Turning 25 seems like the time when we’re supposed to have our lives together. We should be semi-established and debt-free, and, most importantly, we should know what we want to do with the rest of our lives—right?
The reality is that a lot of us are still figuring it all out. We might have landed an awesome job, finally met the perfect plus one or moved to a new city, but inside, we’re freaking out. Am I making enough money? Is this the person I’m supposed to spend the rest of my life with? Is this the career path I really want to be on?
RELAX! You survived the crazy and exciting world that is college, so you should be able to handle anything. But you’ve still got some learning to do. A lot of things that are perfectly acceptable (and expected) in college are not well received in the real world, especially when you’re about to turn 25. Read on to learn 15 things you should know how to do before you turn 25.
1. Make a meal that is (almost) as good as your mother’s cooking
You’re not always going to have your mom around to cook you her famous lasagna or melt-in-your-mouth chocolate-chip cookies. In college, you might have survived on microwaveable meals and grilled cheese, but it’s time to actually start cooking (and not just Pinning) those recipes.
If you’re not ready to graduate from mac and cheese, though, there are ways to transition from college staples to real world meals. You might be surprised to find how easy—and inexpensive!—home-cooked meals are. Go grocery shopping and pick out your favorite fresh ingredients, and then have some fun in the kitchen. Open up a bottle of wine, turn on some tunes and let the cooking begin.
2. Host a (classy) party
You’re at the age where you should be hosting classy cocktail parties instead of throwing ragers. You don’t have to entertain guests all the time, but you will want to have party-throwing skills up your sleeve—like knowing how to cook the perfect small bites, inventing a fun signature drink and using just the right amount of decorations to go with your theme. Try sending out actual invitations in the mail instead of creating a Facebook invite that will probably end up being deleted. And remember that a good hostess does more than just ensure that bar is well stocked.
“Make sure you have a clean house and enough toilet paper for everyone,” says Jilian O’Neill, a Ph.D. student at the University of Alabama. “I’ve been to house parties before with dirty kitchens, and I didn’t want to eat anything. In college it’s different because nobody cares.”
3. Drink responsibly
No more shots. No more binge drinking. No more hangovers. Yes, you can have a drink at happy hour and indulge a little during special occasions, but you shouldn’t be drinking on a Monday night just because you’re bored, and you definitely shouldn’t be waking up not remembering a thing about the night before. It’s important to know your limits, especially when alcohol is at work environments, like an office party or work dinner—you don’t want to embarrass yourself in front of coworkers or clients.
4. Distinguish between a casual fling and the real thing
You’re done meeting loser after loser and mistaking Mr. Wrong for Mr. Right. You’re older and wiser now, and you should know that just because he’s buying you a drink at the bar doesn’t mean he wants to date you. By 25, you should know if he’s going to stick around the next day and actually call when he says he will, or if he’s just a one-night stand kind of guy—whether you met him at a bar or on Tinder.
Pay attention to the way he treats you when you’re around his friends. A good guy won’t change how he acts toward you when other people are around. Does he make time in his schedule just so he can see you? Does he remember the little details? Does he show extra support when you’re having a bad day? These are just a few signs that this guy is a keeper.
5. Be a great bridesmaid
Your friends will start getting married soon (if they haven’t already), so you should be ready to stand beside them when they say, “I do.” Being a bridesmaid is a lot of fun, but it also requires some work and money, so make sure you are ready to commit. If you haven’t had the honor of standing up in a wedding before, ask a friend who has for advice before the big day.
“A great bridesmaid is someone who is willing to handle a wedding task (such as organizing a guest book) without asking questions, because the bride is too stressed to function,” says Jilian, who got married recently.
Be prepared to do everything: helping her say yes to the dress, planning the bachelorette party, recording gifts at the bridal party and, if you’re the maid of honor, giving a speech. “A great bridesmaid handles wedding-day problems without alerting or worrying the bride,” says Karli Burnett, who graduated from the University of Michigan in 2011. Make sure you’re willing to do whatever the bride asks—even if she’s being a little bit of a Bridezilla.
6. Ask for a raise
Negotiating your salary is easier said than done, but if you deserve higher pay for what you’re doing—whether you’re asking for a raise or you’re negotiating for more money when you’ve been offered a job—it’s important to know how to have that conversation. You should be able to show your boss or the HR representative all the positive contributions you have made or are capable of making for the company as well as other concrete reasons why you deserve to be making more. Be sure to keep track of any your milestones and accomplishments at work so you have specific examples to offer when meeting with your boss.
