I’m not sure where I got all these ideas of adulthood.
I think it’s been a combination of different people, society, and the internet that’s dictated my ideas on what it’s like to be an adult. It’s kind of funny how we can’t pinpoint what the source of all these assumptions, yet the have such an impact on our decisions about our careers, personal finance, and more importantly, how we see and feel about ourselves as adults.
These are the 10 assumptions I had about adulthood that not necessarily turned out to be wrong (all assumptions come from somewhere), but they held me back from growing up to the person I wanted to be.
1. You will get a job if you have a degree.
The investment of education has gotten higher and higher in the last decade and the scarcity for jobs has been on the decline for a while. I know it’s pretty common knowledge but it’s still a great reminder that nothing in life is a guarantee and that lesson starts young when you have to discover the education you’ve been working for doesn’t have a job offer at the end.
What you do need is education. I’m a firm believer in education and I’ve talked a lot about this before, but education doesn’t have to be a 4 year school. It can be a trade school, it can be online courses, hell it can be Google. I will say though that you have to thoughtfully ask yourself about what kind of career you want and what kind of education it will take to get there. I’m happy to go to doctors, lawyers, and accountants that don’t say “oh I learned it from Google.” There are certain career paths that will require education but having an education is not a guarantee for that job. Just because you went to med school does not mean there will be a doctor job waiting at your local hospital when you are done.
Instead of fearing this uncertainty, try to research as much as possible what you want from a career and life. And if you are in the process or have completed a degree when can’t work in, try leveraging that education and experience.
Most of life is selling yourself. If you’re not looking into a job (that doesn’t require a designation), start looking at opportunities in the industry that will help you gain the industry experience (like volunteer, networking, and ) and combining that with your skill set. Getting a degree doesn’t guarantee a job, but there’s a big difference between “getting a degree” and “getting an education.”
2. You need to work in your field or have a certain career title.
The older I get, the more and more ridiculous this concept of “you need to choose an education major at 18 and then do that one career for the next 50 years or so before retirement.” Like, just reading that, wasn’t that ridiculous? It seems pretty ludicrous that kids have to choose this defining factor of their life that they haven’t even lived 25% of it (and half of it was under the supervision of a parent that had to ensure they ate their lunch).
So no, you are not bound to the career that you chose when you are 18. And you know what? Sometimes it works out for the better. One of my favourite podcasts that I’ve talked about before on MLA is about the podcast Second Life with Hilary Kerr. It’s a podcast that interviews women who’ve had a complete career change from where they started and it turned out better than they could have imagined. I highly recommend listening to it – especially Christina Tosi’s interview. I go more into it in the review, but what I love about that interview is that Christina really talks about how every part of her education helped her get to where she is today. If though it doesn’t make sense that a math and engineering student would be the co-founder of what most famous bakeries in the world, she really values every learning experience she had and credits that for her success. You don’t have to work in a specific career just because that’s what you went to school for. You can still use that education to get you to the next step in your life in a new way.
And in case it needs repeating: you are not the decision you make at 18.
3. You shouldn’t pay off your credit card in full.
I have no idea where this mentality comes from (although The Financial Diet does discuss the history of this idea), but always pay your credit card in full if you have the means to do so. I completely understand why it’s not possible sometimes because we are all living different phases of our life and if you have to lean into credit card debt for a bit, it’s most important to have a plan on how to get out. And if you have money in your bank that can pay it down, please girl, pay it down.
The concept to really understand around credit card debt is that is compounded interest. That means that for every dollar you spend on a credit card, and don’t pay it down in full, you are paying interest on that amount. And if you continue not to pay that amount, the interest of last month becomes a part of the debt and then you are charged interest on the full amount. So credit card debt can spiral out of control really quickly, and really really easily.
And I don’t know about y’all but I’m usually around the 20% interest rate when I open up a credit card and that piles up quickly.
