20 Surprising Things You Wish You Knew at 21


Although our early 20’s are an exciting era full of new-found freedom, there are a lot of ways that the choices we make in our early adulthood affect the trajectory of the next few decades. Occasionally, someone finds the right teachers, mentors and friends to really set them up well for their 20’s and 30’s, but often we look back after several years and wish there were things we’d known how to do differently. From finance strategies to mental health awareness, savvy knowledge can make all the difference as young adults take their first steps towards forging their futures. Below are the 20 surprising things everyone wishes they knew at age 21.

1. Find Someone Who Shares Your Values

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Whether you’re dating, getting married, or just trying to find friends, finding people who share your values is crucial. Of course you’ll always have differences with the people around you, but if you share the same core values, like kindness, being fiscally responsible, etc., you’ll find it much easier to remain together.


One user shared, “Find someone who shares your values and wants the same things as you when finding a partner. Whatever that is, everyone else is a placeholder at best and a waste of time and energy at worst.”

Another user replied, “That’s why I’m not dating right now.”

2. Invest Money as Soon as You Can

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Investing even a small amount early in your life will drastically change your ability to retire comfortably later. No amount is too small: open some type of retirement account and put in even just ten dollars a month. Bonus points if you can put in your bonuses from work, your tax return, and other cash that’s not part of your regular income!


One Redditor commented, “Invest money as soon as you’re able to while making sure you have enough money to survive on. The plan you may have for your life now may change. Be okay with that. My life is way different than I thought it would be. Stay physically active and eat healthy. Come 30s, it catches up to you if you stop being active and [don’t eat well].”

3. How Interest Rates Work

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Interest rates work differently for you on different types of account; credit cards are different from loans, regular savings accounts are different from high-interest savings accounts.

One online user posted, “How interest rates work. What is a stock, and what to do with them. Impact of having children very early. Taxes. Keep making your dream a reality.”


4. How Precious Time Is

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Time is one thing we’ll never get back once we give it away. That’s not to scare you; it’s not as if we should feel guilty for watching a movie we only slightly enjoyed. But time is a resource, and a really precious one. You can use time for social media, and if it’s relaxing to you that might be a good use of your hours. But don’t forget about relationships, education (even just learning hobbies counts!) and recreation that really refreshes you.

Another user added to the thread, “How precious time is.”

5. Everyone Has Their Own Issues: Do Not Expect Help

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One user pointed out that, among other things, there won’t always be somebody who wants to listen to you vent or moan about your life, or to lend you money if that’s what you need. Plan ahead for yourself, don’t always assume your community will be your safety net.

One user broke down his own learnings and shared, “I wish I would have taken my credit seriously. Never stop being active; it greatly helps your mental and physical health. Learned a skill. I’m in IT now, but I should have been making way more at 35 if I had taken it seriously at 21.

“Who you choose as a partner matters a lot. Unless you have parents that love and have the means to help you, it’s just you against the world, and that’s okay. Everyone has their issues and do not expect help from anyone.”

Another user responded, “5 hit hard.”

6. Everything Is Going to Work Out Great

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While you may have been launched into your 20s unprepared, wishing  you knew a whole lot more than you did, don’t freak out. You know a lot more now. You’ve made it this far and you’re going to be ok.

“That regardless of how it looks right now, everything is going to work out great,” one user stated.

The OP replied, “My therapist reminds me of this during every session.”

7. Understand Monthly Installments

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Lots of big-ticket items will offer you the chance to make several small payments instead of paying in one lump sum, but don’t assume it’s an easy way out of paying all at once. Double check how much the smaller payments actually add up to. Are they charging you interest, or hiking up the price just by making it look easier? Pay all at once if you can; it’ll save you some money, and help you to only buy things you can really afford.

Another commenter shared, “Okay, now take that monthly payment fee, multiply it by the number of months for the payment plan, and finally compare that result to the cost of them before the payment plan. Only had to learn that lesson once.”

8. Save as Much as You Can

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One user commented, “Save as much money as you can; always split your checks into savings, bills, and for fun!! Just always those 3; just because you’re saving doesn’t mean you can’t have fun; limit yourself so you’re not spending so much money just on that. Putting these three categories together will save you a headache in the future. I started saving when I was 16 because I got my first job! By 20, I had saved 30k through work and financial aid.”

9. Find High-Paying Jobs

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While everyone tells us in high school that we should follow our dreams, there’s a lot of wisdom in making sure you’ll be able to get a higher paying job too. If you put in several years with a higher paying job while you’re younger, imagine how much more freedom you could have to go after your hobbies when you have a good amount saved up?

