Now that most of my friends are close to 30, I’ve seen some pretty big changes in their lives: weddings, babies, mortgages. Our lives mirror our parents now more than they do our younger cousins: fewer frat parties, more 401(k)s.
It’s easy to feel like an adult as you cross off those big milestones. But all those changes don’t make you an adult. Being an adult is how you handle and go through life, not about the steps you hit on your way there.
A few weeks ago, I met up with an old friend I hadn’t seen in three years. We chatted over dinner and he said he couldn’t believe I was married. I told him that married life is not any different than living with my boyfriend, which we’d done for almost two years before tying the knot.
Successful marriage requires you to be more considerate and thoughtful of the decisions you make, but just being married doesn’t make you any more of an adult. I’ve seen so many people get married for the wrong reasons — even though they knew it was a bad idea.
Marriage doesn’t require any sort of special adulting hall pass. Walking down the aisle can seem like an adult decision, but the reality is that all you really need is $20 and a piece of paper.
Getting married does not make you good at relationships, it doesn’t make you more mature and it certainly doesn’t make you happier. It can give you a tax break and a whole lot of wedding gifts, but marriage is really something you do because it feels right, not because you’re at “that point” your life.
Buying a new car.
If you’re used to driving around in a used car or your mom’s hand-me-down, buying a new shiny car can feel like the most adult decision. But buying a new car is one of the worst ways to start off your adult financial life.
A new car loses its value as soon as you drive off the lot, and the monthly payments can impact your ability to save for retirement, an emergency fund, or something else you really want.
I know it can feel embarrassing to drive an old car after all your friends have upgraded. I still had my 1999 Toyota Avalon that while most of my friends were driving cars actually produced in this millennium.
But I didn’t want a new car. I wanted to pay off my student loans, save for an emergency fund, and travel the world. New car payments would have only made all these things impossible.
Adulting is about creating a life you want and you’re happy with, not one that’s based on other people’s decisions or what society says you should have.
Buying a house.
Buying a house is the ultimate purchase. Until you buy a home, you’ve been living somewhere that doesn’t belong to you. For most people, a home is the biggest asset — and a mortgage is the biggest monthly expense.
A mortgage is not just something adults “do.” It’s a huge financial decision that you shouldn’t take on if you’re not ready for it. Just because everyone around you is buying houses doesn’t mean you have to get one too.
Buying a home can change the landscape of your financial future. It impacts whether or not you can move somewhere else for a better job or if you can afford to work on the road. A home can be a great investment or it can cost you thousands of dollars.
Nothing automatically makes you an adult. Being an adult is about taking care of your responsibilities while creating a life that has value to you. It’s about being a person you’d be proud to be friends with. Buying a house or car or getting married doesn’t make you an adult. What you do with it does.