7. Set up your own health insurance
Up until now, you’ve probably been on your parents’ insurance plan. All you needed was a little card with your insurance information on it, and the rest was taken care of for you. Twenty-five is the last year you’ll be able to mooch off of your parents when it comes to health insurance, so make sure you do some research and find an insurance plan that works best for you, whether you use the insurance plan your company offers or find one on your own.
8. Write a check
In today’s digital world, it might seem like writing checks is a thing of the past, but there will be times when you need to write one: when paying rent, putting down a deposit on a new apartment or paying back your roommate for last month’s utilities. If you’re 25 years old and still mixing up what goes on which line, well, you’ll want to figure that out!
9. Save your money
No more impulse buys or overspending on things you don’t need. Start keeping track of your money and limit unnecessary spending. Download an iPhone app such as Mint, sit down with a rep at your bank, save your receipts and avoid putting more on your credit card than you have in cash. You can no longer list “Mom and Dad” as a source of income anymore (except for in emergencies... right?!), so setting yourself up to be in a good financial situation now and in the future will go a long way.
You will have to travel alone sooner or later, whether it’s for work or for fun. Learn how to pack light with just the essentials. Get to the airport ahead of time—no more last-minute races through security! Try new foods, explore town on your own, wander into a coffee shop or hang out with the locals.
“Go out to dinner alone—it’s very empowering, and you get to take in everything around you without really entertaining someone,” says Erika Dolowiec, a medical student at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine. Before you travel alone, make sure you tell a trusted friend or family member where you’re going and check in with him or her occasionally so he or she konws you’re okay.
11. Avoid hitting snooze
You don’t want to be late for an important meeting or sleep in until noon on the weekends, so resist the urge to press snooze five times in a row. Even if you aren’t a morning person, you should reset those circadian rhythms and learn to wake up at a decent time. Go to bed around the same time every night (even on the weekends) so your body gets on a regular schedule. If you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night tossing and turning with a million things on your mind, try lying still and focusing on your breathing. If this doesn’t help, read a book to help you fall back asleep. Waking up early (or at least on time) will pay off—you’ll have time for breakfast and you won’t be rushing around the house looking for your lip gloss or driving like a maniac so you can make it to work on time.
12. Go house hunting
We’re not telling you to go out right now and buy a house, but we are telling you to start learning the basics of house hunting (or apartment hunting). You may have been living with roommates for the past few years, which isn’t a huge transition from what you were used to in college, but finding a place to call your own—not surrounded by a bunch of other people in their 20s—might feel weird at first. But one of these days you’ll need to move out of that comfort zone (literally), so you should be prepared when it actually happens.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself when looking for a new place to live: Are utilities included?Is there a garage?How long will my commute to work be?Do they allow pets? Just watch an episode of House Hunters, and soon you will be throwing out phrases like “crown molding” and “open-concept floor plan” like a pro.
13. Do your own laundry
We tell you this before you head off to college, but on campus, you can get away with signing up for laundry service or waiting until break to bring your dirty clothes home. Perhaps you’ve even gotten away with getting wash and fold over the past few years, especially if you live in a big city where you don’t have a washer and dryer in your unit (in other words, the best excuse for not having to do your own laundry!). By now, though, you should definitely know the basics—like separating lights from darks, knowing what fabrics should be washed in cold versus warm water and even how to hand wash delicates without ruining your new, expensive goods (because your real-life wardrobe is going to be worth a lot more than your college clothes). You’ll want to invest in an iron and even a small steamer, too—those button-downs you wear to work every day aren’t going to iron themselves. It’s important to look put together in the real world, so you need to know how to take care of your clothes properly.
14. Stitch a button
Sewing may seem old-fashioned, but it’s a great skill to have. There will be times when your boyfriend will find a hole in his pants or a button will be missing from your favorite blazer the night before an important work meeting. Whether you choose to use a sewing machine or just a needle and thread, you should be able to handle a minor sewing project without having to go to the tailor.
15. Conquer your fears
You can’t spend your life being afraid of everything. It’s time to be brave and challenge yourself by tackling a new fear each day, whether it’s facing your fear of heights, taking the initiative and going for a promotion at work or even taking the first step in starting your own business. Once you’ve overcome one fear, you’ll have an easier time tackling the rest, and being able to see that you’ve accomplished things you never thought possible gives you even more room to grow.
Real life may feel just as new as freshman year did when you were starting college, but it’s no excuse to act like a first-year collegiette! Now is the time to take on more responsibilities, accomplish your goals, speak up for what you deserve and become more self-sufficient. But remember: You might think you’re old by the time you’re 25, but you still have so many more milestones to reach, so we’ll forgive you if you do hit snooze one too many times or still resort to ramen on some days.