Use the buddy system for boring or scary adult tasks

Guest post by Jackie

It's easier to do things you're afraid of when you have a buddy.
It’s easier to do things you’re afraid of when you have a buddy.
I keep in touch with my best friend Erica via Gchat. Even though we live across the country from each other, it’s such a low-effort way to stay connected, that we talk just about every day. When big things happen — breakups, an upcoming interview, travel — we absolutely talk about them, but the continuous all-day connection allowed by Gchat means we started sharing more mundane things as well.

One day it came up that Erica hadn’t been to the dentist in a few years, which I had been guilty of as well through college and grad school.

I had finally gone to the dentist after I started my first job, and spent a chunk of time picking out just the right health insurance. I figured that since I was paying for dental, too, so I should probably go and make sure I had no pressing issues, and felt guilty because I knew it was something I was supposed to be doing all along.

I had been nervous as well, and understandably Erica was, too — maybe she’d find out she had a bunch of cavities that needed to be filled. But of course, if there was something wrong, putting it off would just make it worse.

So, I encouraged her virtually to start looking at Yelp (yes, Yelp is super helpful for finding a dentist), pick out somewhere to go, and make a phone call to see if she could get an appointment. Being a millennial, I absolutely hate calling people on the phone, even if it’s really no big deal. But coaching someone else to do it made it seem like nothing, really, as I urged “it’ll only take like five minutes” over chat.

Then I glanced over at my own to-do list. “Call eye doctor” was at the top. Hmm. Here I was walking Erica through an annoying, feels-much-harder-than-it-is adult task, when I had been putting off one of my own! “Brb,” I typed, “gonna call my eye doctor and finally make an appointment.” And then I did.

Now, maybe making doctor appointments isn’t impressive to you. We’ve encouraged each other through advanced adulting activities too! Most recently, we commiserated about taxes, and I did my 2013 taxes earlier than I would have otherwise, because I had told Erica I would and didn’t want to let her down. (I think I did my 2012 taxes on April 13 last year, yeesh.)

I also pushed her to sign up for a Roth IRA, explained the advantages (seriously, if you’re a grad student like Erica or otherwise currently in a low tax bracket, get on that shit), and pointed her to the place to sign up online.

We both like to dig in our heels about these things — a lot of adult tasks are boring, and feel difficult, or involve talking to strangers on the phone, and there just never seems to be an end to them. But having a friend to complain to, cheer on, and report back to with successes really helps us put these things in perspective and get them done.

The best part? When we complete tasks, we award each other with adult points. (I gave Erica 87 adult points for submitting her tax return in mid-March.) And adult points are exchangeable for ice cream whenever you want, because you’re a motherfucking adult.

Comments on Use the buddy system for boring or scary adult tasks

  1. “And adult points are exchangeable for ice cream whenever you want, because you’re a motherfucking adult.”

    Sold. Now I need to go find a buddy.

  2. I’m really thinking about applying this to my life, and I’ve already made a personal rule: my buddy can not be my partner.
    My partner and I try to be adulting buddies, but part of my frustration and anxiety about adulting is I’m completely embarrassed by how much more “together” most people are–him included. I gotta find a buddy who I won’t be embarrassed to ask to hold my hand!

    • I think having a non-partner adulting buddy is a good idea in general, because (especially as you get older and more established in a relationship) your partner is invested in your adulting chores. If you don’t do your taxes, or go to the dentist, or get the cable turned off/on/fixed, it’s going to impact both of you. At the same time, getting encouraged by your partner can feel like being nagged about it, whether they intend it that way or not.

      (That said, my husband and I are great adulting buddies, because he knows I have major phone anxiety, so making a phone call is a big fucking deal, and when it’s something I have to do myself he’s encouraging without ever being nagging, and it gets easier to do it because I know he’ll be thrilled when I do. One of those things where he makes me want to be a better person, you know?)

  3. This is amazing! I try to do this with my husband, though sometimes we just wind up passing the buck off to each other. Somehow it can be easier to do his adult stuff than my own.

    By the way, as a grad student, I would LOVE to hear more about Roth IRAs. What they are, why I need them now, etc. Guest post?

    • Based on the internet, (look at me citing my source!) 😉

      Roth IRAs are accounts that you set up and contribute money to throughout your life. I believe there is a limit to how much you can contribute each year, but you put money in and invest it… stocks, bonds, whatever.

      The difference between a Roth and a Traditional IRA is that with a Roth, you don’t deduct the amount you contribute from your taxes each year… so technically you’re paying taxes on those dollars even though you can’t spend them on anything because they’re invested. The reason it’s worth it is because when you pull that money out after retirement, you pay ZERO dollars in taxes on it. You’ve already paid the taxes on it, so you don’t have to pay again. Even though it’s been sitting there invested making tons and tons more money. You don’t pay any tax.

