24 things I’ve learnt in 24 years – Adulthood advice for British 16-25 year olds

I made a series of tweets late last night which got a good reaction, so I thought I’d share it here too. This advice pertains to FINANCE, SECURITY and other adulthood things. Basically, here’s 24 things I’ve learnt in 24 years of life.

(1) If you are planning to buy a house at any point in your life, you’re gonna want to open a Lifetime ISA asap. If you’re planning to buy within the next year, make sure you open that thing as soon as they start running on April 6th. You’ll get 25% of your deposit extra from the government. Forget your Help to Buy ISAs. Do this, even if you just put in a quid. Deets.

(2) You should increase your online security. If you’re anything like me, you’ve been using the same password since you were 12. Download an app like KEEPER and each time you log into your sites, add the passwords into the app.

THE IMPORTANT PART: use the app features to change each as you go to a randomised 16 digit password with numbers, letters and symbols. It doesn’t matter if you can’t remember it, it’s all in the app. If you’re worried about forgetting them, write them all in a notebook too and keep it somewhere safe.

You can take your time changing over passwords for social media etc, but do it ASAP for your email & bank accounts. Trust me, you want to do this. It is worryingly easy to crack a password.

(3) If you’re someone who feels constantly stressed by everything you have to do, I cannot emphasise enough the freedom of good organisation. Get some kind of list-keeping software like Workflowy (my bae), Evernote, or even just a good old planner, and make lists of everything.

The key to good To Do lists:

a) Split them into categories. I go for Work/Personal and split them down further into Admin/Health/Creative &c.

b) Don’t list big things like WRITE DISSERTATION. That will freak you out more. Make a DISSERTATION sub-list and write small actionable things like LOOK UP RESEARCH. Focus only on the tasks you can get done immediately. The rest will flow.

I use the same software to keep extensive notes as reminders. If you can collapse your bullet points, this is a good way to aid your memory without stressing you out even more. Trust me, knowing something is written down will instantly help with your worrying.

(4) Never buy a new car!! Don’t do it, even if you have the cash! After a year it’ll have depreciated by a few grand even in perfect nick!

Do some market research and then get on the Manheim website. Look up local used car auctions and go bid on one. You can get a car that’s literally a year old and looks new, for half the price.

Car auctions can be kinda scary though so take a dad/brother/confident person with you if you’re nervous about bidding. They’ll love dropping your cash.

(5) Credit ratings are EVERYTHING. You will struggle to buy a phone, car, house etc without one. Even if you have a couple of grand in the bank, get a credit card as soon as you turn 18. Set it up with a direct debit to be paid off in full each month. Use it for all your purchases.

Credit cards are better protected against fraud than debit, but also – having years of reliable payments on your credit rating will do wonders. It’s no good having money if when you’re 25 and looking to take out a mortgage, creditors look up your name and there’s no payments there. There’s no evidence that they can trust you with a loan.

(6) RELATED: shop around for a credit card! Lenders want your business, they will offer some really great deals. Look up how many points they offer to the pound you spend. I’m with John Lewis, who give me ~£15 every quarter. MAKE YOUR MONEY WORK FOR YOU.

(7) If you travel by train a lot, check  before you purchase. Play the system! If you’re spending >£50 it is worth 5 minutes to see if you can knock a tenner off that. If doesn’t always work but it’s worth the hassle.

(8) Also, if you travel by train more than once or twice a year you really need to get a 16-25 railcard. Duh. If you order your last one just before you turn 26, you can make that stretch to 27 too.

(9) If you’re booking any kind of travel tickets – flight or train – remove your cookies for that website each time you visit. They put the prices up if you’ve looked up a journey before.

10) Ask questions in job interviews. Most interviewers will never be asked a question by applicants. It will show you aren’t intimidated, are serious about the position and it will make you stand out. You want them to come away thinking they’d be lucky to hire you, not the other way around.

Some ideas:

  • What do you like most about working for this company?
  • What have past employees done to excel in this role?
  • Can you give me some examples of opportunities for collaboration with my manager?
  • What are the first priorities for this position?
  • What is the most challenging aspect of this role?
  • Do you have any hesitations about my qualifications?

Memorise these. Role play an interview at least three times with a friend to practise.

