrigerate after opening.
Managing Your Bank Account
Understand the relationship between your income and expenses. Truthfully, balancing a physical checkbook is not entirely necessary in an age when most people pay with debit cards, money transfers quickly, and apps are available to monitor your spending. For example, I rarely have to write a check, and when I make a purchase, it typically comes out of my account right away. I need only check my app and see a fairly accurate account balance. But understanding the principles behind balancing is still necessary. Automated payments for subscriptions, credit card payments, and so on are fairly common these days, so I have to know how much is coming out versus how much is going on. That is, just because my account balance reads $300 today doesn’t mean I have $300 to blow on groceries today (yes, groceries are a luxury for me). This brings us to…
Make a budget. Seriously. Make a budget. I use Trello, but you can use any number of free apps, an Excel spreadsheet, or good ol’ pen and paper. Figure out your total income from your paycheck(s) and any gigs you have, and when it will come in. Figure out all your recurring expenses, including rent, power bill, internet bill, and any automated payments. Be sure to track when those automated payments will come out. The difference is your discretionary income. If you’re like me, a broke writer with student loan debt (weeps silently), most of that discretionary income goes toward paying down debt. But should you have extra, it’s never too soon to start saving or investing. If you’re able to save or invest, make that part of your monthly budget, and limit your spending on restaurants, bars, and other expenditures that don’t build wealth.
Managing Your Debt
Perhaps you’re like me and fell on hard times and had to use credit cards to repair your car or buy groceries (big no-no). Perhaps you bought some shit you didn’t need. Either way, you have credit card debt. What to do?
Know your APR. If you’re a relatively new borrower, you’re likely going to have a high APR, or annual percentage rate. This is the finance charge incurred for the entire year of purchases, and it’s how the credit card companies make money. Think about the interest they’ll charge whenever you make a purchase on a credit card. It may not seem like much, but remember that it’s not on a per-purchase basis; it’s on the balance you’re carrying all year. Think of every purchase on a credit card as an addition to that balance.
Ideally, you use credit cards like this: you carry a $0 balance and make small purchases that you can pay off within the month. If you pay off the amount within the month, they don’t charge you interest, but your credit history grows and your score goes up.
Some cards will offer a 0% introductory APR. The key word here is “introductory.” This will end, so it’s good to pay off the debt within the introductory period (usually 6 to 12 months). Some people will transfer a balance to a 0% intro card in order to save interest, but you must be able to pay off the debt in that timeframe to achieve this, and be sure to check what the balance transfer fee is before attempting this.
Pay more than the minimum payment is good starting advice, but if you have more than one card, you have two options: avalanche or snowball (appropriate metaphors, I guess). In the avalanche method of paying down debt, you tackle the one with the highest APR first and make only the minimum payment on the rest. Once you eliminate that highest-APR debt, you move on to the next highest, and so on. This method saves you money on interest.
If you need the psychological relief of eliminating debt quickly, tackle the lowest balance first. Once you clear that, move on the next highest balance, and so on. This approach is called the snowball method. Studies show that people are more likely to stick with a debt repayment plan if they feel like it’s manageable, so the snowball method has that going for it.
Investing for your Future
There are two types of investing for the future that I want to discuss: (1) investing in stocks and bonds and (2) investing in a retirement account. If you’re lucky enough to have an employer who’s willing to match contributions to a retirement fund, thank your lucky stars and dear God please contribute a percentage of each paycheck to it (you’ll likely be required to, but you can contribute extra, up to a designated cap). You won’t miss the money, and if it’s deducted on a pre-tax basis, that’s even better, because that means your taxable wages are reduced, which equals more money in your pocket.
If you’re not lucky enough to have an employer-sponsored retirement plan, you can often set up an IRA (investment retirement account) through your banking provider and simply contribute from your paycheck. (If you’re self-employed, check out this guide to creating your own retirement plan. Also, read about the tax advantages of certain types of IRAs.) You also could explore a microinvesting service such as Acorns or Stash (these are referral links that get both of us $5 if you sign up for free). They’re very similar and offer services such as “rounding up” your spare change to invest, customizing your investment portfolio based on your age and goals, and, most importantly for broke millennials, allowing you to regularly invest small amounts of money in stocks, bonds, and ETFs (exchange-traded funds). Recently, they both launched debit card accounts that integrate with their other services and offer cashback or “stockback” options.
Whichever option you choose, the key is to invest regularly. I have both my Acorns and Stash set to deduct money from my bank account every payday. The difference is that I chose the stocks, bonds, and ETFs for Stash, while I let Acorns select a portfolio based on my age, goals, and risk tolerance. I also have a Roth IRA set up through Acorns.
