Adulting 101: How to prepare for the future

Being in your early twenties can sometimes feel like being a baby again—you’re thrust out of school and into a job, out of your parents house and into an apartment, and suddenly responsible for understanding nebulous concepts like renters insurance and credit scores. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and shut down, putting off “adulting” until you’re closer to the big 3-0. 

But experts agree that’s a mistake. Dr. Meg Jay, author of The Defining Decade, argues: “80 percent of life's most defining moments take place by about age 35,” Jay writes in her book. “Two-thirds of lifetime wage growth happens during the first ten years of a career. Personality can change more during our 20s than at any other decade in life.” 

So how do you step up and start adulting? Let’s break it down.

Woman thinking about various adult tasks.

Table of contents

Know the difference between a career and a jobFollow the golden ruleClean up your online presenceManage your money Plan for the futureDon’t be too hard on yourself

Know the difference between a career and a job

Whether we like it or not, work takes up a big chunk of our lives—you’ll likely spend 7-8 hours a day working for the next 30-40 years of your life. While career paths are far less linear now than they were for previous generations—almost 30 percent of people change fields after college—there will probably be a somewhat common theme to the work you do, or at least a cohesive narrative arc that begins to form as you navigate the working world. 

Your first job is a great place to start thinking about what you want your career to look like. You’ll get a chance to perform activities and gain skills you thought would suit you. Take an honest look at how you feel on a day-to-day basis. What parts of your job make you feel like you just drank 12 cups of coffee, and which parts make you wish you had a nap-bed under your desk? 

Even if you’re working retail when you’d rather be CEO, there’s still something to learn about yourself from your job. This self-knowledge will help you decide how to grow your career.

Follow the golden rule

The world is smaller than you think. Even if your roommate or your boss makes you feel like a cartoon character with steam coming out of your ears, resist the urge to be rude, gossip about them online, or jump ship without warning. Instead, focus on building rapport. 

Not only is being kind the right thing to do, it can also help pave the way to future ease in your life, since you never know when people from your past will pop up at a party or job interview down the road. Treat everyone like you might be trapped in an elevator with them tomorrow.

Clean up your online presence

If you’re in your early twenties today, chances are you’ve lived the majority of your life online...and left a digital trail of where you’ve been. Once you’re an adult, your job and assets can be put on the line when you’re not careful about privacy on the internet. Those photos of you and your friends sneaking tequila from your parents’ liquor cabinet at age 16? Probably not what you want your employer finding when they Google you. 

It’s worth spending an hour changing privacy settings or untagging/removing yourself in your social media profiles. Similarly, you may have begun making email and bank accounts with passwords when you were a child, and less responsible about password protection. Once you start getting those paychecks, you definitely want to make sure you’re practicing good password hygiene. Try a passwords manager to get control of your online security.

Group of young adults high five together.

Manage your money

A regular paycheck after a few years as a student or professional neighborhood babysitter can feel amazing—in some cases, too amazing. While it can be exciting to have such a big chunk of change in your pocket, don’t let it burn a hole. 

Creating a simple personal budget is a great way to start managing your money. Make a spreadsheet  listing the things you have to spend money on each month, such as rent, utilities, student loans, savings, and your cell phone. Then calculate how much is left over. That’s the amount you can spend on things that vary each month, like food and entertainment. 

Plan for the future

Notice how “savings” is one of the things we said you have to spend money on? A good spreadsheet also has a few spots for future planning. Experts say you should save about 20 percent of your income in your twenties. That’s because the money you put away now will accumulate compound interest, which means the interest it earns now will earn its own interest in the decades to come. 

You stand to gain a lot by starting to save money for retirement in your twenties. So if your employer offers a 401k, take advantage of it, especially if they match your contribution. (Try a Roth IRA if you don’t have the option to open a 401k.) 

Be sure to also set aside funds for emergencies. . Monthly savings vary from person to person, but most experts agree that you should aim to build a savings of three to six months’ worth of expenses in case of an emergency.

Don’t be too hard on yourself

Expecting that you’ll have it all figured out right away is unrealistic—the first few years of being a responsible adult are the most challenging. 

Adulting, if nothing else, is about refusing to check out. When it all seems too difficult for you, try to view figuring it out as a challenge. Whether it’s learning the difference between revenue and profit, opening a Health Savings Account, or communicating your needs clearly and politely at work, you got this—you’re adulting.

Bungalow housing is made for roommates. We handpick homes that are move-in ready and perfect for shared living, and with roommate vetting and compatibility matching, we help you find people you actually want to live with.  Find your Bungalow.

Ready to find your next home?

Move-in ready homes and a built-in community so you can feel at home, together — wherever you are.

Suggested articles

loading spinner
Move in ready homes and a built-in community so you can feel at home, together — wherever you are.