      In a traditional IRA you deduct the contributions from your income on your taxes each year, but then when you take the money out, you pay taxes then.

      There are some other differences, but overall, I think the Roth is a much better deal than a Traditional.

      Hope that helps (sorry for writing a novel!)

      • Yup, the contributions being deductible or not is the difference. Right now the limit for total IRA contributions, whether traditional or Roth, is $5500 per year. If you expect to be in a higher tax bracket when you retire than you are now, it makes sense to put most or all of that into the Roth IRA–you pay taxes on it now, but at a lower rate because you are making less. Whereas for a traditional IRA, you pay taxes on your income minus whatever you put into your IRA, but pay taxes on it when you take it out. If you’re not sure what your income might look like in the future compared to now, you can hedge your bets and do a combination.

        Some caveats are that you aren’t allowed to contribute to a Roth IRA if your income exceeds a certain amount, but that number is quite high and at that point you may decide a traditional IRA is a better deal anyway. Also, the cap on contributions is why a 401k through your work is an excellent idea, especially if there is any contribution matching from your employer (free money!). 401k contributions let you decide on a percentage of your income that goes in, so you can put away more than $5500 per year for retirement. If you don’t expect to use the money until then, it’s better than plain old investing (buying stocks and bonds on your own) because you aren’t paying taxes on the gains every year.

        Final caveat: I am not a financial adviser and this info is what I have gleaned from talking to friends, coworkers, and plain old Google. If anyone is more in the know, please correct anything if it’s misleading or just plain wrong!

        • Yeah, I’ve read the thing about judging your tax bracket to decide between Roth and Traditional, but my personal opinion would be that a Roth is better no matter what. My reasoning is that with a Roth you don’t pay tax on all the gains. It’s like getting a break on capital gains taxes.

          I don’t know if I have this entirely right, but to run some (fake) numbers:

          Over 20 years you contribute $5000/year for a total of $100,000 worth of contributions. With a growth rate of 9%/year, that would add up to ~$300,000.

          With a Traditional IRA you’ll end up paying taxes on all the gains, so taxes on all $300,000. With a Roth IRA, you pay taxes on the $100,000, but not on the other $200,000.

          Also, I didn’t add it before, but I’m not a financial adviser either. All I know about investments I learned from the internet and my dad (who told me from the time I was 4 that I needed a 401k). I didn’t know what that was at the time, but I knew I needed one. Unfortunately, I still don’t have one because my day job is kinda crappy w/ no benefits.

          • Okay, questions from a person who knows nothing about money:
            Can individuals get a Roth IRA directly–eg. without going through an employer or financial advisor? Is there some sort of minimum amount to start or minimum contribution? Tell my why anyone wouldn’t want to do this–are the funds accessible without penalty?

            Also, why am I having to ask this question in a forum setting rather than learning about it in high school? Seriously, what the fuck was high school even for?

          • @Dootsie Bug – I don’t know if you can get one directly. I’ve been doing some research and am planning on talking to my bank soon about setting one up, so I think you need some paperwork or something.

            Based on my research you can access the funds you put in without penalty, but you cannot access any gains you made. So for example if you’ve been putting in $5000 a year like my previous example, and 5 years in you need to take some money out, you could take out the money you’ve put in so far ~$25,000, but not any interest gained on your investment. You pay a pretty hefty penalty if you touch any of the gains before you turn 59 1/2 (I’ve never understood why the government operates on the “1/2” birthday thing. I stopped doing half birthdays after I turned once I got into double digits. 10 1/2 sounded kinda silly lol)

            Here’s a link with tons more information:

          • You can open a Roth IRA with any brokerage account (and probably any bank) and even do it on-line.

            Once you have the account opened, you can deposit money into the account then invest as you would like. One thing to keep in mind, if you put it into cash, then it’s like a retirement savings account – no potential for growth. I recommend investing in a growth index fund, or a balanced index fund (if they exist.) They’re like mutual funds but with lower fund fees. Lower fund fees = more money invested for the future.

            It’s worth keeping your eye on your accounts as they grow – you might find the need to move money around because a formerly good fund is no longer performing at high levels.

            I use Charles Schwab for my brokerage account. One of the many things that I like about them is the free help I can get when I go in even without an appointment. They can’t tell me what to invest in but can give guidance as to approaches to investing.

          • Ariel, you might be able to set up a self-employed 401k and put more money in it than you’d be able to under a Roth IRA. I saw that a couple of years ago after I finished a stint as a 1099 contractor.

    • Seconding the request for a guest post on this. (Thanks to Kay for the summary!)

      I really am not making enough money right now to do this (trying to support a household of two on a retail salary), but we really should once we are not living paycheck to paycheck. My husband and I do have some retirement savings from his previous job and an account my parents set up for me years ago, but we should probably think about doing something like this as well at some point.