There is a time and a place for credit card debt. You are not a bad person if you need to leverage credit card debt, but just remember that credit card debt should be used as a last resort. Not as common everyday option. It really all comes down to this cost-benefit analysis for a credit card. Sometimes debt is necessary if you’re starting a business, working your way through school, etc. So while you might think that credit card debt is “no big deal” remember that 20% interest is more than most investment returns (and really, if you have investment options that garnering over 20% return every month, hook a sister up) and it also out weights any “sale” or discount item that you think is worth putting yourself into more credit card debt for, consider this:
If you’re using a credit card to buy that handbag that’s on sale, remember that if you don’t pay that credit card in full, the interest will accumulate. And if you don’t pay it within the time frame where the percentage of your of compounded interest and credit card debt exceeds the discount of the handbag, then girl, you just paid more for an on-sale handbag you probably didn’t even want.
4. Your parents/family/friends/spouse will always be there to bail you out.
One of the hardest parts of growing up is starting to understand the role reversal when it comes to the care-takers of your life. I know not everyone has parents in their life, but if you’ve lived an average life and grew up mainly under the care of your parents, one of the biggest transitions in growing up will be understanding that they may need your help instead of the other way around. People age and they aren’t as able-bodied. People get sick. People pass away.
And that goes with your friends, family, and spouses. The problems we have in our twenties seem like the end of the world, but do you remember that’s how it felt in our teens? Problems as an adult get harder, like bankruptcy, legal or business conflicts, divorce, children and the list goes on and on. Learning that there won’t always be a single person to bail you out is one of the most important lessons of adulthood. Sure, it’s easy to think our loved ones will always be there for us, but life can change in one second. And whether it’s our decision or not, learning to take care of ourselves, financially, physically, and emotionally is vital to growing up. It also makes us more appreciative of the people around us. When I was a teenager, I really didn’t appreciate how much my parents did for me. Now that I live on my own, I am so grateful my mom cooked for me every day and still to this date, sends me home with leftovers.
Knowing that people may or will not always be there for you may seem like a downer, but it also makes you thankful that those people are there today. Becoming an adult, the days really do go by faster, but that gratitude makes it slow down.
5. Renting is a waste of money.
Renting is paying space for a place to live so no, it is not a waste of money. I think that the idea of “renting is a waste of money” is kind of condescending – and that’s coming from someone who actually used to think that as well. I think a lot of people are taught this idea and it’s completely false.
Buying an item of clothing, workout equipment, or generally anything that you do not end up using is a waste of money.
Buying food that you end up just throwing away is a waste of money.
Unless you rent a place and don’t actually live in it, then it’s not a waste of money. It gives you a roof over your head and a place to live. As someone who has rented before, renting sometimes makes a lot of sense depending on your lifestyle, your wants, and your needs in life. Too often we generalize people’s lives and priorities to this societal norm that everyone knows what they want, and wants to stay exactly where they are. But the world and life don’t work that way. As someone who owns, I definitely miss the ability to leave at a moment’s notice and not really have to worry about the logistics of selling or finding tenants.
It was definitely for different phases in my life where I was traveling and working in areas that I didn’t know if I wanted to stay in. And that was perfectly okay. I don’t see a penny of that as “wasted money” because it gave me what I needed – a place to live.
I will add one note onto to this that renting shouldn’t be looked upon as a way to “save money.” A lot of times people talk about how as a renter you save money because you are not liable for all the additional expenses like maintenance and property taxes. But having been on the owner side, and having lived with tenants in my parent’s house, I can tell you that it’s calculated into your rent. My parents have rental suites for over a decade now and although it’s definitely had its fair share of ups and downs throughout the years, the financial expenses are calculated when setting a rent price. Renting is for a lifestyle or priorities in life, I don’t think renting should be a way of “saving money” unless you have really high returning investments that would offset the cost of it.
6. Owning is a waste of money.
I currently own my property and it’s the right choice for me at this point in my life, but it’s certainly not easy.
