This Is Your Adulthood Starter Kit

Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
No one ever tells you how hard it is to be an adult, until it's too late — that "too late" period is called your 20s. Suddenly, life is no longer just about school and parties and dreaming about your future. You have to take actual steps to achieve those dreams. Plus, there's the constant barrage of newly required grown-up duties, like paying taxes, managing your 401(k), and finding doctors who take your health insurance — all on your own, without help from your mom (most of the time).

Sometimes, it's hard to feel like a "real" adult, because objects that mark adulthood are expensive and therefore out of reach for many twentysomethings who are paying off student loans or just starting out in their careers. It can also be tough to figure out what, exactly, to spend your money on. How can you be sure something is worth shelling out your hard-earned cash for (hello, Beats headphones that you can’t fit in your purse)? It’s okay. You’re new to this whole “adulting” thing.

Don't fret: We've come up with 15 different (material and otherwise) investments you should consider making in your 20s — things like gym memberships, wall art, and even friendships that not only add value to your life, but are absolute essentials for growing up. Now, all you have to do to get your new life started is click through.
1 of 15
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
When you move into your first grown-up apartment (with three roommates and no closets), you’re probably going to fill it with tons of Ikea furniture and hand-me-downs. And that’s totally okay! But as you approach your late 20s (and start saving a little money), it’s time to start thinking about a few upgrades.

Maybe it isn’t totally worth it to pay $1,000+ for a fancy West Elm couch when your Ikea Ektorp is meeting all your needs. But one place where you should definitely splurge is in the bedroom: You need a good mattress.

Most experts recommend spending between $500 and $1,200 on a mattress. But there are lots of ways to get a good deal. According to Reader’s Digest, the cheapest time to find a marked-down mattress is during the summer, around holidays like Memorial Day, Labor Day, and the Fourth of July. And believe it or not, you can probably negotiate the price of your mattress at most major chains.

But don’t think of your mattress as a big pile of money you sleep on. Instead, think of it as an investment in your overall well-being. (We know for a fact that sleep deprivation can do more than make you cranky; it can seriously affect your health.) Who doesn’t want to put some money into that?
2 of 15
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Let’s be real here: You only get one body, so you need take care of it. That means that when you hit your 20s, it’s time to start investing in physical fitness. You want to be strong and healthy. And picking up a good habit, like working out, while you’re still in your 20s can have lifelong benefits.

Now, we know what you’re thinking: I can’t afford a gym membership! It’s too expensive! But gyms don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Fees at Blink Fitness are as low as $15 a month, with a $39 annual fee. There’s also a good chance your employer provides some kind of gym discount as part of the benefits package. If you’re still looking for a deal, try signing up for a gym membership in the summer or at the start of the New Year, when gyms are looking to fill quotas and offer tons of discounts, like cutting down the initial membership fee or nixing it altogether.

If you’re not inclined to actually use your membership, there are other ways to fill your exercise quota. Try a dance class, a krav maga studio, a young professionals soccer league, or even get a ClassPass membership. The point it is, your 20s are the perfect time to focus on fitness.
3 of 15
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Maybe you live in sunny Los Angeles, where the weather is always perfect. But for everyone else, you probably experience some type of extreme weather that requires specific clothing. This is the year to finally retire those old bargain snow boots that still let your feet get wet in large snow piles. And what about the cheap rain boots that ripped on the side last spring?

You’re a grown-up; you need grown-up weather gear.

Where to start? Invest in a nice down coat, if you live in a cold or snowy climate. While you’re at it, buy some nice snow boots, too. Sure, these items are expensive, but if you care for them properly, they can last you several seasons. Just imagine: If you spend $300 on a winter coat that you wear 120 days each winter for four winters, that equals just 62 cents per wear! Plus the peace of mind that comes with being toasty-warm on those sub-zero days.

The same goes for rain boots: Buying a quality pair means they’ll last longer and probably won’t rip on the sides. And if they do tear and happen to be Hunter boots with a warranty, you can get a replacement pair FOR FREE.
4 of 15
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
If you’re still living on a prayer with your slow, unreliable computer from college, it may be time for an upgrade. Why? Well, how do you plan to file your taxes, fill out health insurance information, write a cover letter, or binge-watch Jessica Jones? Just face it: You need a quality, reliable computer.

It doesn’t matter if you’re all about that MacBook ($900) or that Chromebook life ($160) — just make sure it’s a solid, high-end laptop that works, has a long battery life, and is light enough to carry anywhere.

