However you define the actual event that marks adulthood — be it turning 18, graduating from college or starting your first job — there eventually comes a time in everyone's life when you cease being a "kid" and become a real, responsible "adult." When that time comes, there are a few important things that you'll need to know how to do on your own.
Paying bills on time, maintaining healthy personal and family relationships, growing your career and planning for the future are all important aspects of the "adulting" experience. Knowing how to do these things well can save you, and those around you, a lot of grief.
First and most importantly, don't blow all your money on frivolous things. Following a few simple guidelines can help you maximize your hard-earned money like a responsible adult, rather than a carefree, happy-go-lucky teenager.
Having a rainy day fund should be one of your first financial priorities. Having about three to six months worth of savings in a liquid account (such as a high-yield savings account) is an important buffer against unexpected emergencies, job loss or any of the other curveballs life will inevitably throw your way.
Having a good credit score will get you places in life, as loans, apartment rentals, credit card approvals and more are often contingent upon a strong credit score. In order to build your credit score up, you'll want to get a credit card as early as possible, pay the balance off in full each month and stay on top of other payments you may owe, such as loans and medical bills.
Nothing sucks money up more than late fees — responsible adults know this and do their utmost to avoid them. Thus, adults pay bills on time in order to avoid being hit with late payment penalties (which, in the case of credit cards, can be over 20 percent).
Having and holding yourself accountable to a budget will help you save some of your hard-earned money. At a minimum, you should be saving 20 percent of your income. At a maximum, 50 percent of your income should be going towards necessities (such as rent, food and transportation) and the remaining 30 percent should be discretionary items (such as vacations).
While retirement may seem a long way off when you're just starting to become an adult, the truth is that you're best served saving for retirement as early as possible in order to take advantage of the power of compound interest. Making a retirement plan as early as possible in life and saving at least your annual salary by the time you turn 30 are both good starting points — but the general idea is that wise adults plan for their golden years while they themselves are still spring chickens.
Adults who've mastered their financial wellbeing know that having some money in investments — such as stocks and bonds — is a smart money move that can make your money grow much faster than it would in bank accounts.
If you're planning on staying put in one place for a while and can afford it, buying a house can be a smart investment. More than many other things, being a homeowner is a fairly significant indicator that you're a "real adult."
Given that you'll spend a healthy chunk of every day at work once you're a "real" adult, it's important to find and cultivate a career that you love.
Although most adults' formal student years are behind them, smart professionals know that it pays to be constantly learning. Staying abreast of developments in your field, learning to use new technologies to improve your on-the-job performance and continuously striving to do what you're doing better are all great ways to nurture your career.
Networking is an important way to build professional relationships and learn from others in your field. Workers who understand the power of networking and leverage their relationships to their careers' benefits are likely to go further faster.
Even early on in your career, you can pay it forward by serving as a mentor to others who are looking to get their feet in the door in your industry. Offering to host a college student for an internship or career shadow day are great ways to start sharing your career knowledge — limited as it may be early in your career — with people who are even younger than yourself.
Smart adults recognize that no matter how good they are at what they do, they're never going to know everything there is to know in their field. Seeking a mentor to help you continue growing is a great way to approach your career development intelligently with the guidance of someone whom you admire.
Actively seeking, rather than passively waiting for, feedback is an incredible way to jumpstart your career development. Learning through constant feedback, both positive and negative, will help improve the quality of your work much more quickly than waiting for quarterly or end-of-year reviews.
Having a friend or two who can be your accountability partner in pushing your career forward can do wonders. Just like having a workout buddy can encourage you to be more consistent about your exercise routine, so too can having a career cheerleader with whom you share successes and failures help you make a more consistent effort to get to the next level in your career.
As social animals, humans are hardwired to seek the companionship of others. Being able to maintain healthy relationships with friends and romantic partners is an important part of being an adult.
Adults value themselves enough to demand healthy, supportive romantic relationships. This means that your romantic relationships should boost you up, not bring you down; and whomever you choose to share your emotional life with should energize, not drain you and help you become a better version of yourself.
While the early days of a relationship are obsessive, surface-level and frankly a little crazy-making, a stable adult relationship is rooted in compassion, mutual support and a true appreciation for what each party brings to the table. Once you've developed a relationship with your partner that truly feels supportive of each other's needs, you'll know that you have a real adult relationship.
Before your adult years, your friend group was likely predicated on proximity: the kids on the block, your classmates in school, your roomies in college, your sorority or fraternity or your sports team. Once you grow up, though, and everyone starts working full-time jobs and juggling the pressures of the real world, it becomes harder to maintain a sprawling network of friends. As an adult, it'll be important to find friends who will make the effort to make time to be there for you and to reciprocate their efforts.
On the flip side, being an adult means being mature enough to recognize when you've outgrown a friendship or when a friendship is no longer right for you. In some cases, you and a friend may simply no longer have shared interests or the same attitudes; in others, you may find that the friendship is a one-way street, with you making all the effort without reciprocation; and in yet others, you may find that you simply no longer enjoy hanging out together. Whatever the case, being mature enough to let a friendship fizzle out when it's no longer the right fit for you is a major marker of adulthood.
However you define "family," familial bonds are an important part of the humane experience. Often, being an adult means having your own family; and it also means maintaining ties with your own parents.
For many adults who don't live in their hometowns, staying in touch with their parents on a regular basis can be a challenge. However, recognizing the importance of your parental relationships and putting in the time and effort to check in with your parents on a regular basis is an important marker of adulthood.
Adults recognize that parenthood is a major decision, and they won't enter into it lightly. Thus, adults will have a mature, serious conversation with their partner before choosing to pursue parenthood. They'll consider the financial, emotional and psychological elements of the decision and make a considered judgment.
Should you choose to become a parent, balancing parenthood with your career, personal relationships and personal wellbeing is a delicate — but important — balancing act that requires attention and dedication. Adults who've mastered parenthood recognize that while being a parent is an important aspect of their lives, it shouldn't take over the rest of their lives to the point of overwhelming their other priorities and interests.
While adulting can be a challenge, it's also rewarding. The sense of accomplishment that comes with being an independent, self-sufficient person who can manage your own life is incredible — and with these tips, it's absolutely achievable for anyone.
Lorelei Yang is a New York-based consultant and freelance writer/researcher. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.