Owning comes with a whole laundry list of expenses. As an owner, you have to think about so many other things – like condo levies (or property maintenance if you own a house), home insurance, and property taxes. And the list goes on and on. And some people may actually think that owning property is a waste of money and it’s better to rent and invest the money it would take to put down a down payment. And I definitely see the thought process behind that. Owning property does anchor you and it does take a lot of financial investment and at the end of the day, it might not be for you. You can research into the long list of internet content whether the real estate market is good or bad, but the way that I think about it is that you should choose a lifestyle that works for you.
Renting and then having a lot of money in investments can be a great idea. Investing in real estate is also highly dependent on your geographical location, but also can be a great idea. But here’s the thing you must always remember: the stock market and the real estate market are both markets. The stock market could crash or boom. The real estate market could crash or boom. They both take a certain level of risk and give a certain level of reward. However, both have them have one thing in common. You have to be actively managing and looking at your finances. Knowing how much to invest, which investments are right for you, and what you are comfortable with when it comes to investments takes time and research. The same goes for buying and budgeting for owning a property. Neither is a perfect answer or easy strategy. And if it feels like a super easy experience for you, you’re probably not making or saving as much money as you possibly could. I’ve never heard anyone successful say it was “super easy to get rich and be successful,” and if you do hear someone say that, they are probably trying to rope you into an hour-long webinar and have you pay $997 for this “great, easy plan.”
The ultimate adult assumption is that will hold you back is if you think you need to live a certain, specific ideology because that’s what society tells you. Rent or own, do what feels right to you and what you want out of life.
7. You need to retire early or not save for retirement at all.
I think coming being a millennial and writing about personal finance, I see two ends of the spectrum:
On one end, there’s the millennial generation that has come into adulthood being inundated with student debt and declining job market.
On the other end, there are the personal finance bloggers who are or are working towards FIRE (Financially Independence and Retiring Early). And to be fair, I follow some millennial bloggers who are also a part of this movement. And although I’ve gone extensively into why I’m all for financial independence but not for early retirement, I wanted to bring to light this topic again to highlight a couple of scenarios why you should be saving/not life-saving for retirement.
Scenario 1: You might not make it to retirement.
I know this is really morbid thought to start with but one of the things I left out on that last article about early retirement is that fact that you may not make it there.
Personally, I’ve lost a couple of people in my life recently, including a really close person to me. And in both cases, these people passed before the age of retirement. And I know it’s really scary, hard, thought to think about, but I don’t think my case is isolated. I recently had a friend who lost 3 loved ones in this month alone. Growing up means coming to terms with the mortality of those around you and of yourself. Sometimes life really isn’t fair. Sometimes really bad things happen to good people and there’s no easy explanation for it. That’s why I’m an advocate living a life not dedicated to work and to making as much money as possible only to enjoy it later. Sometimes later doesn’t come. And I can tell you without a doubt that even though I lost a loved one really early, not one part of me wished that they had worked more so they could “retire early and enjoyed it later.” I’m so grateful for all of the memories because that later never came. While I think personal finance is really important, I don’t think it’s everything.
Scenario 2: You do make it to retirement.
And in the wonderful scenario that you do age, it is important to save for retirement. Saving for retirement is almost like being kind to your future self. I’ve worked with a lot of elderly people and it makes a big difference whether you can take care of yourself and your family during retirement, or whether they have to take care of you. So retirement may not be the most important part of growing up, but it is significant because it makes you come to terms that you will not always be this able-bodied to work, you will not always have this level of energy, and you will not always have your current health condition. And maybe it will all work out perfect, but it only takes a phone call or one moment in time for the perfection to skew.
And while you may think retirement money is not necessary, trust me when I say that even if you don’t use your retirement money, it will still be so helpful. I’ve seen first-hand how a survivor’s pension (when your next of kin or spouse can claim your pension) has really changed the outcome of a loved one’s life. Believe me, funerals and death expenses are hella expensive and that goes double if you have debt, a mortgage, student loans, etc. You don’t want to save for retirement for yourself, do it for the people you love.
So Save. For. Retirement. It does not have to be the extreme of all or nothing.
