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34 Little Life Skills Everyone Needs to Be a Grown-Up

If you're going to be "adulting," you'll need to have mastered this set of essential life skills.

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Balance a budget

The old advice used to be that everyone needed to know how to balance their checkbook, but thanks to digital banking and credit cards, it seems that check registers have gone the way of the woolly mammoth. But that doesn’t mean that budgeting, perhaps the most important household skill there is, should too. In lieu of a physical accounting, make sure you know how to track your income and expenses. You can create your own spreadsheet at home or use an app like You Need a Budget, but whatever you do, make sure you do it.

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Say “no”

For such a short word, it’s amazing how many of us have a hard time saying it. But learning how to graciously but firmly say “no”—without padding it with excuses or white lies—is a critical life skill. If you’re one of those people who automatically says “yes” when someone asks you to do something and feels guilty saying “no,” try saying “I need to think about it” instead. That will give you time to think through your schedule and decide if it’s something you can really do without the pressure of having the person’s pleading eyes boring into you. And remember: Every time you say “yes” to one thing (like working late), you’re also saying “no” to everything else (like the gym, dinner with your family, and a reasonable bedtime). Don’t miss these time management tips that actually work.

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Boil an egg

Eggs are a cheap source of quality protein, and when you boil them you add portable to their list of wonderful qualities. But boiling the perfect egg can be tricky—too short and you end up with gross gooey whites, too long and you have a bouncy ball that crumbles when you try to bite into it. Listen up adults: It doesn’t have to be hard. Make sure you learn these essential recipes you should know by the time you’re 35.

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Accept criticism

You did something wrong? Congratulations, you’re human! Unfortunately we often treat mistakes as personal failures, which makes hearing about them upsetting (to put it mildly), and when others try to offer criticism it can unleash your inner Hulk. But if you can teach yourself to see mistakes as learning opportunities instead, it makes them—and the inevitable criticism that comes with them—so much easier to handle. Check out these common etiquette mistakes you need to stop making by the time you’re 30.

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Sew on a button

Clothing quality has been markedly decreasing over the years, and unfortunately, so have sewing skills. This means that not only is a popped button, a hanging hem, or a hole in a sweater inevitable (thank you fast fashion!) but you’re stuck buying a new item or relying on safety pins in weird places instead of doing what should be a simple fix. Be sure you’re not making these other messy-looking clothing mistakes.

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Understand consequences

Want to party but not wake up with a hangover? Stuff yourself with cake but not gain weight? Take off every Friday but still have a job on Monday? Speed but never get a ticket? Well, we’re sorry to be the ones to break this to you, but this is not the way the world works. (Usually.) We all know this on an intellectual level, and yet we rage against it on an emotional level, living as if we don’t understand the immutable law of consequences. So here you go: When you make a choice to do something, you are also choosing the consequence. It’s a package deal. Don’t miss these tips for how to bounce back after a failure.

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Change a tire

AAA and roadside service are a godsend for sure, but it takes only one time of having your car tire go flat on a mountain road two hours away from the nearest town to make you realize the importance of knowing how to change a tire. You won’t need to use this skill very often (we hope!) but it’s well worth the time spent learning it for the handful of times you do. After all, mountain roads are fun to drive!

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Have a face-to-face conversation

Communicating with another person while looking them in the eye may be humankind’s oldest skill, but in an age of FaceTime, texting, and email we’re rapidly losing the talent for robust conversation. Yet nothing shows your interest and commitment more than simply talking with someone in person. Once the conversation is flowing, remember the golden ratio: 51 percent listening, 49 percent talking.

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Change a diaper

Babies are tiny, fragile humans that literally have holes in their skulls, so it makes sense that a lot of people are nervous to be left alone with them. But newborns not as breakable as they first seem, and learning a few basics, including changing a diaper, can go a long way toward making you look and feel like a competent caregiver. Even if you don’t have kids, knowing how to change a diaper can still come in handy in case of a babysitting emergency. Thankfully modern diapers make this a pretty painless process.

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Use your oven

Ovens are one of the best modern conveniences we have, and yet so many of us default to the microwave. But if you’re tired of mushy, unequally warmed food, give your kitchen oven a try. Ovens may look intimidating with all the knobs, buttons, and timers but once you figure it all out, it will become second nature. To ensure a delicious final product, steer clear of these super-common kitchen mistakes.