One commenter added, “Find high-paying jobs that give you a 401k or retirement fund if you work full time. My job matches up to 4% of what I put in.”

10. Drinking Is Fun, but It’s Costly

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We all know that the hard partying often starts in our 20’s, but how many of us have stopped to consider the cost of that? We’re not suggesting you don’t go out at all, but consider setting a budget for your evenings out, and plan how many times you go based on what you know you can afford.

One Redditor posted, “Drinking is fun, but it’s costly; I spent a lot of my money going out, and now that I’m 23 those ‘friends’ are nowhere to be found. Except for like 2.”

11. Find Friends That Will Stick With You

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“Find friends that will stick with you no matter what. Watch out for jealous people who want your downfall. Not everyone will be happy with your achievements, and that’s okay, but don’t let them suck your energy and shine. Cut anyone that’s not making you a better person or pushing you to do better,” one user commented. 

12. True Friends Will Always Be Honest

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There will come a time in each our lives when when we need to be called out. It’s not comfortable or fun, but if you have friends who are willing to lovingly point out your flaws, consider yourself lucky. True friends will be honest with you and tell you when your habits have become hurtful. But true friends will also remain your friends afterwards; they’ll call you out and then stick around for the fallout and still love you on the other side.

One user shared, “True friends will always be honest even when it hurts … and they will be supportive and want what’s best for you. Don’t settle for less.”

13 Relationships Are Hard, but Dating Is Fun

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One user posted, “Relationships [are hard], but dating is fun! As long as you are staying safe and setting boundaries. Relationships are fun when they work, and you feel fulfilled. Don’t settle for anything half-a-. If you spend 70% of your time unhappy and communicate that and nothing changes, it’s not worth it.”

14. Pick a Better College Degree

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It’s true: your college degree can make or break your income earning potential. College isn’t necessary for everyone, but if you’re going to college, make sure that you’re choosing a really functional degree. If you want to get an education for fun, then be sure you can really afford to do that.

“Pick a better college degree. INVEST YOUR MONEY. Live frugally. Keep away from my dysfunctional family. Let my first boyfriend break up with me when he wanted to,” one user commented.

15. You Don’t Need to Do It All Tonight

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Some of us need a serious pep-talk just to get up off our couches and get things done … and others need permission to just rest. So if that’s you, remember it’s ok not to get everything done at once. You may feel like you have to juggle everything, but a big key to “keeping it all together” is knowing which things you can drop and which things you actually need to get done.

One user shared, “You don’t need to do it all tonight.”

16. Forge Lots of Strong, Healthy Friendships

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We’re made to live in community, and it shows. All of us will feel lonely from time to time, but having really strong friendships around you to support you in those times will help immensely. And sure, finding high-quality friends is really hard, but it will always pay off.

One Redditor highlighted friendship; “Forge as many strong, healthy friendships as possible.”

17. Take Care of Your Skin

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Beyond taking care of your finances, your menta health and community, and your career, don’t forget your skin. Adjust your skin care to your climate and skin type, drink lots of water, and eat lots of whole foods. Those things together will probably make up ninety percent of a poppin’ skin care regime.

“I wish I’d taken better care of my skin. There’s a texture difference as you get older,” one commenter stated.

Another user replied, “Second this! Wearing sunscreen is always worth it (decades) later!”

18. Put Some Stock in Your Career

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One user posted, “Wish I had taken more stock in my career. I wish I had taken college more seriously. I wish I hadn’t lost myself in another person so young. This destroyed my ability to have real relationships. Wish I had never stayed in upstate NY.”

19. How Fast You Become Yesterday’s News

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Another Redditor shared, “How fast you forget about yesterday’s news. How eventually we all fade away and how nothing in this world lasts. So, all these fleeting pursuits of happiness lead to emptiness in the end. How quickly your body gives out on you as you age. How the older I am, the more I want to sleep as if I’m always catching up on a never-ending sleep debt. Or save money … lol.”

20. Bet on Apple Stock

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One user commented, “To bet on Apple stock.in 1994, it was .24 cents a share. Sigh.”

Sure, it’s impossible to know which investments are going to really take off, but do yourself a favor and invest in what you can while you’re young. You might get a few duds, but hopefully there will be some winners among them. You have more ability to take chances while you’re young since you’re less likely to need the financial security yet, so take some time to learn what you’re doing or consult a professional.

What do you think of the things listed above? Share your thoughts down in the comments!

Source: Reddit.

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