What Nobody Will Tell You About Your 20s

I have been in my 20s for several years now. At 28, I have nearly achieved expert status on the topic. Contrary to popular belief, I would argue that your 20s rather than your teens, hold the real potential to be the best years of your life.

Most people have freedom in their 20s like at no other point in life prior. You have graduated high school, which has been your primary time commitment for years. You have all of the time in the world, few financial commitments, and hopefully your health.

I had fun in my 20s. Travelled to some amazing and exotic places, dabbled in college just long enough to know that itʼs not for me, married an amazing woman and had a wonderful daughter. I also made some serious face-palm worthy financial decisions, rendering myself broke on more than one occasion, spent way too much time with the wrong people and am still struggling through what Iʼm called to do with my life. I offer to you my insight on a well-lived 20s with the hope that you can take away something worthwhile for your life.

Learn how to budget and save for your future

BUDGET! Itʼs not what most people want to hear. The word “budget” seems to have equivalent appeal to nails on a chalkboard to young people today. We live in a world that worships immediate gratification and our instant access to everything makes it difficult for young people to prioritize budgeting to save for a far-off future. It is however, of paramount importance that you start saving and develop that habit early.

I highly recommend reading Dave Ramsayʼs book The Total Money Makeover and Financial Peace Revisited. If you follow the advice in those books throughout your 20s, you will build the tools to keep yourself in a good financial position for the rest of your life. It is far more difficult to build good financial habits after spending a few adult years just spending your money on whatever shiny thing catches your eye. You donʼt know where youʼre going to be in ten years but what I can tell you with absolute certainty is that if you have saved some money, you will have more options than those who save nothing.

If you can manage to save just $150 per month through your 20s, you will enter your 30s with a financial cushion of $18,000 not including any interest you may earn on that money. I can promise you that few of your friends will be in such an advantageous financial position at that age.

Don’t buy a new car

Hereʼs something nobody will tell you: A new car will cost you far, far more money in the long run than a decent used one. A new car is the second biggest hole you will ever dig to throw money into. Donʼt even go to a new car dealership. Car salesmen are world-class professionals at separating you from your money. I have bought three new vehicles in my life and they have all been a waste of money. I told myself that I need something reliable and that a new car would be better on fuel which helped me justify the cost of regular car payments. I learned after my three month old truck needed a clutch (twice), a computer, and several other repairs, that a new car is not necessarily more reliable. A new car wonʼt save you much in fuel either. For example, a base-model 1995 Honda Civic gets the same fuel economy as a 2012 Civic.

If you can save even a few thousand dollars, you can buy a car that will last you ten years. There are tons of low-mileage older cars around that are more basic than what you will get new, but will last you through your 20s and only cost you a minimal amount in maintenance. Recruit the help of a mechanically inclined friend or parent, not a dealer, to help you find a good, older car.

If I canʼt talk you out of buying a new car then at least do this. When you go to a dealership to check out cars, bring a couple of friends and instruct them both not to let you buy that day. Find the car you want and figure out what the payments will be. For one year, take those payments every month and put the money into an account to be sure that you can afford to lose that money. If after a year you are confident that you still want to buy new, use the money you have saved as a down payment. That will lower your monthly cost and get you some equity in the car so if you have to sell it, you wonʼt have to pay thousands to do so!

You don’t have to buy a house

Hereʼs something your parents probably wonʼt tell you: you donʼt need to own a house. You could live the rest of your life happily in a rental house. There are other places to invest money and as the recent financial crisis has shown us, there is no fool-proof investment — not even real-estate. Iʼm not suggesting that you never buy a house, just that you see it for what it is. Itʼs a home, not an infallible blessing of an investment that will someday make you rich.

After watching a friend struggle under a mortgage payment that he couldn’t really afford, my wife and I have decided not to buy a home until we can buy a place that we can afford. That means saving for a really long time and potentially moving farther from town where housing is more affordable. Itʼs not what we really want, but thatʼs life. Sometimes we canʼt afford what we really want and need to make sacrifices. Rent, save, and wait. You will be able to buy someday.

In the meantime however, renting has a lot of benefits. Your costs are fixed and there are rarely surprises. If something should break, you simply pick up the phone and call
your landlord and they will deal with it, itʼs not your problem. You also have far more freedom to pick up and leave for travel or move if you want without having to worry about renting your house out or selling it.