8. You should only cook to save money.
I am actually of the school of thought that you shouldn’t only cook to save money. Yes, cooking saves you money over eating out every night, but you know what? In today’s globalized market, you can get some pretty cheap fast and frozen food. The other thing that I don’t think people account for when they “save money” by cooking is the amount of time it takes to plan a meal/meal prep, go grocery shopping (especially if you don’t have a car), cook, and then clean up. I’m sorry, is it just me or does this not sound like a lot of time? And depending on what your career and your priorities, time is money. So cooking to save money is honestly not always the best argument. In the hour it takes to cook dinner and clean up, you could have ordered take out while working on a side hustle and freelance project and still made more money than cooking that meal would have saved you. So while I get the basics of “cooking will save you money,” I don’t think it’s a holistic way of looking at it.
Instead, I think you should cook to take care of yourself. I cook almost every meal and I not only value my cooking time as self-care time, but I also value the food I’m putting into my body and how I’m taking care of myself. I think you should cook to put good, nutritious, delicious food into your body and really take care of yourself, not just to save money.
I’m an avid cook and I make almost all of sauces from scratch and most of my soups as well. And sure, I could easily walk into any place to buy a very similar meal (or just buy a can of soup at the grocery store) And I’m not knocking takeout or canned soup. Please do not come for me and my sushi orders or burger fixes at McDonald’s and A&W. But I think about that type of food as “treat” food. I like chocolate and ice cream, but that doesn’t mean I eat it every day.
So if you are balancing many jobs or a family life or just hard circumstances, I have not judgment if you can’t cook. Just remember to take care of yourself and the foods that make you feel good. As we age, health is the one thing we can’t “buy” our way out of. Make sure to be putting your health first.
9. You have to have a house, children, etc. at a certain age.
Here’s a secret of adulthood: you don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to. Sure there may be consequences, but you don’t have to live any particular lifestyle if it’s not for you. So don’t go down a checklist because that’s what that annoying relative at Thanksgiving dinner is pushing on you.
Instead, I suggest you start interviewing the people in your life to see what works for you. Okay being a little too research minded I say “interview,” but I do bring up life discussions with people I’m comfortable with.
For me, that’s always the idea of having kids. Kids are not for everyone and it’s an incredibly personal question you have to ask yourself and your partner. It’s always been that thing in the back of my head that I’ve always gone back and forth around. So instead of just assuming that I should have kids because that’s what society really pushes on women, I talk to women who’ve had kids early and had kids late and ask them if they would have done anything differently. I also look at people who have had kids and who haven’t and think about what the life I want will look like with or without kids in my 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond.
You don’t have to do exactly what anyone tells you. But put in the research and you know what? You can change your mind. Because you’re an adult and no one is bounding you to the decisions you make now.
10. You have to have it all figured out by 25, 30, 40, etc.
And on that note, you don’t have to have all figured out by any age. I think especially in our culture of idealizing the young Kendall and Kylie Jenners or Gigi Hadid’s of the world, we have to think we have to have all this massive success when we are young. I don’t know if I’m the only one that feels it, but there’s a particular pressure with the age “30.” Like we have to have it made by that age or our life hopes and dreams will just inadvertently self-combust and explode. No, you don’t have to have it all figured out by 30. Not even by 40. Not even by 50. I think that the most important thing in life is to keep challenging yourself to get better. My biggest fear is thinking that I will ever get to a point in life where I can just “coast.” Frankly, the people who say they reached success and lived happily ever after are not the people I aspire to be. I’d rather be challenging myself at every stage of my life and learning as much as possible.
And whatever that means to you, I encourage you to really lean into the feeling of not knowing and being uncomfortable. Concentrate on learning and developing into the person you want to be in different phases and situations. I promise it’s a far more interesting story to tell than “and then I was super successful and everything worked out perfectly. The end.”
And wherever these ideas come from, even if it’s from our parents that have the best intentions, I think it’s not the ideas themselves, it’s how they make us view growing up. No one knows what they are doing every step of the way and I think the more we came to terms with these ideas as being “assumptions” instead of “rules set in stone,” the better adults I think we all grow up to be and the world needs.