Adulting 101: Teaching Financial Literacy and More For Young Adults

Most often used as a verb, the word adulting is a colloquialism millennials use to describe behaviors that involve anything an adult or grown-up would do in everyday life. This can range from doing laundry to paying bills or cooking a meal for oneself. Essentially,[1] “adulting is something you do; it is not something you are” (Brown, 2013).

While these efforts are not taught in a traditional school setting, society expect young adults to be adept in these skills once they reach the age of majority. Society also expects young adults to support themselves during/after college because it is “reasoned” that “adulting” skills would be either taught at home or learned intuitively during adolescence and childhood.

However, both of these assumptions are false. Widespread misunderstanding of when and how young adults acquire these skills has left the demographic at a disadvantage—not only in terms of self-sufficiency, but also financial literacy. Adulting topics can address more than domestic skills tutelage, it can also combat economic ignorance. Adulting topics such as budgeting and investing are not taught with the same emphasis that math, reading or writing skills are taught in schools. Thus, the modern young adult is not versed in how to manage a checkbook or have the knowledge of knowing why saving for retirement is essential and advantageous when starting young. This lack of knowledge due to the absence of “adulting” instruction endangers young adults now more than ever in making poor financial choices. This issue can be seen more predominantly in diverse communities as [2] “people of color are 35 percent less likely than whites of similar means to invest in the stock market” (Choudhury, 2002). There can be many reasons as to why people of color tend not to invest. However, one of the biggest reasons could be because financial skills are not instructed in school. One way to further financial understanding and growth is to teach teens about money and the skills needed for when they are an adult, just as society teaches children how to say please and thank you, ride the bus or subway on their own, or how to tie their shoelaces.

Manhattan Library

Mid-Manhattan Library at 42nd Street, New York Public Library

Libraries can be a critical venue to providing information to teens about “adulting” skills. They are now more than just places for books, libraries are also a community center where people of all ages can learn, interact and imagine. Adulting programs for teens to learn “adulting skills” is a natural progression as libraries already tackle the digital divide and literacy skills with all patrons. The inclusion of “adulting” skills would only provide more strength to libraries as a skill building structure where people can acquire aptitude in life skills.

Adulting programs can cover a wide range of topics with anything to do with what skills adults "should" ideally have. 

Potential topics for an “adulting” program include:

  • Networking
  • Email and Phone Etiquette
  • Investment and Retirement Basics & Apps 
  • Travel: How & Why
  • How to Fill Out Forms
  • Emergency Preparedness
  • College & More
  • How to Tie a Tie
  • Sewing Basics
  • Resume & Cover Letters

Getting young adults to attend any program that does not involve food or extreme giveaways can be difficult. However, getting them to attend Adulting 101 programs is possible if library staff make it relevant to current events. Many of the topics covered during Adulting 101 programs can be inspired by an event that has happened or could happen. From learning how to prepare oneself for natural disasters to how to fill out a form or hem pants, all of these topics hold relevance to current events. For example, the emergency preparedness workshop was inspired by the devastation caused by mudslides and flooding in Japan on July 7, 2018, where roughly two million people had to abandon their homes and retreat to safety. The filling out forms adulting workshop was created because a teen admitted to struggling with how to fill out college applications and financial aid forms. Finally, the sewing basics workshop was inspired by a teen who aspires to be a fashion designer but did not have or know anyone that could teach them basic sewing skills. All of these scenarios have occurred in the past in my library and Adulting 101 provided a way to address not only these teens’ concerns but also to provide an opportunity to fill a gap in a young adult’s skill set.

The effectiveness and beauty of the Adulting 101 program is its flexibility to address life situations that teens may encounter. Library staff members can increase the quality and effectiveness of the adulting programs by connecting these teaching moments to young adults using existing social and everyday occurrences. Doing this maximizes the impact and reduces the time and resources necessary for program development.

Advertisement for the adulting program is also essential to encourage teens to attend these programs. Using graphics, comics, memes, gifs, and word of mouth to promote these sessions works best not only to form connections with your teens, but to also make both the program and the advertisement for the program engaging and dynamic. One additional way to encourage teen attendance is the inclusion of a personalized reference letter. To obtain this letter teens’ must attend multiple adulting sessions and host an adulting workshop based on an issue or talent, that relates to an adulting skill. For example, if a teen is contemplating applying for a school that requires a portfolio submission, the teen could discuss how to create a portfolio that is both unique and contains all needed materials for admittance. This addition to the adulting program gives teens an opportunity to plan, and give a presentation allowing young adults to include this pastime on their resume or in an essay. This inclusion to the program provides young adults real-world experience with talking in public to their peers in a professional setting. However, the most vital element to this option is that young adults walk away with a tangible item, a reference letter, a highly requested letter that could be used for work, scholarships; and college applications. I encourage anyone who is thinking about starting an Adulting 101 program to consider adding this addition to your program.

Adulting can be hard even for the many who are adults. We are all still learning, whether it be how to cohabitate or collaborate, making friends, building relationships, or paying bills. Teaching young adults how to manage some aspects of adulthood would empower them in making informed choices with their finances, and allow self-growth and confidence maturation while they slowly become independent.

Genee Bright, Young Adult Librarian, New York Public Library

geneebright@nypl.org

[1] Brown, K. W. (2013). Adulting: how to become a grown-up in 535 easy(ish) steps. New York: Grand Central Life & Style.

[2]  Choudhury, S. (2003). Racial and Ethnic Differences in Wealth and Asset Choices. Social Security Administration. Retrieved August 21, 2018, from https://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v64n4/v64n4p1.html.

Libraries for Children and Young Adults, Library as place, Young adults

Last update: 7 December 2018