The Journey to Financial Adulthood

The Journey to Financial Adulthood

For many of us, the journey to financial adulthood is rambling and rocky. We have spurts of accountability and responsibility followed by periods that aren’t so good. Much like the characters in Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, eventually we have to grow up and inhabit the often-confusing world of adults.

Perhaps you’ve heard a young person use the word adulting. This is a popular gerund that describes normal adult activities like paying bills, using credit wisely, and maintaining your car as unusual functions that are extraordinary. That’s how far we have gotten away from actual adulthood in all its facets.


Financial adulthood begins with addressing conflicting aspirations within our lives. Some of our inability to deal with financial trade-offs can be traced to how money issues were discussed (or not discussed) in our families as we grew up. Still others parts are hardwired into our DNA. Life experiences also play a big role.

Regardless of how much income you have, financial aspirations usually outstrip the available financial resources. Learning to set priorities is perhaps the most difficult (and the most important) aspect of financial adulthood. You can’t have everything you want exactly when you want. You have to make trade-offs.


Because of our deeply embedded pre-dispositions surrounding money, it’s no surprise that couples often find themselves disagreeing about financial choices and priorities. Just because you’ve been married for 25 years doesn’t mean that you’re aligned on money matters.

Agreeing on broad long-term aspirations is important but taking small action steps now is crucial. Far too often couples are stymied by “paralysis by analysis” allowing the status quo and inertia to win the day.


An undeniable part of the journey to financial adulthood involves things going wrong…mistakes, missed opportunities, and poor decisions. That’s unfortunately how we learn and these episodes can become your “greatest teacher” if you’re open to change.

While it’s impossible to fully prepare for every possible scenario, expecting detours along the way is a big part of the journey to financial adulthood. This means, anticipating and preparing for your known future as well as your unknown future.

One example of preparing for your known future might be contributing to retirement plans. Assuming you live long enough, you very likely will retire one day. In my view this is “known.”

On the unknown future side, saving outside your retirement plan account(s) provides liquidity for the inevitable rainy days ahead. This is a critical acknowledgement that everything won’t go according to plan and you will have to make course corrections.

A final point. The younger you are when you embark upon the journey to financial adulthood the better. Reaching the state of financial adulthood in your 20’s or 30’s is ideal. The longer you wait, the harder the journey will be.  Start there. Ready for a real conversation?