How much you set aside varies depending on when you start this process and when you plan to retire. Many experts recommend saving 15 percent of your income as a general rule of thumb; however, if you’re in your twenties, you can start at 10 percent. Of course, many experts also recommend that you should have a year’s salary saved by age 30 (ROFLMAO). My non-expert advice is to:
1. See where you can cut back on unnecessary spending and, instead of getting that $7 latte, invest that money with a microinvesting app. Just be very wary of investing in individual stocks or investing large amounts of money, e.g. a holiday gift, at one time. Slow and steady wins the race.
2. Regularly put money into your investment and retirement accounts. If your employer matches your contributions, consider increasing your contribution from each paycheck. (Consider saving up to the cap.)
How do I know? Lots and lots of trial-and-error + desperately searching the Internet for advice.
I’m now an athlete and dancer, but for years, I worked out once in a blue moon and struggled to go up stairs. I was blessed with strong legs and so could lift heavy items, and because I was thin, people wrongly assumed I was in shape.
Let’s get one thing made clear first: your size and shape does not dictate your health. I’ve met curvy people who are extremely strong and fit, with great bio stats, and slim people who can’t lift a paperclip and whose blood pressure is through the roof.
That said, everybody can benefit from regular exercise — the key is to do it, you know, regularly. As always, check with a physician before nabbing that crossfit gym membership.
There are two types of exercise: aerobic and anaerobic. Aerobic exercise involves flooding your muscles with oxygen as you sustain a movement, e.g. running. Anaerobic exercise is short-term and intense, and so your muscles become deprived of oxygen and build up lactic acid, the source of “the burn.” Technically, all workout routines start out anaerobic: your body pulls on glucose reserves to get things moving. It’s called “warming up,” and usually, you’ll feel a sense of exhaustion that you must overcome to feel that adrenaline high. Even if you’re strength training, a type of anaerobic exercise, you should “activate” your muscles before attempting intense exertion.
Both types of exercise are important. Aerobic exercise helps promote heart health and endurance, while anaerobic exercise encourages strength and a fast metabolism.
You’ll want to aim for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions (reps). If you’re using weights or resistance bands, set them to where you can achieve these numbers while keeping proper form and only feeling muscle failure for the last 2 to 3 reps. For example, if you’re doing bicep curls and you can only do three reps with a resistance of 50 pounds, or if you can do more only if you don’t fully extend your arms in between curls, consider dropping to 40 pounds and see if you can do more reps with proper form. The flip side is that doing more reps at a lower resistance isn’t helpful either. It really doesn’t build muscle to either stay in your comfort zone or have the resistance set so high that you can barely execute the movement. Aim for a middle ground that challenges you but doesn’t lead you to sacrifice form (which can cause injury) or reps.
There are two factors in any given aerobic exercise: length and intensity. In general, they have an inverse relationship. The key is to obtain an elevated heart rate and sustain it for an extended period of time. Believe it or not, even walking can elevate your heart rate — no fancy workout clothes required! However, for weight loss and endurance building, it’s best to aim for regular (i.e. 2–3 times per week) sessions of (a) 20–30 minutes of moderate-to-intense cardio or (b) short sessions in which you alternate between high-intensity and low-intensity movement (the Tabata method). If you have trouble with discipline, consider enrolling in a dance class. Whether it’s barre, Latin, jazz, aerial, whatever, all dance classes will involve an activation/warmup period, low-intensity movement, high-intensity movement, and stretching, and any good teacher will take you through them in the proper order and for the proper amount of time. As always, listen to your body. If you feel like you’re dying, take a rest and see if you feel better in a minute. Listen to any sharp pains or nausea.
Myth #1: Stretch before working out. No. Don’t stretch first. It doesn’t help prevent injury; in fact, it can cause injury. Cold muscles are more likely to become strained. Instead, do some jumping jacks, jog in place, or swing the arms and legs. As an aerial athlete and dancer, I have noticed that my flexibility improves when I’ve been actively moving for at least 30 minutes, and overdoing my stretches can actually decrease my flexibility.
Myth #2: More is better. No. Don’t work out every day. More is not better. Especially if you’re trying to build strength, rest days where your muscles rebuild are extremely important. It’s also not necessarily helpful to work out for long periods of time. Again, as an aerial athlete and dancer, I’ve logged 3- to 4-hour sessions at times. There have been periods when I was going to my studio six days a week. Yet I always noticed improved performance if I took a few days off. Now, I space out and diversify my workout sessions.
Myth #3: Divide your workouts by body part. Some people attempt to hack their rest days by reasoning that if you exercise only your legs on Monday, you can still work out the next day — just exercise your arms! No. Our bodies don’t work that way. You’ll still be working out your whole body even if you’re targeting certain muscle groups.