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Pay a bill

Paying your bills is Adulting 101, but it’s not as simple as handing over the money. You need to read through the bill and make sure it’s correct, check your bank balance for sufficient funds, ensure you’re paying it in a timely fashion, use the correct method, and make sure they got it and applied it correctly to your account. Follow these tips to save money on your household bills.

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Do a load of laundry

Who doesn’t love the feel of freshly washed sheets? Or the look of white socks? Or the reassurance of clean underwear? No one, that’s who. The importance of learning how to properly use your washer (pro tip: Don’t use regular detergent in a high-efficiency machine) and dryer cannot be overstated. Follow this helpful guide to make sure you know how to do laundry the right way.

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A good work ethic

There comes a day in every young person’s life when no one is kicking them out of bed in the morning and telling them where to be and when. It’s a milestone moment when you realize it’s all on you to make sure you get to work, do all your work, and not do too much work—and then get ‘er done.

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Understand a lease agreement

Your parents probably didn’t make you sign a lease to live at home, but it’s likely that everyone you live with thereafter will have some paperwork waiting for your John Hancock. Unfortunately, leases can be full of legalese and tricky to read, often coming with ironclad provisions that can come back to bite you in the butt later if you don’t understand what you’re signing. See what you need to know before leasing a car.

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Show empathy

Want to understand someone? Walk a mile in their shoes—or so the old saying goes. But how to actually show empathy in the real world generally doesn’t involve footwear. What it does involve is learning how to be a good listener and how to comfort and reassure others without being creepy or patronizing.

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Finish a project

Starting a new project is easy and fun! Finishing it is tough. But having the tenacity, will, and understanding to take a project—whether it’s for work, school, or a hobby—from beginning to end is what separates the wannabes from the champs.

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Do your own taxes

Taxes have a bad rep for being hair-pulling, pillow-screaming, papers of frustration. And with good reason. But just because they’re complicated, boring, and crazy-making doesn’t give you a pass on doing them. So why not skip the pain and just pay someone else to do them for you? Doing your own taxes, even if it’s just for one year, gives you vital insight into how your own finances work and a better understanding of how the government works.

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Cook a meal

Spaghetti counts. So does chicken and rice. Frozen pizza does not (sorry). Learning to make a meal, from selecting a recipe to shopping for ingredients, to cooking to clean-up, is a vital life skill for anyone who likes to eat. (So, everyone.) You don’t have to be a chef or even make something with more than five ingredients, but you’ll be amazed at how empowering and fun it can be to play around in the kitchen.

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Write a resume

Getting a job helps decide everything from where you live to what you eat to how happy you are, so pick a good one. Step one to getting your dream job? Crafting a solid resume by avoiding these problematic resume mistakes that could cost you the job.

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Shop for groceries

He’s making a list and he’s checking it twice—and we’re not talking about Santa, we’re talking about you. Walking into a store without a plan is the fastest way to blow your budget and end up home with three boxes of doughnuts and no milk. Making the effort to plan your meals, write an organized list, and shop from said list will save you money, time, and frustration. To make it easier, keep a running list throughout the week, adding items as you go. Some pro shoppers find it helpful to make categories, like produce, dairy, and frozen—so you don’t have to zigzag around the store to find all the stuff on your list.

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Have good table manners

Chew with your mouth closed. Know what fork is for which dish. Put a cloth napkin on your lap. Chew with your mouth closed. Don’t pick up food with your fingers. Don’t slurp your soup. Serve food from communal dishes to your plate, not your mouth. Oh, and did we mention chewing with your mouth closed? Make your mother proud and use your good table manners, whether you’re eating at home, at the neighborhood grill, or a four-star restaurant. Be aware of these table manners mistakes you’re probably still making.

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Drill a hole

Basic home repairs like drilling a hole, leveling a picture, unclogging a toilet, fixing a leaky faucet, repairing small holes in drywall and other household fixes will make your life simpler and save your hard-earned cash. Start small with these DIY home improvement tasks you can easily do yourself.

