Six things you should learn when you reach your 20s

For many people, their 20s are the best decade of their life – full of freedom and adventure. Here are six things you should learn when you reach your 20s.

Your 20s is often a decade of great change. You’re no longer a teenager living at home; instead you’re an adult working out who you are, and what the world holds for you.

Your 20s are when many people leave college and get their first job. They’re living with friends, a partner or on their own. They are earning their own spending money and making their own decisions.

But with all that freedom also comes responsibility. If you’re living alone, you need to manage your finances to ensure you pay your bills on time.

And with all the options in the world open to you – for work, travel and love – you need to ensure you choose wisely. Because the decisions you make in your 20s lay the foundations for the life you live in your 30s and beyond.

That’s not to say you aren’t allowed to make mistakes. (If anything, now is the time to make mistakes, while you have time to correct them.) You can change the course of your life at any point. But there are some things that are better learned in your 20s as they can save you potential heartache and problems later on. Here are six of them.

1) Act on your ideas

If you have ideas, plan and dreams that you are keeping to yourself, now’ is the time to make them real. Don’t let the years pass, and opportunities pass. Time will go fast, and your carefree 20s can quickly give way to a family, mortgage and children – and all the responsibilities that comes with them.

If you have big dreams, NOW is the time to start bringing them to life. Seeing if they really can come true. And that start with action. What is it that you need to do NOW as a first step on potentially making your dreams come true?

Yes you risk discovering that is all it ever was destined to be – a dream. But at least you know. You won’t be plagued by the regret of missed opportunities when you get older.

And what if it isn’t just a dream? What if you CAN make it happen? What if your life takes an entirely different and wonderful course through your bravery and action? There’s only one way to find out, and the time to try is now…

To help you kickstart that inspiration as you traverse through your 20s, resources like A Guide For Your 20s will be useful references to go through.

2) Never spend more than you make

It’s easy to make financial mistakes in your 20s, particularly when you finally have a first taste or glimpse of what it’s like to be earning your own proper money. You might be living alone for the first time, and enjoying your independence – and feel like you need to keep up with the people you hang out with.

However, spending beyond what you can afford isn’t a sustainable way to exist. This kind of lifestyle only leads to one place: debt. So the earlier you install healthy financial habits, the easier you’ll find it to prevent living outside your means.

Even better, if you can work out a weekly spending budget, you can even start saving up for things you might want in future: a holiday, a place of your own, even to launch your own business rather than working for someone else.

Don’t allow money to become a ball and chain, taking opportunities away from you through bad financial management. Instead, learn how to handle it properly and let it be your freedom – and to buy the lifestyle you want.

3) Focus on what you want

You don’t want to be a jack of all trades and a master of none. Among all the skills that you have to master at this age, the ability to focus is probably the most important.

When you’re young, it’s easy to feel that you want to be everything that you can be – the world is at your fingertips. But at some point you need to narrow your options and focus on one. Then give that your all.

Be realistic in what you can pursue as a career, and work at that. If you have a passion, such as photography or music, that you honestly know will never be a realistic career, then find a job you love and pursue your interest in your free time.

These are the years that you start putting down the roots of a successful career. Yes, you can launch a successful career or business in your 30s, 40s or even later, but you’ll be ahead of the game if you start getting the right experience and finding or making opportunities now.

That doesn’t mean you need to get serious, take a ‘career’ job you hate and settle down right now (unless you want to, of course), but you do need to start thinking seriously about what it is that you want to do or be, and focusing your energy in that direction.

4) Track your money

As well as spending within your means, you also need to learn how to track your money. If you haven’t got used to making a budget yet, it’s a good time for you to start doing so. Creating a financial plan is the only way you can check where every single penny of your hard-earned money is going.

It’s easy to think that you’re thrifty because you’re not using a credit card, for instance, or you don’t even have one. But, do you know how much those coffee runs and take-out food have accumulated in your budget? 

When you track your money, it’s easier for you to plan financial goals, even have a short-term or long-term future projection of your finances. How much do you want to save when you turn 30? What big-ticket expenses would you like to purchase?

You can only do this when you’re tracking your money properly and making a budget diligently, so you know for sure that you’re saving enough.

5) Learn to persevere

Failure is inevitable in life – especially if you’re ambitious and strive for things that may be hard to achieve. So it’s important to recognise that you WILL fail at some point, and get comfortable with that knowledge.

Failure can come in your career and your personal life; long-term friendships can fizzle out while relationships could crumble and fall apart.

But remember that you’re not a child or teenager any more. This decade isn’t the time for you to avoid the risk of disappointment or being hurt – now is the time to take risks and persevere.

When you fail, you can rise again through perseverance. So go easy on yourself, and don’t give up, too. Remember that failure is part of life’s learning experiences, and you’re only human. When you fail once, it doesn’t mean that YOU are a failure. Shake it off, and move on.

6) Don’t live on credit cards

Remember that whatever credit you have on your card, that’s a debt. It’s money that you owe to the bank, and it’s money that you’ll have to pay for, sooner or later. So if you know for certain that you don’t have the means to pay for the amount you’re planning to charge on your card, then don’t do so.

Use your credit card with caution. Make sure that whatever you are buying on it you can afford, and pay your balance off in full every month. It can also be used in an emergency, when you need to make a payment you can’t otherwise cover. But ensure you pay your balance off as soon as you can – or take a loan out to cover it, as the interest rates on credit cards are often higher than loans.

Make your 20s count

Your 20s are that golden decade – you’re finally an adult, but don’t yet have all the responsibilities of adulthood – a family, a mortgage, a pension plan… You can still make mistakes and pursue things *just because*.

But while your 20s can (and hold) be full of adventure and new life experiences, you also need to practice some responsibility – both to yourself and others. After all, you are an adult now.

So embrace your 20s with gusto. Live life and have fun, but make sure too that you’re laying brilliant foundations for the rest of your life, and make smart decisions.