Good habits? I know what you're thinking. Alright, so we’re in our 20’s, and we’ve got our whole lives ahead of us. Now is the right time to develop some healthy habits; habits that will stay with us well into our golden years. No, it isn’t too early to start, and yes, you probably did out-grow your all-nighters now that you’ve got a real job. While some of them may not sound like a good time, these good habit kick-starters are the key to getting us started in the right direction.
1. Control Your Finances
While a limitless bank account is something everyone’s dreams are made of, we need to stop and be realistic: we can’t afford everything we want. While that pair of expensive shoes may look great on you, they‘re not worth the extra credit card debt. Your 20’s are the perfect time to break the spending habit and develop the proper habit of thinking before buying. This doesn’t just stop at avoiding credit card debt, in fact, using a credit card is not exactly a bad habit. Make your credit cards work in your favor by using them for necessities such as gas, groceries, and drugstore products. Pay off your balance in its entirety each month. This will not only avoid those pesky finance charges but will help give your credit score a boost.
Keep an eye on your bank account. Those small charges will add up quickly. A $10 lunch here, a $25 manicure there… before you know it, your entire paycheck is gone, and you have no idea where it all went. Keep track of your spending by asking for receipts for every card transaction, and documenting them in your checkbook (yes, it’s still good for something!) every evening. Don’t have a check book? Manage and track your daily finances by using an Excel spreadsheet. After a few weeks, you will be able to see where you can cut spending and save some money for those shoes mentioned above – without using your credit card!
2. Understand (And Do) Your Own Taxes
I know, I know… the T-word. None of us like it, and it’s easy to gather our W2’s and various other forms, march down to Jackson-Hewitt or H&R Block, pay a fee, and walk out a few hours later with your taxes done. I get it; it’s easy… and I’ve done it before. In fact, I almost had to pay $250 for them to prepare something I could have done myself.
Using tax software such as TurboTax makes it easy for us non-tax accountants to maneuver through our least favorite time of the year. In most cases, it’s free to file, and the most expensive version (if you have a complicated return like I do), will cost you around $60 for your Federal Taxes. Those of us lucky enough to live in a state that does not require a tax return will save the additional $40 for state tax fees. However, keep an eye out! TurboTax and other self-serve systems will usually run offers for free state returns if you file within a particular period.
So, why did I dedicate an entire section on taxes? Not only can this good habit save you money, but it ranks among the important things that we should understand. Knowing what we pay taxes for, and what we can get credits for, can help us make more informed decisions about things like IRA’s, investments, property purchases, and even charitable donations. Learn your tax rights, learn what’s deductible, and even if you decide to have your taxes prepared by a tax agency, you will have a better understanding why you get a refund (or owe!)
3. Start a 401(k)
We’re always told to plan for the future. It’s something that’s continuously repeated by our parents, family, loved ones… why? Well, because it actually is that important. Some of us may be lucky enough to have incredible retirement packages from our jobs, but being too prepared has never been known as a bad thing. Even with social security, many Millennials will not have enough saved up by the time we are 65 to retire comfortably. Besides, if we develop those healthy eating and exercise habits we’re going to discuss later on, we’re probably going to live for a while… so we should be financially prepared.
Taking extra money out of our paychecks each period may be a little bit of a financial blow… but the pay off (literally) will be worth it in the long run. Check with your workplace if they have a 401(k) plan in place, as most places do.
4. Grow and Nurture a Professional Network
No, not the wireless or data kind. I’m talking about actual people, in-person conversation, and real-time interactions. Believe it or not, this is part of our list of good habits to develop… and you'll see why. Surround yourself with professionals, develop relationships, and be prepared to be a source of contact for those people as well. A reliable network of professionals and even friends can open doors and create opportunities professionally that you may not have otherwise had. That dream job in California? You would have never known about that opening had it not been for that marketing coordinator you met on a cruise to the Bahamas. Your brand new manager role? You may not have heard about it if not for that lady in HR you used to work with two jobs ago.
It can be easy to let a networking effort be confused with a single profitable situation… and that’s bad. Network with people you get along with, who have similar interests both personally and professionally. You don’t want to be known as “that” person who only uses their contacts to get ahead. Instead, grow and nurture your professional network as you would a group of friends. Reach out not only when you need something, but check in from time to time. Be sure to welcome their professional needs, and offer to be a point of reference. So, do you get why it should be on this good habit list now?
5. Learn How to Cook
Pizza Hut mobile makes ordering so easy, and that fabulous Chinese restaurant around the corner is fast, cheap, and oh so delicious… but honestly, nothing beats a home cooked meal. Why wait until that once-per-month visit to your parents before you get that Sunday roast or the veggie stir-fry your aunt is so good at? I know it may seem a little intimidating, but learning how to cook is one of the most important healthy habits we should learn to do in our 20’s.
Let’s face it; not everyone is a natural-born cook. Most of us have about five recipes in our personal index, and repeating the same five over and over gets boring. Realistically, we don’t have all the time in the world – between work, working out, personal time, a social life, and other commitments, we’re lucky if we get to sit down to dinner on a nightly basis. It’s easy to pull into a drive-thru and pick up something unhealthy, or call up for delivery and spend a pretty penny, but cooking will save money and calories.