Marriage and kids don’t have to ruin your fun

There are lots of reasons to believe that marriage is the end of all things youthful and fun in your life. The phrases “ball and chain”, “tied down,” and “neutered” come to mind. I heard all of this when I decided to get married. Most of it I now realize, came from those who have never been married. I have had more fun living with my wife than I ever did single. She makes great company for travel, dinners, and just about everything else.

The same is true of having children. Our daughter has been the biggest blessing in our lives together. Contrary to popular belief, she hasnʼt really stopped us from doing any of the things we would do had we waited to have kids. We wanted to travel to Hawaii when our daughter was 6 months old. We put her in the baby-backpack and off we went exploring Maui, and the Big Island with our little girl. It was an awesome experience.


I think every 20-something needs to do some traveling. Immersing yourself in another culture and seeing that not everybody lives the way that we do changes people. It has the potential to broaden your view of the world and change the way you live your life at home. Other cultures have a lot to teach people young and old about values and priorities.

I especially recommend traveling to a developing country. It will change you. Nothing can make you thankful for the blessings in your own life the same way that meeting people who donʼt have enough food or water can. Itʼs one thing to see images on World Vision posters but itʼs another entirely to actually go to some of those places and meet people who have so little face to face. Itʼs an experience I wouldnʼt trade for anything.


Few things in life have been more rewarding than serving others, and many of todayʼs young people donʼt have a clue what that means. No you canʼt serve others from your xbox and to my knowledge, thereʼs no app for that. Service is simply to give your time, and expect nothing in return. A couple of years ago my wife and I helped out regularly with a Friday night dinner for the homeless in Victoria. We got to know some of the regulars and grew to enjoy the experience of giving our time and effort to that ministry. Serving, especially in uncomfortable situations, builds character in ways that nothing else can.

Do what you’re passionate about

The career decisions that you make donʼt have to be forever. If you really want to work for a non-profit, travel around as a cook on a cruise ship or try your hand at online business, go for it. You donʼt need to follow the conventional life plan even if your parents are pressuring you to. Colleges will still be there in ten and 20 years should you decide to go back. What wonʼt be there in 10 years are the 10 years you wasted living somebody elseʼs dream. Whatever it is, if God has placed a passion in you for something, I promise your life will not be ruined by spending time on it.

I admit that Iʼm a bit of a hypocrite on this one. I have worked jobs that I loved in the past but Iʼm not in that place now. I am however, working towards the things that are important to me and I will get to the point where I can pursue them full-time.

How you live your first decade as an adult will shape your habits forever. If you commit to developing good habits in your 20s you will be far more successful for the rest of your life.

Mike is a 28 year old Christian, husband, father, entrepreneur, dragon slayer, and pursuer of a life worth living.


    1. marianapreta says:

      A few days ago, a friend introduced me to this site. And reading this text, made me feel stronger to do the things that I want and I believe, but I was afraid of. ! I'm in my 20s now and sometimes I really feel consufed about, 'couz it's time for decisions. Thanks, Mike! You made the things a little bit easier for me! Hugs from Brazil!

    2. Falmer says:

      While I appreciate that you try to be pragmatical, I find it difficult to give advices as absolute as this, since there is always someone sharper than myself to teach me something, and it might be you or the next person.
      I'm a few months shy of turning thirty. The one thing I'm adamant is that my own self will be the main asset to my future. This means how innovative are the solutions i come up with, and how hard are the choices i make.

      I rent too. But I rent something big that i redecorated and sub-rent to others. I don't have to share, and my own floor is large by local standards. It pays for my rent, I still get to call the landlord when a pipe leak, and I don't take the risk of investing the biggest chunk of my equity into a market that tanks every decade or two.

      I didn't travel, I left home after high school, and studied in three different countries, before starting work in a fourth one. I worked though university so it didn't cost a lot. I've been away from my native country for 11 years.
      (PS: Universities in middle income countries, or EU, can be pretty cheap and looks very good on a CV).

      When you're a foreigner, there is often another traveller happy to give a hand, and make great things happen in your life. But it turns out that giving to someone else is the best way to make something good happen for yourself. It's almost like magic. So it becomes a lifestyle and you stop thinking about what it "costs" you to give and serve.

      I've never budgeted my expenses. But i know what is the cost of the content of my shopping trolley, with maybe a 5% error margin. I always do splurge, but on what I have been desiring for a certain time. When I'm doing well I spend less time counting and splurge bigger. It adapts to my life without feeling like a burden, and I save a lot, so that I can be free to take the decisions I like.