Yes, this is a big splurge, but there are ways to save. The pre-holiday sales (Black Friday & Cyber Monday) offer amazing discounts. There are also lots of computer deals in mid-July through the end of summer, thanks to back-to-school sales and new tech releases for those undergrads.

What it all really comes down to is this: Great computers can last for several years. Buy a quality laptop now, and by the time it becomes completely outdated, you’ll be a thirtysomething. And by then, you’ll have no problem affording a new one!
5 of 15
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Renter's insurance is a lot like homeowner's insurance: It will cover your personal possessions — clothes, electronics, furniture, etc. — if they’re stolen, and will pay to replace them if there’s a fire or some other unpredictable and unfortunate event (like your upstairs neighbor turning on the faucet and leaving the apartment for several hours).

Your policy also covers liability, which means it will take care of medical or legal expenses associated with your apartment or home. So if you screw up and your bathtub overflows into your neighbor’s apartment, you won’t have to pay for the cleanup. You’re also covered if someone trips over your rug and ends up in the emergency room. With renter's insurance, you’ll be able to pay the medical expenses — and perhaps even the legal expenses in the case of a lawsuit, depending on your plan.

If you’re thinking that you’re covered by your landlord, think again. Most building owners have insurance for their properties and to protect the building you live in, rather than your personal effects. Here’s what it all comes down to: Do you want to gamble with everything you own? For as little as $20 a month, you can get a plan with $30,000 to $50,000 of coverage. That will easily protect your laptop, kitchen gadgets, clothing, and everything else you own.
6 of 15
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
In movies and TV shows, real adults are always throwing dinner parties. Or having their friends over for dinner, or baking cookies for their co-workers, or other things that require kitchen equipment. But even if you don’t aspire to be that cool girl who entertains, you’ll probably need to cook for yourself from time to time. After all, it’s a great way to save money.

So what do you need?

Try starting with the basics: a non-stick skillet, saucepan, serrated knife, colander, chopping board, measuring cups, heat-resistant spatula, wooden spoon, and whisk. You can actually get a lot of these items at places like Ikea, Target, Walmart, and Amazon. You don’t have to buy the most expensive colander money can buy at Williams-Sonoma. But you should have one that doesn’t melt on you, right?
7 of 15
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
You’ve purchased some practical winter footwear, but once you’re in your 20s (and your shoe size is no longer in flux), it’s a good idea to invest in some nice high heels and a killer pair of boots.

Think it’s unnecessary? You’re going to have nice dates, fancy dinners, big interviews, and a number of other events that require you to put forth a professional front. And a well-made (and comfortable) pair of boots in a timeless style can last for many seasons. Just be sure to take care of them — store them properly, regularly polish them, and replace the soles when they wear out. You can wear them for years!
8 of 15
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
You’ve got the grown-up shoes; now, you need a grown-up work bag — because you’ll look like a little kid if you show up to the office with a backpack. We’re not suggesting you invest in a Louis Vuitton tote. An ideal work bag should look smart and be sturdy enough to hold your laptop, shoes, lunch, or anything else you might carry on a day-to-day basis to and from the office.

If you’re totally stumped on good work bags, don’t fret: This is our specialty. We have an entire roundup on totes and office bags right here. You’ll be accessorizing like a master adult in no time at all.
9 of 15
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Every day, your skin is hit with a barrage of environmental aggressors that can lead to breakouts. It’s your job to take proper care of it — to make sure it stays happy and healthy. So it’s time for you get a routine and stick to it.

Sure, it can be overwhelming navigating the skincare section of Sephora. And what twentysomething has the cash to afford La Mer? Well, some do, but you don't have to. As a matter of fact, we’ve recommended an entire lineup of skincare goodies under $20 that will work wonders on your skin without draining your bank account.

You don't even have to worry about applying your products correctly. And if you want to know more, watch this video. Your face will thank you, this month and 40 years from now.
10 of 15
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Believe it or not, your 20s is the ideal time to start saving for your retirement. It’s hard to picture what the future will look like, since you’ve barely gotten your career off the ground, but saving now will ensure that you’re comfortable later in life. After all, you don’t want to work forever. And who doesn’t want to be rolling in dough when they’re 80?

But you shouldn’t put off this major investment until your 30s. If you don't start investing in a retirement account until you're 35, you'll have to save way more every year (like, twice as much) in order to put away $1 million by the time you're 65.

