Turning 29 this year was a wake-up call for me, but not in the way you think it might have been.

Turning 29 this year was an eye-opening experience for me, but not in the way you think it might have been. I didn’t have any sort of Grownup money crisis, I didn’t make any drastic life changes, and I didn’t participate in time-honored traditions like drunk karaoke.

Rather, turning 29 gave me pause. I’m less than a year from 30 now, and that’s a big deal in our culture. Many of us feel like it’s the age we’re supposed to gracefully and completely enter adulthood. 30 means that we have retirement savings, a house or a robust down payment savings account, a steady income and are on a career path. Your twenties can be filled with mistakes and twists, especially when it comes to finances. But by the time we hit 30? Time to get it together. Our jobs, homes, and relationship statuses should be on lock. We should have a good grip on Grownup money.

My 29th was more reflective than anything else, and it gave me a chance to look at my life. As I cruise into 30, what does my life as a Grownup look like? Am I the adult I thought I would be 10 years ago? How do I “do” Grownup money?

Looking around at my life, I realized in many ways I still live like I did when I first graduated college. I have used furniture from Craigslist in my apartment, I rent instead of owning, and I bike more than I drive. I have a side hustle and I can’t remember the last time I wore “business professional” clothing to work. Twenty-nine doesn’t look like what I thought it would look like ten years ago, but that is totally by design.

I am financially independent, have a high savings rate, and I love my life. That’s all because I whole-heartedly embraced the idea in the that money is a tool we should use to live our best lives. I have intentionally created a life where things that don’t matter to me (like having a nice car) are lower down on my priority list than things that are important to me. For me, adulting is not about that status I’ve achieved, but about the security I’ve created.

Three years ago I carried high student loan debt and was working part-time. I was unhappy, and I realized my financial situation was a large part of that. Paying off all my debt not only allowed me to start using money for things I care more about (like investing and travel), but also alleviated stress from my life. That financial decision had lifestyle benefits to it. Grownup money is less about fitting into a prescribed mold than more about using your money to create a life that you enjoy.

My used furniture is comfortable and cute. My bike keeps me in shape and saves me money. I pay $600 a month in rent and utilities for a two bedroom apartment with my long-term partner. My side hustle means I have income every month that I can devote to anything I want, and not just my bills. I’m debt free, save large chunks of money each month, and work as a writer (which was always my dream).

I’ve found a definition of Grownup that works for me. How I do Grownup money works for me because it creates a life I’m enthusiastic about. If you’re looking for a definition and style of Grownup money that feels right to you, you can follow the same guidelines I do:

-Ask yourself what your big picture hopes and goals are.

-Do research and find out what those goals cost.

-Adjust your lifestyle to help reach that goal.

-Create accountability in your life to stay on track.

In my case, my goal for 2017 is to focus on my investments and grow my net worth. As a result, I’m not buying new furniture or planning a wedding so that I can funnel all my extra money into my investments. I track my net worth monthly using a budget spreadsheet and the Mint app, and I have a post-it with my year-end goal hanging over my home desk. I see that post-it every day, and I can track my progress towards it each month by recording my income and expenses.

You don’t have to have the same goal as me to handle your finances like a Grownup. What 29 has ultimately taught me is what it has taught countless others before me: we are in charge of ourselves. That includes our happiness and our money. By using money as a tool to achieve my personal goals I’ve found happiness.

Kara Perez is a freelance personal finance writer living in Austin, Texas. She is passionate about helping people become financially literate and telling people’s money stories.

Any third-party resources or websites referenced above are not under our control. We cannot guarantee and are not responsible for the accuracy of the resources, websites, or any products or services available through such resources or websites. While we hope the information in these materials are useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need advice geared to your personal financial situation, you are encouraged to schedule time with a financial planner.

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