Ready to Get Your Finances in Order? Read Our Guide to Adulting 101

Let’s talk about adulting.

We don’t mean getting your own cell phone plan after years of mooching off your parents. Or cooking your own dinner instead of ordering Uber Eats for the third time this week.

Those things count, no question. But they’re not gonna get you into the ranks of the truly mature among us. Or more to the point, they’re not gonna make you financially secure.

For that, you have to really commit. Sacrifice, even. 

But you can do it. You can do this adulting thing.

What Do Adults Do? For One, They Make Money

First thing’s first: Get a job. And not just a side gig that pays for gas and Taco Bell runs (hey, we don’t judge). A real job. 

How do you land a first job that’s in your field and excites you? Well, first off you’ll need a resume. This is your chance to show employers what you’ve done, what you know and what distinguishes you from everyone else in the applicant pool. Check out our guide to writing a resume that will get noticed. And don’t forget the cover letter. It’s a dying art. You can keep it alive by writing a polished cover letter that screams “hire me.” 

A final note on starting your career: If you have entrepreneurial ambitions, check out this expert advice on cultivating a side gig that you can turn into a legit money-making venture.

You’re Making Money. Yay! Now What?

Three dressed in adult looking business attire walk outside an office building.

Getty Images

Once you’ve got some money coming in, a key part of adulting is being responsible with it. Yep, we’re talking about budgeting. (Why is a high-pitched “BUT MOM?!!!” suddenly echoing through our brains?)

Anyway, yes, you need a budget. Put on your big-kid pants and deal with it. There are lots of ways to do it, and we’re sure you can make one of them work, whether you run your life by app, or prefer an old fashioned paper method.

If the idea of budgeting really does remind you of the chore list you had when you were 9, flip the concept and try expense tracking. A budget is a way to plan ahead for what you’ll spend on bills, savings, fun, etc.; with expense tracking, you record what you spend in real time to get a picture of your inflow and outflow. It’s very grown up.

Now for the mother of all adulthood downers: debt. If there’s a big line item in your budget for paying off debt, we got you. 

Student loans are a ginormous problem affecting millions of Americans. But you have to start somewhere so you’re not still paying them off in your golden years. We’ve got some tried and true tips on how to pay off student loans, like checking if you qualify for loan forgiveness and working out a repayment plan that doesn’t drown you.

Oh, is it not just student debt that’s keeping you down? Do you have credit card balances you don’t talk about at parties? There’s help for credit card debt, too.

Okay, you’re almost done with the basics of adulting. So close. 

Retirement. It may seem like a long way off, but that doesn’t mean you should put off saving for it. Seriously, start yesterday. The earlier you begin socking away funds in a retirement account, the more you’ll benefit from a beautiful thing called compound interest.

We’ve got all the goods on starting a 401(k), an IRA (or a Roth IRA), and some tips on obtaining the holy grail of financial planning: early retirement.

See? Adulting Doesn’t Hurt

You made it! Consider yourself a graduate of Basic Adulting (or at least a star student). You’ve gotten serious about getting a real job, decided on a budgeting method, made a plan for paying off debt and gotten the ball rolling on your retirement savings.

While you’re here, why not enroll in Advanced Adulting by testing the waters of… investing

Whoa, now. Isn’t investing for oil barrons and Wall Street tycoons? Well yes, but no. Investing is for everyone, even those of us without vast sums to put in the stock market, and it’s a super savvy way to grow your own net worth. That right there — your net worth — it sounds so adult.

Get started by learning the vocabulary of investing. You’ll feel so boss when you understand the difference between stocks and bonds that you might actually, possibly decide to invest some of your real American dollars in the market.

Just don’t stuff them in your mattress. That’s what the youth do.

Molly Moorhead is a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder.

This article originally appeared on The Penny Hoarder