      You're very right about buying a new car. Delaying gratification is the biggest favour you can do for yourself. It's just like in Walter Mischel 1972's "Marshmallow's experiment". Delaying pleasure in a healthy way is the gift that never stops giving.
      Sleeping with someone for the first time works the same way. Spontaneity isn't essential with someone entirely new to you. Working on your urge can really make a moment special much later, once you look back at it.

      Dreams and challenges are something you need in your daily life. It's what makes every day exciting. It can be many different things. For me it's sports (marathon, triathlon, summiting mountains…) , or travelling on a bicycle. It needs to be new, achievable, and happening twice a year. Your life suddenly feels exciting to live.

      People come and go in my life. Some stay forever. Some i forget very soon, and I don't mind letting them go because I'm making room for the next meaningful person. And that person often come in weird shapes. Old or poor. Religious or Taiwanese. Smart or normal. So i need to make room to accommodate how bizarre the circumstances. I can help these circumstances but I can never plan about it.

      Loyalty is silver, and time turns it into gold. It's only once your world shatters and you really need someone that you know the value of their commitment. Treasure, covet, and cherish whoever has proved truly loyal. You won't be counting these people on more than a hand's fingers.

    3. [...] I told her to travel. Hands down. No excuses. Just go. [...]

    4. [...] I told her to travel. Hands down. No excuses. Just go. [...]

    5. Amanda says:

      what about if you took expensive, private, post-secondary school that you are unable to use and now are tied down to paying off loans, but you still want to travel? how does one make this possible?

      1. Mike Greig says:

        Hi Amanda, there are lots of ways you can travel and still earn money. You can teach English, work as a farmhand in many places or just take odd jobs as you go. You can start an online business that can be worked from anywhere, or just buckle down, take a second job, minimize your expenses and pay your debt down before leaving for travel.

      2. Michelle says:

        Your question is a good one for many younger people. I finished 6 years of University with money in my pocket because I lived incredibly cheaply and took longer to complete my degree so that I could work at the same time. I have NEVER regretted taking 6 years instead of 4. So that’s just an aside to encourage others to think of other creative ways of doing education before they get into the same position you are in.
        Pray! I believe the Lord loves adventures. He will have adventures that you can not even imagine nor attain on your own understanding or effort. Some of the things I have done in my life would boggle the mind, and they were handed to me. The Lord loves to bless His children. Draw close to Him and He will bring adventures and they won’t be the ones you were wanting or expecting.
        You can work while you travel. With a post-secondary degree of any sort there a lots of countries where you can teach English. You can find online work that can be done anywhere in the world. Get creative, find out what others out there are doing outside of the box of convention, and up-root yourself!
        If you choose to work in a place, in whatever capacity, you experience a much richer involvement with other cultures and areas than you would if you were just passing through for a month or two. I traveled in two ways, one was short term and the other was longer term. I loved both and you get different things from each. I was “nomadic” for about 9 years. Even when I spent a year somewhere I knew it wasn’t to stay so I lived minimally.
        The other way to look at it is what Mike is sort of doing now. He doesn’t love his work right now, but it pays the bills and he is working toward greater goals. I did the same for a year and a half, I worked every single day, three jobs, some I liked, some I hated, but I continued to press through because I had a specific goal in mind, lived minimally to attain it and it freed me up for another 4 years after that. You may need to press in to get a bunch of your loans off your back while living very minimally.

        Bless you while the Lord shows you His path for you. I would encourage you that living conventionally will not get you out of conventional living. You’re going to need to take some risks and not live according to well established social rules (that means sifting out the things we live by to test which are man’s rules which are often very silly, and which are God’s ways that will ALWAYS benefit you), and you’re going to need to be ok with that and be able to positively answer people’s doubts about what you are doing.

        1. Mike Greig says:

          What she said.

    6. Yvonne says:

      " You also have far more freedom to pick up and leave for travel or move if you want without having to worry about renting your house out or selling it."

      ThanK you!!! Aside from the real estate market being right off the roof, I even have commitment issues with just staying in one locatio for too long. Is it wrong to be a rental jumper?

      1. Mike Greig says:

        In terms of how you live your life, all moral issues aside, nothing is "wrong". There's no right and wrong when it comes to what you want for your life. Wife, kids, 2 cars, a dog and stability are the right thing for some people, and they're utterly wrong for others.

    7. Anonymous says:

      Its a Liberal's view = safe living

      1. Mike Greig says:

        I don't understand what you mean by that, can you elaborate? This article was not at all about safe living. "Travel" and "Do What You're Passionate About" rather than grind away at a 9 to 5 are quite the opposite of conventional "safe living". Thanks for reading.