Chances are, you’re probably like most millennials (myself included) and find the idea of retirement savings accounts confusing. What do all the terms mean? How much should you invest? How do you even decide what to invest in? What should you do with your old 401(k) from that last job you left a month ago (or last year)? What should you do if your company doesn’t even offer a 401(k)? We’ve actually asked experts all of these questions in the past, so you don’t have to.

With 2015 coming to a close, now is the time to step up and start saving. It's a resolution worth keeping.
11 of 15
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
We've talked about investing in responsible items, like insurance policies and your 401(k). But we also want to encourage you to invest in yourself. And what better way than through travel?

Start putting aside a little bit of money from each paycheck, so you can go somewhere new and exciting for a weekend, a week, or even longer. The best thing about traveling is that you do more than just discover a new city, country, or culture; you also get an amazing opportunity to discover more about yourself. And in your 20s, self-discovery is everything.

If you’re worried about money, there are tons of options to make travel more affordable. Simple maneuvers, like booking your tickets early, eating local food, and staying in hostels can help cut down on costs.

If you need more ideas for cheap vacations, affordable trips in the U.S., or even low-cost bucket-list travel ideas, we’ve got you covered.
12 of 15
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Bad news: Grown-ups don’t use Disney princess mini toothbrushes. Good news: You can totally use a Disney princess electric toothbrush.

We know what you’re thinking. Electric toothbrushes are crazy expensive! That’s not 100% off. In comparison to your typical $5-$7 brush, yes, they’re a little pricey. But several recent studies suggest the overall benefits of an electric toothbrush outweigh the one-time dental splurge. And some even come with timers, to make sure you brush for the full two minutes recommended by dentists — and they have pressure gauges to let you know when you’re brushing too hard.

If that doesn’t convince you, we’d like to insist that you invest in dental care in general. Unless your end goal is dentures and painful surgeries, you should floss every day, and brush twice a day, and use mouthwash.

Sorry, but your mom was right: Bloody, swollen gums are not a good look. Plus, who wants to kiss people who don't brush their teeth?
13 of 15
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Fact: Everyone breaks things from time to time. And then you need to fix them. Sometimes, you’ll even need TOOLS to make those repairs, and that’s why you need a tool kit.

You don’t need a Tim Allen, Home Improvement-style set. Just the basics: a hammer, tape measurer, flathead and Phillips-head screw drivers, wrench, pliers, level, and flashlight. If you’re feeling a little more ambitious, throw in a cordless electric screwdriver. You’d be amazed how often you’ll use one over the years.

Anything more than that, and you’re officially crafty. In which case, congratulations! Can you come over to our place and help us with a few projects?
14 of 15
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Do you know what every adult has in their home? Art on their walls. No, really.

The good news is you can get art for your home without spending tons of money. Try Wayfair, Etsy,, or even Target. If you’re looking for something particularly classy, perhaps even gallery-worthy, there are a lot of amazing options here — and they’re all budget-friendly, too.

Already have some art prints, or maybe even some fantastic photos of your friends and family? Frame them. Framing your art and portraits is one of the clearest signs that you are a full-on grown-up who cares about her belongings. If you’re looking for more guidance on how to hang your prints, frame them, or just need more inspiration, click right on over here. Also, don’t worry about shelling out for professional framing; that’s really expensive. You shouldn’t feel ashamed to stock up on Ikea frames. Those babies are classic.

With art on your walls, all your friends will think you’ve got this adult thing down.
15 of 15
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
There are few things in this world that are going to mean as much to you as your relationships. One of the keys to happiness is the people you choose to spend your life with.

Once you hit adulthood, the challenge is investing in the people you love, respect, and want to learn from. It’s crucial to express your gratitude for your significant other and friends, and it’s really important to make time for them, even as you’re trying to make a place for yourself in the working world.

The potential returns are huge. Studies have shown that people who are alone or isolated could be at a higher risk for conditions such as cancer. Other research suggests that having good friends could mediate stress-related heart rate variability. Friendships also boost our mental health and help resolve stress issues. So basically, having a BFF can save your life.

There have also been countless studies showing that your significant other is beneficial to your overall health. Marriage and commitment can mean a lower risk of heart attack, better mental health, longer lives, less stress, and just plain happiness.

Here’s what it all comes down to: Happiness is is truly the key to success. Yes, your career is important, but life takes lots of twists and turns, and you need a few good friends who have your back through it all.

More from Work & Money


R29 Original Series