Edit, July 17, 2019: While yes, you’re working out your whole body, it still can be helpful to take a rest day for your upper body, so switching to lower body the next day might be helpful. Know the muscle groups that are most effected by the exercise, and remember that rest days are important!
And speaking of…
Myth #4: Isolate muscle groups. While it’s not harmful to do bicep curls, leg extensions, crunches, or other isolation exercises, they’re not required to have strong limbs and abs. It’s more efficient to do exercises that engage several muscle groups at once, such as pull-ups, chest presses, and squats. As an aerial athlete, I’ve trained for four years while rarely using machines designed to build up specific muscles, and I still am able to perform acrobatic routines in the air, which require overall body strength. That’s because regularly using your own body weight in resistance training is the key to becoming strong.
- You really don’t need Gatorade or coconut water. Plain old water is just fine. I have noticed that I feel more dehydrated if I consume Gatorade or coconut water instead of water. Besides, I don’t need the extra calories! If you hate plain water, add a sugar-free flavor boost to it.
- Never overstretch. You should feel a kind of pleasant discomfort from stretching, never a sharp pain or persistent ache.
How do I know? I’ve been training in acrobatics and aerial dance for four years and am a dance instructor.
So we’ve gone over cooking your food safely, but what are you eating? I don’t care how safe you are if you’re going to just eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or boil all your food (which is how many of us were taught to cook). It can be tempting, especially for us broke millennials. Boil some pasta, dump some marinara on it, rinse, repeat. (Don’t actually rinse.)
You need to learn some basics of a balanced diet. It’s possible to eat cheap yet healthy, with whatever nutritional plan you select. Some basic principles that apply to all diets (omni, vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, Mediterranean, paleo, and keto are all options):
- Eat protein in the morning and before a workout, and carbohydrates in the evening and after a workout. (Read more about when to best eat certain foods.)
- Limit intake refined grains and sugars. They are seriously everywhere, and they convert straight into blood sugar, leading to your not feeling full and then having an energy crash.
- Fat is not your enemy. Ignore the common wisdom that fat = unhealthy. Eating good fats, such as yogurt, eggs, and peanut butter, is a great breakfast choice.
- Dairy might be your enemy. Ignore the Got Milk ads. A lot of people are lactose-sensitive and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you feel icky after consuming cow’s milk or ice cream, consider dairy alternatives or goat milk.
- Seriously, eat vegetables. If you had them boiled into mush, you probably hated them. Or you tolerated them if they were drizzled in syrup or baked into a cheesy casserole. Surprise, surprise, none of these options are healthy. To optimize the health benefits of vegetables, grill, sauté, or roast them — or eat it raw (more on cooking methods below). There are honestly so many types of vegetables available, you’re bound to find something you like.
How do I know? I’m an athlete with food sensitivities.
The rise of TV dinners and wartime popularity of canned foods, plus the influx of boxed dinners, have made it all too easy to eat boxed, frozen, and canned food. Sure, it’s easy. But because of this, combined with having two working parents and therefore being latchkey, many millennials grew up in households where cooking from scratch wasn’t common. I learned a lot of basic skills as a teenager, but continued to expand my skill set over the years. Rather than providing a comprehensive overview of all things cooking (that would be way too long), I want to give a basic rundown of the different cooking methods.
- Grilling: Using dry heat (no oil or butter) to sear meat or vegetables by laying them on a hot surface. Can be done either covered or open-top. Great for steak, salmon, and dense vegetables.
- Sautéing: Using medium-high heat and an open-top pan to caramelize vegetables or cook meat without searing, using a fatty medium such as olive oil or butter. Great for squash, Brussels sprouts, and seafood.
- Frying: Similar to sautéing, but typically done with fattier medium, and sometimes with the thing being cooked submerged in the oil (hint: not as healthy as sautéing).
- Stir-frying: Cooking meat or vegetables over high heat in an open-top pan or wok while stirring quickly. Great for softer vegetables and meats.
- Roasting: Cooking meat and/or vegetables in an oven, sometimes by simmering them in their own juices. Great for pretty much any dense meat or vegetables, as well as onions and tomatoes.
- Boiling: Cooking something by submerging it in water over a high heat. Great for softening potatoes, collard greens, bell peppers, or onions, or for cooking eggs. That’s about it.
- Braising: Lightly frying meat, then stewing it in a closed container. Great for lamb and pork.
- If you’re new to cooking, always follow recipe or box instructions closely. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel until you understand the basic rules.
- Boiling longer does not make the food better. Setting the oven to a higher temperature than the recipe calls for does not make the food done sooner.
How do I know? Years of research and experimentation.
All right, millennials, ready to adult? What things do you struggle with? Got any advice for your fellow millennials? Let me know in the responses!