Put Your Big Kid Pants On

“I don’t wanna grow up,” says every young adult ever. Adulting is hard and I’m quickly beginning to realize this as I enter my junior year of college. Money is ALWAYS tight, $5 feels like $100, and I’m ready to accept the fact that I will probably be scraping pennies for the rest of my 20’s…Or maybe not, if I make financial responsibility a priority. After speaking with financial experts, I came up with a handful of goals I hope to accomplish as I enter my 20’s. While being an adult is fun and independence feels great, it’s always good to keep an eye on the future, especially when it comes to financial independence. Here is a culmination of my “adult checklist,” including some serious goals and a few fun goals, along with a little bit of my own advice for others to get their big kid pants on!

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1. Start saving
I know what you’re thinking… “Jess, you’re 20 years old and you decided to start saving NOW?!” Yeah yeah, I should’ve taken this more seriously a long time ago. Going into my third year of college, I am kicking my 16 year-old self for spending money from my first job on things I really didn’t need. I could’ve traded all the McDonald’s frappes for my first month of rent for my college apartment. According to Personal Capital, 40% of millennials don’t have current plans for retirement, and 73% don’t know their net worth. These things might not have a significant impact on your life right now, but later on they become really important!
My advice? Set savings goals. Determine the major purchases you plan to make in the future and calculate how much you’ll need to save for them. You don’t have to stop spending money all together, but setting aside 10-20% of each paycheck will add up quickly. Setting a clear path and being specific will make it easier to see the bigger picture.

2. Pay off student loans

Student loans…dun dun dunnn. Those two words haunt me in my sleep. In 2013, nearly 70% of college students graduated with debt, averaging $30,000 in student loans each. This causes me a lot of stress and I know the majority of my peers worry about the debt they will also carry after they graduate. Often enough, student loan debt prevents young adults from buying homes and expanding wealth. The sooner you can live debt-free, the better.

My advice? Apply for scholarships, work hard during the summer, and save up for college as early as possible..like from the day you were born.

3. Buy a car

This goes along with the whole saving thing. Currently, I drive my late grandfather’s 2004 Chevy Colorado with a topper on the back, sharing it with my two sisters. As a college student, having my own car isn’t absolutely necessary while living near campus with a public transportation system, but I know that I will soon want a vehicle to call my own.

4. Apply for my dream job

Ahh the famous question… “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We’ve all been asked this question (most often at family get-togethers and graduation parties) but as I finish up my final two years of college, it’s important for me to try and figure this one out. College is a time to explore different options and find your niche, so don’t be afraid to shoot for the stars when contemplating what your dream job may be. Even before graduating college, I plan to apply for numerous jobs in my field of interest, even a few jobs that I may not even be qualified for. You never know what might happen!

My advice? Nothing is impossible if you work hard enough for it. Stay focused, do what you love, and take risks.

5. Live on my own

I feel as though I’m in the minority, but I couldn’t wait to move back in with my parents after my freshman year of college. In fact, I spent my sophomore year commuting from home because I couldn’t stand to be far from my family. However, I know I’m finally ready to branch out and do my own thing and I am so excited to have signed a lease to live in my first apartment while away at school. Well, I will have roommates, but baby steps are still steps forward. Within the next two to three years, I hope to have a place of my own, but of course, that requires me to be completely financially independent. We’ll just say I’m working on this one.

My advice? It’s okay to live with your parents while you are saving up. It’s better to be financially unstable while living with mom and dad than be financially unstable all alone with monthly bills to pay. Live with roommates as long as possible to split costs until you can venture off and support yourself.

6. Network like crazy

As a young adult, it’s crucial to go out and meet people, socially and professionally. Every person you meet has something to offer…take advantage of it! People say it’s a good idea to get involved when you go to college and that’s because it can connect you to countless other opportunities. Networking is one of my favorite things to do (partially because I’m a Communication Studies major and partially because I was a social butterfly in a past life).

My advice? Do anything and everything to build up your resume, from charity work and volunteering to internships and first jobs. Find something you love to do and you will be connected to people who feel the same. Don’t be afraid to reach out to potential employers as well! Be a leader, initiate connections, and ALWAYS present yourself professionally.

7. Adopt a pet

I’ve grown up with dogs my entire life so obviously I need some pet therapy when I can get my own place. I’m also the type of person who freaks out when I’m home alone so having a little companion will be a nice addition to my life. I kept a plant alive for over a year in my college dorm room so I have a lot of faith in my care-taking abilities. However, having a real pet of my own is still a big responsibility, so I’m making this one a goal for my later 20’s…

8. Travel

Quite honestly, I’m a bit of a homebody and majority of the time, I’ll choose to stay in with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and a good Netflix series over going out all night. During my young adulthood though, I hope to either study abroad or visit a country and immerse myself in the culture. I’ve lived in Wisconsin my entire life and have only traveled outside of the state a handful of times because traveling can get expensive! This is another goal to save up for as much as possible (so be sure to calculate that into your savings goals!) I want to take advantage of the opportunity to travel while I’m young, but the real question is…where to go?