(11) Over-hype yourself on your CV. This is not the place to be modest. Be as cocky and overconfident as you can possibly be.

Baby boomers can barely use Excel. As a millennial, you have so many skills that don’t seem like skills to you but are VERY VALUABLE IN THE WORKPLACE. If you use social media, you have experience in marketing and publicity. If you’ve ever changed a Tumblr theme, you have experience in HTML coding.

Even just being able to google how to teach yourself new software is a skill that older generations find baffling. BIG YOURSELF UP. YOU’RE WORTH IT.

(12) You don’t have to wear heels!! Ever!! Even if you work in an office, BUSINESSES CANNOT IMPOSE SEXIST CLOTHING GUIDELINES. It is unethical to force women to wear heels. Do not feel like you need to. Don’t give yourself a workplace disadvantage just to appease social customs, you’ve got enough disadvantages already. Your feet will thank you in ten years.

(13) Install flux on your laptop and keep your phone on minimum brightness. You won’t notice the difference after a day and you’ve gotta protect those eyes. If you read a lot of documents for work, consider investing in a kindle with an eInk display background, so you aren’t staring into a white light all day. You email any PDF to a Kindle in seconds, so you can read it at your desk without any hassle. Just – maybe tell your boss that’s what you’re doing (!).

(14) You could be saving a lot of money by being savvy. Use comparison websites before you make big purchases.(Compare the Market gives you the best deal AND two for one cinema tickets all year! For a purchase you are making anyway!)

If you’re thinking of buying something online but aren’t sure, log in and leave it in your basket for a few days. A lot of sites will email you voucher codes or reduce the price. If you’re getting business cards, Vistaprint are so thirsty for sales that they’ll email you a code for 40% off the next day.

Save up big purchases until Black Friday. If you really want an iPad or fancy brand but know you can’t afford it, you might be able to if there’s 25% off. Plus, I kinda like having something to look forward to like that?

(15) Always check eBay at the last minute before you make any purchase. Order by Ending Soonest & Auction and see what you can buy within the next 30 seconds for CHEAPS.

You can set up your Nectar card on eBay too, so you can get points on anything you buy there. I get ~£20 a quarter in Nectar vouchers (but I’m obsessed with doing all my purchases for as cheap as possible on eBay even if I have to wait months for the right deal).

My fave eBay trick: spell things wrong in your search – e.g. molskine, burbery, La cruset. You’ll have less competing bids as no one finds it. If you’re into bargain hunting, you can set up a million alerts for these misspelt listings for things you want. It will change the game.

Make sure with eBay you always check the seller has a feedback rating above 100 though, otherwise it may be dodgy. eBay are good at returning money in these cases, but just be wary if the deal seems too good to be true. More often I’ve been conned as a seller by dodgy buyers, than as a buyer myself.

Also, be careful of buying things internationally for unexpected custom charges. China to the UK is usually fine, but be wary of US purchases. Always assume you’ll have to pay £16 customs charge on anything you buy from the USA. It’ll always get you, and if it doesn’t it’s a nice bonus. If postage is ridiculous for a brand site, consider getting a Borderlinx account so you only pay domestic shipping.

(16) If you are a book lover, eBay is your BEST FRIEND. Get on there on holidays and search up National Book Tokens. People who don’t read will sell gift cards for a fraction of the price for quick cash after christmas.

You can apply these to purchases online at Foyles. In the past I’ve bought a £100 gift card for £60, which is £40 free books AND I feel good buying from not-amazon.

(17) Another for readers: Black Friday is a great time to do all your book preorders for the next year using your xmas/holiday money with a discount code.

When I was a bit more penniless and a bit more obsessed with ~~keeping up with the publishing industry~~ I used to do this and read books as soon as they were published, then list them on eBay at retail price the same week. Because I bought them at a discount I got my money back and usually made a bit of profit too.

This is a lot of work, and nowadays I don’t bother as I have more money and less time (plus I’m auto-approved for lots of publishers on Netgalley because I spent a year reviewing everything immediately, so I get most releases as ebooks anyway.) But for a student this is an A+++ plan and I would be proud to be told you were taking over my eBaying legacy.