  4. Thank you for this! I feel like I just met some kindred spirits here…I’m so glad I’m not alone in putting off/being afraid of doing mundane adulting things! I too have put off making a dentist appointment for years, and finally set one up for next month.

    Seriously, you all just made my day letting me know there are also people who hate talking on the phone to strangers and things like that. I even have a “phone voice” that I can’t replicate under normal circumstances. My voice gets really high, and I sound like a little kid when I get unreasonable anxiety about calling the groomer to make my dog an appointment or something. I have a gift certificate for a massage I got as a birthday present and I’ve never had one before and am nervous about calling to make an appointment!

    My husband and I try to be each others’ buddies here, but we also do a lot of buck-passing.

    THIS is why I love Offbeat home–we talk and share about these things–no one else does!

    • Mine tends to turn super-professional when I’m making a call, but when I receive calls? It randomly goes smooth and sexy, I can’t pull it out any other time, and it is so frustrating. The times when it doesn’t do that, I sound like a kid, which is really helpful if I accidentally answer a cold-calling telemarketer.

  5. My partner and I have a “grown-up conference” about every week because we realized we needed dedicated adulting time (the running to-do list just causes avoidance). So we have some things we do each week (check on Mint) and pick a few tasks to tackle. Then we celebrate with a date night, woohoo! This way we don’t have to feel anxious about the to-do list the rest of the week.

    Snacks and/or booze during grown up conferences are encouraged. 🙂

  6. Seriously need this. I get really anxious about checking my email and voicemail – really important stuff! I need a buddy to cheer me on so I do this regularly.
    I have a secretary at work who reminds me of major workstuffs, but for personal stuff I check my messages about once a week.

  7. Me and my best friend used to have a version of this where we’d sort of adult for each other. So, she had to go and have a conversation with a scary person in a bank, we would both go and I would speak for her and she’d just have to sign her name. Then, she would come with me to my doctor’s appointment and tell them what was *really* going on.

    For some reason it’s much easier to do grown up stuff on other peoples’ behalf. Sadly, these days we’re too busy and we have to do our own adulting 🙁

    I also feel like me and my husband make one proper grown up between us. I cannot, in any way, handle taking the bin out (the bin cupboard in our building is scary), and he does not comprehend that if laundry is not done there will be no clean clothes. Between us, we can successfully pretend to be adults!

    • Holy crap yes with the “it’s so much easier to do it on someone else’s behalf”.

      I hate making phone calls. Loathe them. Unfortunately, so does my SO. But, whenever it’s him that’s in distress, I’ve got no problem picking up the phone and calling. And it’s similar with so many other problems. Don’t want to shovel? Of course not! What about for his car? I’ll pull on my boots.

      I’ve realized I’m just so much better when I have someone/something else to worry about, which is part of the reason why I’m going to be getting a dog. I always procrastinate going and exercising. The dog needs to be walked? Well of course I’m going to take him on a walk!

      So I’ve been attempting to get my mind around that doing things for me is like doing things for other people. But sometimes it’s hard to trick yourself into it.

  8. This is so true! I actually just talked about this with my faraway BFF (I’m in canada she’s in US). We talked buying new cars, retirement planning, and mutual funds. Even though there are some differences, being that we are in different countries, it’s so refreshing to be able to talk about these things with someone who is at the exact same point as you are. It’s great to be able to help each other figure things out, she knew a bit more about some things, I knew a bit more about others.

    Great article, I’m just discovering myself how useful the buddy adult activities system is!

  9. “And adult points are exchangeable for ice cream whenever you want, because you’re a motherfucking adult.”


    This is a great idea. I am horrible at administrivia. ( Taxes done? Ha ha .. NO! ) I push it off and push it off until there’s a huge mound of it and I have to commit a day ( or more! ) to plow through it.

  10. Thank you, Offbeat Home, fellow Homies, and Jackie, because this is awesome and I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before. Totally just made an appointment at H&R Block to get my taxes done AND I learned valuable financial information. Plus point system and adult conferences are baller ideas.

  11. Yes! I have an ongoing Facebook chat with 5 friends, most of whom I used to work with, that I’m seriously so lucky to be a part of. We plan brunches and cocktail hours, but we also help each other do all the stupid adult things. You’re not wrong: Making appointments sucks, and keeping them is almost as bad.

  12. Reading your post reminded my that I did this when Google Wave was still working.
    I have no interesting IM discussion nowadays..

    I really miss wave…

    Back to work resolution : find an IM buddy for adult tasks !

  13. You adult so much better than I adult. I dont even know what a Roth IRA is. O.o I seriously need to find an adulting buddy, other than my husband. We’d end up just giving each other adulting points for the weirdest things.

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