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Navigating public transit

Cars are great but buses, trains, and subways are a daily necessity for many city dwellers, so knowing how to use them efficiently is a handy skill. Even if you don’t live in an area where mass transit is a thing, knowing how to navigate public transportation can be a lifesaver when you travel, especially in foreign countries.

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Brew a perfect pot of coffee

Love coffee? You could start investing in Starbucks or you could learn how to make your own perfect cup of joe. Even if you’re not a big coffee drinker yourself, knowing how to make the world’s favorite drink is guaranteed to come in handy at the office, with friends, or when family visits. And no need to buy fancy gadgets or expensive premium blends. Here are easy ways to brew the perfect pot of coffee at home.

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Sure, you could do everything yourself, but should you? Knowing where your time is best spent and where it makes sense to get outside help is one of the secrets to business and personal success.

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Deep clean a bathroom

Break out the toothbrushes—and we don’t mean for your teeth! Knowing how to scrub every nook and cranny of a toilet is step one of getting a bathroom sparkling clean. Then wipe down the counters, mop the floor, Windex the mirror, rinse out the tub, and clean all the random toothpaste splatters off every surface (how does that even happen?). But knowing how to clean it is just half the battle. Knowing why it’s important to have a clean bathroom, and doing it on a regular basis, is the real triumph.

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Load the dishwasher

Think of it like 3-D Tetris for grown-ups. Rinsing off the dinner dishes and putting them in the dishwasher in a way that will allow it to be filled to max capacity while still getting everything clean is as much an art as it is a science. Check out these 21 ways you’re shortening the life of your dishwasher.

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Understand your health insurance policy

Insurance claims and medical bills can be so confusing that it’s tempting to just throw your hands up and swear to never get sick, ever. But no matter how healthy you are, eventually you’re going to need health care and that means figuring out what all those charges, numbers, and networks mean. Taking the time to go through your policy and bills can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

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Drive a stick shift

You may not own one but cars with a manual transmission are definitely not extinct. Learning how to drive a clutch can save you if you have to borrow a friend’s car in a pinch or if you happen to just end up with a BMW M5 on your hands. Never had the chance to drive stick? Buddy up with a friend who has a manual car and work through the basics. You’ll be a pro in no time.

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Cope with change

You know what they say: Change is the only constant. Yet many of us still live our lives like they’ll always stay the same, so when big changes come they can rock the very foundation of our lives. But you don’t need to fear change, you just need to be prepared for it. Come up with a concrete plan for major contingencies and you’ll save yourself a lot of worry. Don’t miss these life-changing quotes that will inspire you.

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Open a savings account

Getting a credit card is a no-brainer. Heck, you don’t even have to apply for one; they’ll just send you one in the mail, making spending money even easier than it already is. But saving money, that’s a real skill, and it starts with setting up your own savings account. Know the different types of savings accounts, pick one that’s right for you, and start socking cash away on a regular basis. Need ideas? Check out these habits of people who are great at saving money.

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Basic first aid

Would you know what to do if someone collapsed at work? If your child began choking at dinner? If you sprained your ankle while hiking? Learning CPR and basic first aid skills fall under the category of skills you hope you’ll never have to use. But in an emergency situation, first aid training can help you keep your cool, stay safe and even save a life. Brush up on your skills or start anew by finding a local class through the Red Cross.

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Choose your own happiness

Despite what politicians may say, getting offended is a choice, and choosing to keep your cool is a real skill. Give others the benefit of the doubt (even if they don’t deserve it), don’t take everything personally, be forgiving, and refuse to take the bait in the argument and you’ll have ultimate control over your own happiness. It’s not what happens to you that really matters but how you react to it.

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Write a thank-you note

Nothing is more charming or more appreciated than sincere gratitude. Hand write it on beautiful stationery—a rarity in our tech-obsessed culture—and it becomes a meaningful token, sometimes treasured for years afterward. Now, start making your bucket list, here are 50 things that everyone should do before they’ve turned 50.

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen is a health, lifestyle and fitness expert and teacher. She covers all things wellness for Reader’s Digest and The Healthy. With dual masters degrees in information technology and education, she has been a journalist for 17 years and is the author of The Great Fitness Experiment. She lives in Denver with her husband, five kids and three pets.