(18) KEEP A BOTTLE OF WATER (and maybe a cereal bar/sandwich) IN YOUR BAG AT ALL DANG TIMES. If you buy food/drink on the go every other day at £1 water+£3 sandwich that’s £730 in a year! For something worse than you can make at home!

If you did this in your twenties, by the time you turned 30 you would have £7000 extra. THAT’S YOUR HOUSE DEPOSIT RIGHT THERE. Plus, until you buy a house you could invest that in an ISA or premium bonds & be getting £££.

(19) I’m not much of a drinker, especially not now I drive, but if you are then get yourself a hidden flask. It’all save you a fortune at gigs or concerts or theatre where drinks are £7 a pop.

(20) If you know what time you have to get up, use an app to calculate when you should go to sleep so you don’t wake up in the middle of a REM Cycle. Even if you get a full 8 hours, you’ll feel groggy if you don’t sleep in integer 90 min cycles.

(21) I cannot over-emphasise the joy in having good sheets/towels. If you’re getting by on old family cast-offs, you might think it’s a waste of money to buy new ones until you’re in your forties. TRUST ME. GUYS. Get yourself the thickest ply Egyptian cotton bath sheet you can find. It’ll change your life.

(22) Use a separate device for social media/entertainment than for work. The best thing I’ve done for my productivity in a while is get an iPad. HEAR ME OUT.

Before, I used to go on my laptop and mess around instead of working. But now, I do all my social media stuff on the iPad. So when I sit at my desk with my laptop it’s like YOU GOTTA WORK NOW. My brain immediately goes into ‘work mode’ when I turn it on. I hadn’t realised how much I had to force myself to focus until suddenly it got really easy.

(23) Family accounts are a gift to the world! Spotify, Netflix, Amazon Prime – enlist your friends to join together to reduce your monthly charges a LOT.

(24)  Finally, GO TO THE DENTIST EVERY YEAR. Use mouthwash and floss as often as you can bare it. Look after your teeth!!!

If this list is overwhelming I recommend you do (2) and (5) at the very least. Build up from there. GOOD LUCK.

Published by Lauren James

Lauren James is the twice Carnegie-nominated British author of many Young Adult novels, including Green Rising, The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker and The Loneliest Girl in the Universe. She is a RLF Royal Fellow, freelance editor and screenwriter. Lauren is the founder of the Climate Fiction Writers League, and on the board of the Authors & Illustrators Sustainability Working Group through the Society of Authors. Her books have sold over a hundred thousand copies worldwide and been translated into six languages. The Quiet at the End of the World was shortlisted for the YA Book Prize and STEAM Children’s Book Award. Her other novels include The Next Together series, the dyslexia-friendly novella series The Watchmaker and the Duke and serialised online novel An Unauthorised Fan Treatise. She was born in 1992, and has a Masters degree from the University of Nottingham, where she studied Chemistry and Physics. Lauren is a passionate advocate of STEM further education, and many of her books feature female scientists in prominent roles. She sold the rights to her first novel when she was 21, whilst she was still at university. Her writing has been described as ‘gripping romantic sci-fi’ by the Wall Street Journal and ‘a strange, witty, compulsively unpredictable read which blows most of its new YA-suspense brethren out of the water’ by Entertainment Weekly. Lauren lives in the West Midlands and is an Arts Council grant recipient. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the Guardian, Buzzfeed, Den of Geek, The Toast, and the Children’s Writers and Artist’s Yearbook 2022. She has taught creative writing for Coventry University, WriteMentor, and Writing West Midlands.

4 thoughts on “24 things I’ve learnt in 24 years – Adulthood advice for British 16-25 year olds

  1. Great list! White light from laptops/desktops gives me migraines so Flux is an absolute life saver! You can also download a Twilight app for your smart phone which is the mobile phone version of Flux 🙂


  2. Oh my gosh. This post is brilliant and exactly what I needed to read right now.

    Thank you!

    I’m getting so overwhelmed with how to be an adult at the moment but this post has inspired me to do a few things that I’ve been putting off for ages (like applying for a credit card. My dad’s been telling me to do that for months and I’ve literally just gone and done it whilst reading this).

    This is the big sister talk I didn’t know I needed 👍✨


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