My advice? Spend money on EXPERIENCES rather than material items. Would you rather spend $500 on clothes or $500 on a round trip to a new country? To each their own, but I know it will be so rewarding to save up for a phenomenal life experience and gain a new perspective.

9. Get healthy

Truth is, the “freshman 15” is a real thing. It’s so easy to swing through McDonald’s every day rather than meal prepping with grilled chicken and broccoli, but the payoff of the latter is so much more worth it. I won’t even lie…I eat chicken nuggets and pizza like they’re my only lifeline, but more recently, I’ve been trying to get in touch with what my body needs to be at its best. This includes physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health as well. Most people think health is centered solely on diet and exercise but it is SO much more than that. During my young adulthood, I want to make my overall health a priority because I only get one body so I might as well treat it right.

My advice? This doesn’t have to be difficult! It can be as easy as drinking more water or switching to whole grains. Take time for yourself to rejuvenate, find a fun way to exercise (yoga, walking), and seek beneficial outlets for your stress, like painting, listening to music, meditation or prayer. Discover what makes your body feel good and develop consistency.

10. Prioritize happiness

When I was younger, I spent a lot of my time worrying about what other people wanted from me and how I could make others happy first. After high school, I made the decision to put my happiness first and aim for what I wanted to accomplish for myself, even if I was the odd one out. The term “put others before yourself” is one that I admire, but one that I also don’t believe in 100%. There is such a stigma around focusing on yourself, some may call it selfishness, but this is essential on the path of discovering who you are and what you want to be. While generosity and compassion is one thing, it’s another thing to love yourself and take care of your needs and wants as well. In my young adulthood, as I figure out who I am, I will continue to put my mind, body, and soul first, along with my personal and professional goals. I am going to take the time to invest in my own happiness and success. Life is too short to be anything but happy, so LOVE YOURSELF!

My advice? Don’t be afraid to take the time you need to discover who you are and what you want out of life. Rise above, leave the peer pressure back in middle school, never let anyone tell you that you’re not good enough, and do whatever you need to do to be successful.

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There you have it! Just a handful of my goals as I venture through my 20’s and a little bit of my own advice. I encourage you (the lovely reader) to get your big kid pants on and start making a plan to tackle your future! A little birdy told me that if you write down your goals, they will eventually come true. I’m thinking this adult checklist is a good start! Financial independence is so important and it’s often something we put on the back burner until later in life. Your dreams can become reality simply by taking responsibility of your wallet.

For more information on how you can take charge of your financial independence, check out the wealth management tool provided by the amazing team of financial experts at Personal Capital so you can manage your money and plan for the future! Now go out there and make me proud.

Love always,

Jessica

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Meet Jade Strick: National American Miss Wisconsin 2015

Time to get back into blogging mode (as I sip tea from my new “blogging day” mug from my wonderful pageant director). Speaking of, there are TONS of pageant organizations out there, from Miss USA, to Miss America, to National American Miss and beyond. Each program is a little different, but they all offer so many life changing opportunities for the women involved.

Back in December of 2015, I was connected to Miss Jade Strick through a mutual acquaintance. I thought it would be a fun idea to collaborate with her on an article about the impact of pageant involvement and how her experiences have shaped her life thus far. This Q & A was conducted through a previous interview she did for a friend, but her answers are spot on! Jade has been involved in the National American Miss program for a few years now and she is currently a NAM titleholder and director for the Miss Amazing program, empowering girls with disabilities. Meet Jade…

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Q: You’re very involved in the pageant industry, could you please explain any pageants or organizations you’ve participated in? Also any titles you’ve won over your pageant career?

A: I have been involved in the National American Miss pageant system. NAM is the largest pageant system in the United States. It is a more “family oriented” system and their staff refers to it as a “confidence pageant” rather than a beauty pageant. The areas of competition are personal introduction, interview, formal wear, and community service.  This is the only system I have competed in so far but I am very familiar with other systems and hope to compete in the Miss USA organization. I currently hold the title of National American Miss Wisconsin 2015 and placed 4th runner up at the national pageant.

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Q: There are many controversies over whether minors should be allowed to participate in pageants. What is your opinion on this?

A: There’s a huge difference between organizations like National American Miss and what you see on Toddlers & Tiaras. National American Miss doesn’t allow younger contestants to wear makeup and it isn’t judged on outer appearance whatsoever. I completely advocate for younger girls participating in pageants like this if it is something they want to try! Beauty pageants, on the other hand, I do not agree with. I would never allow my daughter to participate in anything like what you see on Toddlers & Tiaras.

Q: Are there any ways participating in pageants has positively influenced your life? Anything negative?

