10 Things Every 20-Something Should Do To Be A Grown-Up

Illustrations by Mary Galloway.
Before we dive into how to become a grown-up, let’s be clear that most people never really feel like adults. Who's to say what exactly constitutes full-blown adulthood? No longer living with your parents, supporting yourself with a job, having a living room not exclusively outfitted with Ikea chairs and family cast-offs, getting married, having kids — retiring?! Everyone has a different idea of what being a grown-up means; some people can't wait to embrace the feeling while others would do anything to avoid it.

All of which is to say, either way: Don't sweat it. Regardless of your definition, there are some things you can do that will simply make your life better: things so-called grown-ups do. For the most part, they are small projects you can tackle on a weekend afternoon, (like finding the right credit card). Others are more long-term projects (like learning to cook!), and still others require constant tweaking and maintenance (like calling your parents or maintaining a budget).

At the end of the day, you have to figure out your own way to navigate the big, crazy world of adulthood. Just remember — whether you’re a fresh grad of 22 or fast approaching a milestone birthday — no one really knows how to be an adult. We're all just faking it until we finally feel like we've made it. Any day now.

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Illustrations by Mary Galloway.
A report released by the Federal Reserve in February 2015 found that Americans are carrying $1.6 trillion in student loan debt, and according to The New York Times, the average student has $30,000 in loans. The stats are staggering. Understanding your student loans can be complicated, but thankfully there's an increasing amount of helpful advice out there for how to handle your payments.

One option to consider is consolidating your student loans. This isn't necessarily right for everyone, and many financial sites recommend waiting a few years after graduation before consolidating so you have time to build a good credit score. But combining all your student loans can result in a lower interest rate and lower monthly payments.

If you have private student loans, it's also good to look into refinancing options, especially right now, as interest rates are still very low. The site Magnify Money compares the refinancing options at a number of institutions, including a few online financial startups.

One of these consumer finance services is Earnest, whose homepage touts that its average user saves $12,588. (Imagine all you can do with that extra money!) Earnest is shaking up the industry with more than just low interest rates and a beautiful interface; it’s rewriting loan contracts so they actually make sense. You won’t need your lawyer cousin to go over the paperwork before you sign (although that’s always idea).

Yes, sorting out whether to consolidate and/or refinance your student loans can be complicated. But with a little research, you can wind up saving a ton of money in the long run. Managing your student loans is likely the first major financial decision in your life, and getting a handle on them early can help set you up for making good decisions about future money matters, like buying a car or a home, or investing in the stock market or a retirement plan.
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Illustrations by Mary Galloway.
Setting up a budget can be tough, especially if you have an entry-level job and you’re living paycheck to paycheck. While our parents grew up balancing checkbooks, these days it’s easy to ignore your finances aside from the occasional check-in when paying your credit card each month. But tracking your spending can help you trim some of the fat from your spending habits. There are the essentials you have to pay each month, like rent, utilities, transportation costs (whether it’s your Metro card or gas for your car), and food. But do you really need that magazine subscription if the issues are piling up and you read it online anyway? A financial plan can also help you achieve long-term goals, like taking a big trip, buying a house, or making some other significant purchase.

There are as many ideas on how to budget as there is advice on how to lose weight. It’s really a matter of finding the right plan for you. Elizabeth Warren and her daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, made the 50/20/30 plan popular with their book All Your Worth. The idea is that you should spend 50% of your income on essentials like shelter, transportation, and food. The next 20% goes to financial obligations, including your student loans and contributing to a retirement fund. And the last 30% is for personal choices, whether you choose to save money for something or spend it on dinner out or new clothes.

There are also several online budgeting programs, like Mint or Good Budget, that can help you visualize your goals and clarify how your spending breaks down every month. Some people argue that budgets are crucial to financial success. What's most important, though, is being aware of how much money you have and how you choose to spend it. Making time each month to look at your finances is as essential as exercising or cleaning out the fridge, even if it can sometimes be a drag.
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Celebrities are always being asked in interviews whether they Google themselves. It’s a funny question, and checking out your online presence may seem like something only self-absorbed celebs do. But anyone looking for a job (or heck, just living) in 2015 should Google themselves from time to time to see what comes up. All prospective employers will be doing this, and you should know what they'll find.

You should also make an effort to set up professional profiles, so that Facebook isn’t your only online footprint. Obviously, LinkedIn is the most popular choice out there, but Levo recently launched its own profile feature, which takes the practical info you've shared on LinkedIn and makes it look even more impressive. If you’re a recent grad, the Levo profile is a great way to showcase more than just your work talents. Have you climbed a mountain or volunteered for a nonprofit? Those awesome moments are front and center alongside your internship and entry-level work experience. Add some beautiful photos and a thoughtful summary, and you’ll have a more well-rounded biography to present employers than just the blue-and-white pages of LinkedIn.
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Illustrations by Mary Galloway.
A little secret: Grown-ups don’t know everything. But they do take every opportunity that comes along to learn something new. That can mean anything from taking a continuing education class and finally reading Ulysses, to attending a lecture about launching a side business.

More and more companies like Society Of Grownups and General Assembly are cropping up, offering interesting and affordable classes on topics like managing your student loans or how to change careers. These classes can also be a great way to make friends or network.

