How to Adult (Part II): 5 Ways to Be Independent More Effectively

by Molly Tracy

The verb “adulting” was added to the dictionary in 2016 - turns out, it’s really hard to do! Recent graduates are struggling to figure out how to get by as they develop the necessary skills to live independently. Here are some helpful tips on these skills - cooking, budgeting, and more!

1. Finances

A common gripe is that personal finance is not often taught in schools, particularly since the consequences of missing something important can be drastic. When starting out, here are some initial questions to answer when managing your own finances:

  • What will you spend your money on? Bills, savings, charity—map out all expenses against your income to understand where your money will be going (check out the sample budget plan to get started).


  • How will you track your spending? Mint is a service that works as a budget tracker, bill payment reminder, and more. If you prefer not to share your financial information, use an Excel spreadsheet instead.

  • How will you manage your credit? Start by learning your credit score (Mint,,, WalletHub, etc. show you your score for free). This score is an indicator to banks and other financial services of how trustworthy you are for services like loans. Your credit score is affected when you skip payments, make late credit payments, carry high balances, or open additional credit cards (read for more information). Set alarms each month to ensure you pay your bills on time.

  • How will you manage accounts? As an early adult, it is recommended to have one savings account and one checking account. However, you could also have two savings accounts—one as a “hub” where the paycheck is initially deposited and then divvied up to the other accounts, and the second savings account as a long-term savings (think “emergency fund”). For your checking account, in addition to the account’s debit or credit card, purchase a checkbook. Checks are used for setting up direct deposits, linking accounts, or even paying rent.

  • How will you save money? The key to saving money is simple: start early. Even setting aside a small amount of money in a retirement fund in your early 20’s can make a huge impact later in life: assuming a 5% return, a one-time deposit of $5,000 at age 35 becomes $21,600 at age 65, but putting the same one-time deposit away at age 22 becomes $40,700. Choose which retirement plan is right for you (a Roth IRA is usually a good starting point, but make sure you understand all of the options). Then, diversify your portfolio to reduce your investments’ volatility.

For more information, read Personal Finance for Dummies. It’s a great resource that serves as a guide on how to save money, how to invest, and more.

2. Planning ahead

Mapping out a career plan is often recommended for professionals. For example, “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” is a common interview question. Fewer people use similar rigor in their personal life goals, but setting goals is crucial to personal development. Here’s how to get started:

  • 6-month goals are short-term goals that cut personal improvement into attainable chunks. Some examples include learning the rudiments of a language, reading certain books, saving a set amount of money, developing a healthy exercise regimen, or investing in the stock market. These shorter-term goals allow you to work on establishing one healthy habit after another to build the foundation for long-term success. Keep your list in a visible spot or use a goal-tracking app.

  • A bucket list, or lists of things a person would like to do before they “kick the bucket,” is a fairly well-known concept. Set up your own bucket list in a measurable way that shows what steps are necessary to actually achieve each list item. For example, if a bucket list goal is a trip to Paris, you’ll need to raise money and plan the trip. Spend a few minutes doing some research on how much a trip would cost, and estimate how much money to put away each month for such a trip. Set a travel date, even if the date is five years in the future. Shedding a practical light on each bucket list item will better equip you to achieve them in a realistic timeframe.

3. Centralized “Adulting” Research

Everyone comes into early adulthood with varying skill levels and different areas of “know-how.” While some people never learned how to cook (that’s me!), some people struggle with laundry or car maintenance. Here are some Internet tools that will help you to learn these skills.

  • Pinterest is a surprisingly versatile tool. It is a free service that links to websites and infographics. Need to eat healthy? Pinterest can compile links to endless recipes. Can’t afford a gym membership? Pinterest can show you exercise routines. Want travel advice? Pinterest can show you how to pack a carry-on. Pinterest even has information on topics such as car repair, stain removal, and home improvement. There’s something for everyone! It also provides a central location for your “adulting” needs. For example, when I want to make food, I can simply navigate to my “food” Pinterest board, scroll through my collected recipe ideas, and choose one to try.


  • Youtube is used by most millennials for entertainment, but did you know that it works well for teaching adult life skills? Video tutorials are often clearer to follow than articles or even photos. Similar to Pinterest, Youtube has instructional videos for anything you need - laundry, tying a tie, writing a check, etc.

4. Cleaning

Moving into your own space after graduation is exciting, but it comes with additional responsibility—there is more to clean. Here’s how to make cleaning more manageable:

  • Use cleaning/disinfecting wipes. They work for most kitchen and bathroom surfaces, and they require minimal effort (no spraying, no paper towels, etc.). For windows and mirrors, use window-cleaning wipes (different than disinfecting wipes).  Just don’t flush them down the toilet.  These wipes will not break down like toilet paper and can plug up your wastewater system, so put them in the trash instead.

  • Have stain remover on hand. Stains come out most easily when cleaned immediately after the spill, so having a good stain remover on hand makes cleaning quicker and easier. If an emergency strikes, immediately spray the stain remover on the stained area, let it soak for 1-2 minutes, and then scrub away. Don’t let stains sit, or you will regret it later.

  • Clean in spurts. Cleaning can take a long time when trying to clean an entire living space, but taking 10-20 mins every few days to clean one area can make cleaning less daunting. Also, cleaning different areas at different times can give an impression of more overall cleanliness if a surprise visitor drops by. However, if you must clean everything at once, follow this guide for cleaning quickly.

  • Organize your living space. Set your living space up for success by adding storage space such as coat racks, shoe racks, storage bins, etc. If everything has a place, cleaning becomes a more streamlined process.

5. Fitness

Maintaining physical fitness is difficult for people of all ages, but becomes especially difficult during substantial life changes. Here are a few ways to begin to establish healthy routines in the midst of other new life experiences:

  • Exercise in small segments. Fitness regimens often focus on maintaining a healthy weight, but many people also prioritize staying in shape or gaining strength. However, finding time or affording a gym membership can be a challenge when starting out on your own. Working in short exercise segments of 5-10 minutes in between TV episodes or before work can be more manageable, and these exercises do not have to use gym equipment. Plenty of short workouts exist on the Internet, particularly in the form of Youtube videos such as this one (or on Pinterest!).

  • Track your caloric intake. Exercise tends to be a large focus when trying to maintain a healthy weight, but one hour of intense exercise still only equates to 500-600 calories, which is as much as one bagel with cream cheese. Simply gathering data on what you eat can often lead to diet improvements that give more “bang for your buck,” such as “if I order mixed vegetables instead of fried rice, I save 440 calories,” or “if I replace one Starbucks caramel frappuccino with black coffee each week, I save 420 calories.” MyFitnessPal is a great free tool for tracking caloric intake, and its phone app even counts your steps and adds those calories back into your allotted daily intake.

  • Drink plenty of water. This is a tired adage, but with access so many sugary fluids, it can be easy to forget to drink water. Make sure you stay hydrated!

  • Take vitamins. As children, we are told to take our vitamins. As adults, we often forget to take these supplements, but we still need those vitamins and minerals. To make taking supplements easier, try an “all-in-one” supplement (and gummy vitamins for adults exist!).

Throughout the development of these skills, several tools often surface: effective planning, breaking tasks into manageable pieces, and tracking your progress. Use these tools to take on early adult life by establishing good habits.