A: Pageants have been extremely influential in my life. I first competed in National American Miss when I was 16 years old and it felt like I found my home, my “thing,” if you will. I was never good at sports and I tried and quit countless other activities. When I competed in NAM, I immediately fell in love. I placed in the Top 10 in my first pageant and knew I found my “thing.” When I came back to school in the fall, I felt like a different person. I was always somewhat introverted, not that it’s a bad thing, but the pageant definitely helped bring me out of my shell. I was more eager to speak in front of the class and talk to new people. It also lead me to getting much more involved in volunteer work. I saw the amazing things my fellow competitors were doing and that gave me the confidence to believe that I could make a difference too. I started with Big Brothers, Big Sisters and the Miss Amazing program a few months later. I would have never had the confidence in myself to be able to direct and lead a statewide organization like Miss Amazing if it weren’t for my experience with National American Miss.

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I think the only negative experience I had with NAM was the final year I competed in the teen division; I was very competitive and put way too much pressure on myself to win. I really didn’t enjoy myself that weekend and ended up messing up my personal introduction and bawling my eyes out when I didn’t win. This really wasn’t a negative experience, it was a lesson.  The lessons I learned that weekend contributed to my amazing week competing at nationals this past year. Of course I would have loved to win, but I did my best, didn’t put pressure on myself, and had fun. It is for that reason that I placed in the Top 5!

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Q: You are very involved in the Miss Amazing program. Could you explain what it is, your role, and how it has influenced the participants’ lives?

A: Miss Amazing is a non-profit organization that gives girls and women with disabilities the opportunity to gain confidence and self esteem in a supportive environment. The founder of Miss Amazing was a National American Miss queen in Nebraska, who designed the pageant to be similar to NAM. I am Wisconsin’s state director, so I am in charge of our program for the whole state. I plan the annual state pageants, which consist of finding a venue, fundraising, promoting the program to get participants and volunteers, and planning all the details that go into the event. I also work with the families of the six queens to get them to the National Miss Amazing pageant and help them get into the community for appearances and volunteer work. Recently, I took on a new role in the planning committee for the national event as well.

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Miss Amazing has hugely influenced participants across the United States. I’ve witnessed it having the same impact on the girls and women who participate as National American Miss did on me.  It is really empowering for the participants to have their time in the spotlight– their time to feel beautiful. I could tell you so many stories. One of my favorite stories is about a girl named Sarah. When I first met Sarah, she was sitting backstage waiting to practice for the talent showcase. My mom pulled me aside from my busy errands and asked me to talk to a really nervous participant. I dropped everything and sat down next to this terrified young lady. I tried to get Sarah to talk to me, but she could barely even look at me. Finally, her mom came back and mentioned that I looked like a character from her favorite TV show, Victorious. That sparked her interest and we finally got some smiles, laughs, and a few words out of her. I asked her if she was ready to go practice, but she wouldn’t budge. Finally, we got her to just stand on the stage. She didn’t practice her talent, she wouldn’t even wave to the small crowd, she just stepped on stage. Her talent was decorating cupcakes and when it came to the final show, I went on the stage with her and helped her do her talent. The next day, I saw her confidence slowly growing and the real Sarah was coming out. Sarah was quirky, funny, and had a contagious smile. The final show came around and Sarah walked across the stage in her red ball gown, flashing that contagious smile and waving to the crowd. My heart was beaming with pride, as she ended up winning her age division and she became the Wisconsin Miss Amazing Teen. I saw the transformation as Sarah grew into a confident young lady and I couldn’t have been more proud of her.

Q: What is your favorite Miss Amazing memory?

A: If you haven’t noticed, when it comes to Miss Amazing, I could write novels for you.  There are so many memories and stories. One thing that stands out for me was at the end of the second pageant I held. The first one was very small and had only 3 participants and a handful of volunteers. The second one had almost 20 contestants and around 50 volunteers. The show was over and I lead all the girls onstage for a final bow and photos. As I turned, the crowd was on their feet and one of the participants brought me a bouquet of flowers. I immediately started crying because I was so exhausted, but all that hard work paid off in that one moment. That feeling is something I will never forget.

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Q: Has participating in pageants changed your outlook on the world and/or life? If so, how?

A: I’m not sure that they’ve changed my outlook, but they have empowered me to feel that I can make an impact on the world.  They’ve empowered me to be a leader. I am a more confident person because of my experiences with pageants and I am forever grateful for everything I’ve learned.

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Jessica’s reflections…

Thank you for sharing your stories, Jade! Although we do not compete in the same organizations, I definitely connect with many of the experiences Jade has had through her involvement as well. I can honestly say that the Miss America Organization has also allowed me to gain public speaking skills, interviewing skills, scholarship dollars, stage presence, confidence in myself and my abilities, and connections within the community through service opportunities. It is because of these skills learned through preparing for and participating in pageants that I feel empowered to make a change. I encourage all young women to try at least one pageant, whether it be with Miss America, National American Miss, Miss USA, etc. It’s time to end the stigma around pageantry.

Love always,
Jessica