Just because you’ve graduated with a four-year degree (or something even higher) doesn’t mean you're done learning. As you navigate the world of adulthood, it’s good to find ways to sharpen your skills. Life is way more interesting when you're open to exploring new ideas.
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Illustrations by Mary Galloway.
This may seem like one of the most basic tasks, but most people don’t choose the best credit cards for their needs. Do you want to rack up miles so you can travel the world? Or do you have a bunch of credit card debt that you’re looking to consolidate? Maybe you’ve never even had a credit card and you need to establish credit — what’s the right card for you?

Thankfully, more and more companies offer streamlined advice on finding the right card, so you don’t have to hop around to a bunch of sites trying to compare all the different offers. Nerdwallet offers comparisons on all kinds financial services, with plenty of information on credit cards. Just answer a few questions and voilà, the perfect card for you.

CardHub offers similar services, though its focus is purely on credit cards. It also features a handy credit card calculator that can help debt holders figure out the best card for consolidating, cutting down on fees, and saving huge amounts each month.

Before searching for the perfect card, swing by Credit Karma and figure out your credit score. It’s a number far more important than your SAT score, and one that most people don't know off the top of their heads. Check it at least once a year, and take necessary steps to raise it if it has dropped into the "bad" range.
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Illustrations by Mary Galloway.
One of the easiest ways to save money is to cook at home. Making a big meal for one can seem like a slog, and plenty of impressive adults have been known to live on diets primarily consisting of baked potatoes, fried eggs, and grilled cheese (and of course the occasional fruits and vegetables). While these easy weeknight meals don’t require recipes, they’re not exactly the type of dishes you want to feed company. That’s why you need to learn how to cook.

You don’t need to become Martha Stewart, but to be fair, her website is filled with lots of easy recipes. You can also check out Food52, The New York Times' cooking section, and, of course, Refinery29, for simple recipes that anyone can make, even if you barely know how to boil water.

So, where to begin? Just roll up your sleeves and try. Don’t invite your best friends over for a four-course meal the first time you step behind the stove. Start out simple and then practice, practice, practice. Even if you just master three or four recipes, you'll be set.
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Illustrations by Mary Galloway.
Renter’s insurance is a no-brainer. Like choosing the right credit card, it's not the most fun task, but once you do it, you don’t really need to think about it again. Plus it’s so cheap, there’s no reason you shouldn’t have signed up already.

Unfortunately, there’s no shiny startup offering renter’s insurance, and Nerdwallet doesn’t offer advice comparing all the different plans (as it does for auto and life insurance). You’ll have to do a little more research to find the right plan for you.

Things to consider when shopping? Do you need liability insurance, so that friend of a friend who’s kind of a creep doesn’t sue you if he slips and falls while over for brunch? What about worldwide protection, which will cover you if your bike gets stolen when it's parked in front of your office? Before you choose a plan, write down everything you want protected, from your laptop to that heirloom ring your grandmother gave you. From there, take the time to call or visit your local insurance broker (yes, face-to-face interaction may seem like a lot, but trust us here) and get them to walk you through the options.

Getting renter's insurance is as important as a visit to the dentist. But unlike your biannual exams, you only need to do this once. After you choose a plan and set up recurring payment, you can pretty much forget about it (until you move, in which case you’ll need to update it), and breathe a little easier knowing that all your shit is covered in case of a flood or fire or break-in or whatever other crazy disaster keeps you up at night.
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Illustrations by Mary Galloway.
Sure, you’re out on your own, living the big life. But your parents (or aunts or grandmothers or cousins or brothers or whoever it was who helped raise you) miss you. Call them. It’s important to remember your roots. And they will appreciate it. You don't need us to tell you, there’s no excuse for not doing this.
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Illustrations by Mary Galloway.
Much has been written about how BUSY we all are. And every twentysomething can lament how hard it is to make plans in the age of cell phones. There are whole essays about how easy it is to flake on plans. But even worse than flaking on your friends can be trying to wrangle a group hang in the first place. A million emails are exchanged before all parties can settle on a date and time. That’s where Google calendar comes in. Set one up and live by it. Of course, you might cancel plans from time to time, but don’t be that person who always flakes. Part of being a grown-up is getting out of your room and experiencing life with your friends. We might live in the Golden Age of binge-watching, but you don’t want to waste your entire youth on Netflix. As the saying goes, you can sleep when you’re dead, and you can watch all nine seasons of The X-Files when you retire. Set up a Google calendar. Make some plans. Stick to them.

On a side note, if trying to schedule group plans turns into an epic, hopeless email chain, try Doodle. Joanna Goddard, one of the coolest grown-ups online, wrote a funny post about trying to use Doodle to make plans with her friends. She may have had mixed success, but it is a pretty handy little tool nonetheless.
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Illustrations by Mary Galloway.
Here’s something grown-ups don’t readily like to admit: Being an adult is hard work. So give yourself a break. You don’t need to accomplish all the items on this list. Nor do you have to hit certain so-called milestones by exact dates in order to grow up. Just do the best you can. Lots of smart adults cry at work or spill coffee on their favorite dress or burn toast or fail to make their beds every single morning. Sometimes they need to ask their parents or friends for help. Sometimes they still laugh at fart jokes and prefer mac ‘n’ cheese to salad. It’s totally cool to act like a kid sometimes, and it’s totally normal to not have all the answers.

Perhaps the sign of a true grown-up comes the moment you realize that you don’t know it all. The items on this list should make life a little neater, a little more organized, a little more financially sensible. Do them because they make you feel better. And afterward, reward yourself with a shot and maybe a cookie. You deserve it.
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