14 Worst Mistakes People in Their 20s Make

Being in one’s twenties is a time of trial and error. Mistakes are inevitable, but experts warn that certain mistakes could impact the trajectory of one’s life in the decades to come.

Approximately 33% of twenty-somethings spend a portion of their twenties moving to a new residence every year, and they change jobs an average of seven times. These are some of the lessons people learned a little too late about how they wish they had spent their energy and time in their younger years.

1: Someone Else Will Take Care of Them

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One of the biggest mistakes many people make in their twenties is not saving enough money for later. Unlike in 1979, when 27 million Americans had pensions, fewer than 13 million Americans had pensions in 2019. Given that the U.S. population is over 330 million, pensions aren’t a crutch most twenty-somethings can rely on.

Furthermore, social security isn’t guaranteed decades from now. And even if people currently in their twenties ultimately have access to it, it’ll likely only cover a portion of their expenses.

For this reason, one of the biggest mistakes a person in their twenties makes is assuming they’ll be able to live off outside sources of money during retirement. Instead, they need to actively save as early as possible.

2: Forgoing Employer Matches

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Many older people regret making the mistake of not taking advantage of employer matches in their twenties. This often comes in the form of a 401(k), where an employer will partially or fully match your contribution up to a certain amount.

According to Vanguard, the value of a 20-year-old investing $1 in their retirement fund is $5.84 by the time they reach age 65. In contrast, that number drops to $3.24 for a 35-year-old and $1.48 for a 55-year-old.

Once reality hits a person who didn’t start saving for retirement when they were young, the loss of not having years of an employer contributing to their retirement fund feels like a difficult mistake to undo.

3: Keeping Up With the Joneses

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A mistake that many people in their twenties make is trying to keep up with their peers. It may not be fun to be the only person in your friend group who hasn’t tied the knot, but proposing to someone you’re not 100% sure about is bound to lead to issues in the long-run.

Furthermore, 20-year-olds often make the mistake of being hard on themselves if they’re still living with their parents. However, approximately 45% of people between the ages of 18 and 29 live at home, mostly so they can save money to try to afford living on their own.

The bottom line? It might seem cool to call someone your spouse or have your own place when you’re young. But in the long run, if a rushed marriage leads to divorce or having one’s own place leads to accumulating credit card debt to scrape by, it’s not worth it for people in their twenties (or any age) to keep up with their peers.

4: Not Protecting Skin

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No matter how in style it is to rock tanned skin, tanning without sunscreen is a mistake that far too many young people make.

Yes, reducing the number of wrinkles you get is a reason why it’s wise to protect your skin from the sun. An even bigger reason is that according to the American Cancer Society, approximately 3.3 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year.

Luckily, most skin cancer isn’t fatal. Nevertheless, those who pass away from skin cancer are often those who are older and who don’t visit the doctor often.

5: Listening To Loud Music

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As many Americans get older, they wish they had listened to their parents when they told them to turn the volume down on their music.

Hearing loss isn’t the only reason older people regret listening to loud music and TV in their twenties. Tinnitus, the sensation of constant ringing in one’s ears, can happen when a person is exposed to loud sounds.

6: Not Investing in Oneself

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Bars, hanging out with friends, and trying to get the hang of a grownup routine with a full-time job often make up the life of many 20-year-olds.

However, not investing in oneself when young is one of the biggest mistakes twenty-somethings make. We’re not just talking about monetary investments, although there can be value in getting a degree or certification.

But in addition, investing time in discovering what one does and doesn’t like, what one’s values are without their family’s influence, and the beliefs one wants to have is also important.

7: Assuming Health Is Forever

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Sure, people in their twenties might be able to down three Big Macs without worrying about packing on the pounds. But such luck usually runs its course.

Furthermore, a heart attack one has just doesn’t magically show up one day. According to Dr. JoAnne E. Manson at Harvard Medical School, it’s possible to unclog arteries that are clogged by poor eating habits in their younger years. However, studies show that the changes to reverse the damage are so intense they’re not feasible for many people to achieve.

The bottom line? Older people often regret the poor eating habits they had in their twenties.

8: Focusing on Big Things 

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From tiny acorns, mighty oaks grow. Not enough people in their twenties make small changes and stick to them, like trying a new hobby or putting savings away.

In James Clear’s book Atomic Habits, he explains the 1% rule. All one needs to do is try to improve a specific thing in their life they want to change by 1% each day. At the end of the year, they will have improved 37 times the amount of when they started.

Imagine what a person in their twenties is capable of if they applyed the 1% rule to savings, lifting weights, or any other change they want but so often put off.

9: Blowing Money 

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Watch your spending, twenty-somethings. Liberally swiping credit cards and accumulating debt is among the worst mistakes a person in their twenties makes.

It’s easy to buy things one can’t afford; the stress and financial strain of trying to pay them off in the years to come is the hard part.

Studies have shown that the average American has around $21,800 of non-mortgage personal debt. People in their twenties who start accumulating debt set their financial future up for failure, given that high interest rates can make it difficult to pay off debt.

10: No Brakes

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People in their twenties usually don’t pay as much for car insurance as when they’re teenagers, especially once they reach 25. But that doesn’t mean one’s twenties is the time to throw caution to the wind when driving.

According to Bankrate, a full coverage car insurance premium with an at-fault driver will increase by around 42% after an accident. That’s money a person in their twenties could have saved for retirement, or at least to have fun, if they insist on it.

11: Not Working It Out Now

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Although moving jobs an average of seven times in one’s twenties may sound extreme to some, it might not be such a bad thing. Assuming that the 20-year-old has the right mindset.

No one is born knowing what they enjoy doing for work. Changing jobs in the name of experiencing different positions or career fields can be beneficial for people in their twenties.

Far too many people realize later in life that they should have taken a different career path. While it’s usually never too late to change careers, it’s often easier to do so when one is younger.

12: You Aren’t Who You Are

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A mistake people in their twenties make is thinking they’ll be the same person forever.

However, as anyone older can advise, a person who is 20 is different from when they’re 40 and different again when they’re 80. Not to mention all the changes that happen between these ages.

Constantly striving to learn and challenge yourself to do new things is key to personal growth.

13: Overthinking 

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There’s value in planning ahead in your twenties, particularly when it comes to investing in retirement. However, focusing too much on the future can distract you from the life you want.

The present is the most certain thing in your life at any given moment. People in their twenties who fret about the future too much are setting themselves up to miss the many wonderful moments happening in their lives.

14: Forgoing Dental Care

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 90% of people 20 years and older have had at least one cavity in their lives.

By going to the dentist to get routine cleanings and not letting floss sit unopened in their bathroom, 20 year olds greatly increase their chances of rocking real teeth in their golden years.

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