Why being in your 20s isn’t an excuse to not plan for the future

March 20, 2017
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There is an endless stream of irresponsible life advice currently bombarding twenty-somethings, both on the internet and IRL. Phrases like YOLO and 30 is the new 20 have spurred a movement that tries to convince twenty-somethings that our futures can wait; that our tender age gives us a free pass to “just have fun” because we don’t need to get serious about our lives for at least a few more years.

I’m calling bullshit, and science and psychology are backing me up. So, for anyone using their twenty-something status to not plan for their future, here’s why your 20s are still the most life-defining decade and why we all need to start getting our shit together. Now.

Your 20s are valuable career-building years

If you want to be a baller by the time you’re 35, you have to get started early. According to Dr Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist and inspirational TED talker, up to two-thirds of our lifetime wage growth happens in our 20s, in the first 10 years after graduation. As scary as this prospect is, it’s also a huge wake-up call that, as twenty-somethings, using these years to build our careers is a pretty important deal.

In her book, The Defining Decade, Dr Meg Jay warns that the salary catch-up game is incredibly difficult if you wait until your 30s to enter a certain career path or get serious about the one you’re already on. Coupled with the current decline of full-time graduate employment, twenty-somethings need to start thinking about careers early and make them a top priority. This also includes figuring out other life stuff, like if we want to get married or have kids and when/if we’d like to settle down.

Your brain rewires itself, so how you behave now matters

In a mental health study spanning 26 years, Dr Jay Giedd and a team of researchers found that the structure of our brains changes between the ages of 12 and 25. While the major brain development happens in our teen years, our frontal lobes (where we plan for our future) aren’t fully matured until our mid-20s.

Phrases like YOLO and 30 is the new 20 have spurred a movement that tries to convince twenty-somethings that our futures can wait.

Basically, the saying “old habits die hard” couldn’t be more true. As our brains are still developing, Dr Meg Jay explains in The Defining Decade that being a twenty-something is the perfect time to change the things about ourselves we don’t want to carry into our grown-up lives. We can teach ourselves to exercise regularly, manage our time efficiently, and generally be better human beings, and these habits will be harder to break than if picked up later in life. 

It’s the best time to get a jump start on your savings

Partying is great and all, but so is a savings account with actual money in it. Your early to mid-20s are the only time you truly have the option of saving some decent dough. If you’re still living at home or splitting rent/bills/food between four other people in a share house, try to put some money aside each week before you’re a totally independent grown-up.

While it’s easier said than done, especially for those already living alone, selling the stuff you don’t need, learning to budget like a boss, or picking up a few side hustles will get some extra cash in your savings account that might come in handy when you desperately need a holiday, are paying off a mortgage, or (touch wood) you lose your job five years from now. It’s all about investing in (and protecting) your future, fam.

Penny Robinson

Penny is a Philosophy and Media and Communications student at the University of Melbourne. She enjoys travelling, snacking, and not going to the gym.