Scour FoodNetwork.com or various other recipe sites for easy weekday meals. Meal-prep works wonders, and may even give you time to pack a lunch for work the next day! Finding recipes that work for you and fit into your schedule will be the key to getting this whole cooking thing down. But once you find your stride, a good recipe source, and a cooking/shopping schedule that works for you, you’ll wonder why you ever had Pizza Hut on speed dial in the first place.
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6. Take Care of Your Body
We covered cooking our meals and eating healthier on our handy dandy good habits list, but what about everything else? Taking care of our whole bodies is important if we’re going to live forever (kidding), or at least long enough to see that NSYNC reunion or take that round-trip shuttle to Mars. So, where do we start?
Exercise. I know, it’s an obvious one, but it’s important. I also know that most of us (I included) groan at the idea of having a regular exercise routine, but just like cooking, it’s a matter of finding what works best for us and our daily schedules. Some days may call for yoga and others for a run around the neighborhood while certain days will have us eager to head to a kickboxing class (those co-workers can certainly be stressful.)
See your doctor (but we will talk about that later), and figure out if a vitamin regimen is a way to go. Some of us require more than others while a lucky few don’t require any at all. Our 20’s is an excellent time to start, better to be pro-active than re-active!
7. See the Doctor Regularly
Yes, I know, more groaning about the list of healthy habits. This includes your regular physician for your yearly check-up, your dentist, and your eye doctor. Don’t overlook the importance of regular check-ups; this can not only help you keep those other healthy habits in check, but it can also help prevent any other issues such as high or low blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Getting your eyes checked every year isn’t just for those of us who need our vision corrected. It’s important for everyone, no matter how exceptionally amazing your vision is, to see a doctor make sure that everything is still as it should be… and if it’s not, it can be corrected quickly.
Do I have to explain the importance of a regular dental check-up? Fillings can come out, crowns can come loose, and you’d be surprised how easy it can be to need a root canal. Thankfully, modern dentistry is nothing like the “old days” where those horror stories developed from, and a once/twice per year trip to our dentist can be fairly painless (so to speak).
8. Get More Sleep
Getting more sleep is probably one of the most difficult tasks on our 20’s to-do list. Good habits lists can’t be complete good habits lists without at least including a better night’s sleep. I know we like to re-live our college years by staying up until 2 or 3 a.m., then trudging to work the next morning fueled by coffee and tons of concealer, but let’s be honest with ourselves: that won’t work anymore. Getting a good night’s rest should be at the top of our to-do lists. Not only will you function better during the day, but you'll also feel more energized and a lot less run down when that post-lunch 2 pm hump hits. A rested body also makes for a rested mind; de-stressing from the day and resting our often over-worked minds will help us think a lot more clearly and rationally. Trust me; your body will thank you.
9. Take a Vacation
This may be the most over-looked good habit on the list because it doesn’t necessarily get considered to be a good practice. No one said a vacation has to be extravagant. It’s easy to get carried away with our careers, especially when we first start out and want to make the best impressions. Trust me; I’ve been there and done that. In my very early 20’s, I denied myself a proper week’s vacation, only taking off a day here and a day there. Needless to say, I quickly became aggravated with my job, and I felt as if I was only working to pay bills without actually enjoying my 20’s.
If you have the vacation days, take them. Even if you don’t go anywhere extravagant, take the days or week off and go on a staycation. Sleep in, do new things, see new sights in your own town. De-stress from work and have a little mental escape for a few days. You’ll find that you’ll go back to work recharged, ready to take on new tasks with a capacity to think a lot more clearly than you do when you get overworked and over-tired.
Remember, a vacation doesn’t have to cost a lot (we’re watching our finances!) Visit a college friend, take day-trips, or even do daily activities at home. Have a pajama movie day, or have a picnic in the park. A relaxed mind and body… yes, please!
10. Find Something Therapeutic
This means something different for everyone, and that’s the beauty of it. Like vacations, this may be part of the most neglected items on our good habits list. Some of us may find a therapist to talk to every month while others pick up gardening every other Saturday. Whatever your preference, make sure it’s something that will re-charge your body and mind. Find something that will take you away, whether it’s mental, physically, or both, from the normal everyday stresses we all endure now that we’re full-fledged adults. It can be something as small as meeting girlfriends for brunch on Sundays and chatting about the week, painting in front of the window of your studio apartment, or, like me, making jewelry and other pretty fun things.
Before you say anything, no, going out for a night on the town isn’t therapeutic… not if you do it in the style of your college days. Remember, the idea of this is to de-stress and find a zen place… which is most definitely not on top of the bar during Ladies’ Night. Have fun with this, try a few different things while you decide what works for you!
Good habits are probably a little harder to get into than, say, bad habits. It's important to start off on the right foot, or at least make an effort to get these healthy habits started as soon as you can. What are some good habits that you have developed? What are some good habits that you want to improve? We'd love to hear what's on your list!