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It’s a complicated, fast-moving world. And you need a variety of life skills to make the most of it. From how to take care of your body to staying safe online and in the real world, to managing your money — it seems like a lot. And it is. But with understanding and proper planning, you can do it. Here’s a list of must-know information that everyone can use. But if you’re a young person just starting out, then these 101 essential life skills can give you a head start.

Essential Life Skills Set #1: Self Care

A lot of essential life skills are about taking care of your mind and body. But you can also benefit from learning basic first aid and time management. Read on to learn more.

Food and Nutrition

Life skills; Nutrition and food shopping (photo of produce section).

Image CC BY-SA 2.0, by ReflectedSerendipity, via Flickr.

  1. Basic nutrition: Know what kinds of food your body needs, and how much you need. Recognize the difference between healthful foods and junk food.
  2. How to read nutrition labelsKnow what a “portion” is and understand how to work a snack into your day without overeating.
  3. How to budget and plan meals is another one of the essential life skills. Here are some suggestions for a week of meals under $3 each. This free cookbook is another good resource.

Body Care

  1. Hygiene: Believe it or not, some people never learned how and when to shower, how often to brush their teeth, or how to shave without cutting themselves. If this is you, don’t be embarrassed! You can learn.
  2. Exercise: Everyone needs it. But how, and how much? The Mayo Clinic has some good suggestions.
  3. Clothes: Every adult needs to know what to wear for different occasions, how to buy clothes that fit, and how to do basic repairs and alterations. These are all valuable life skills.
  4. How to take your own temperature: Know what a fever is, how high is too high, and how to bring it down.
  5. How to self-diagnose minor illnesses. WebMD has helpful information about minor conditions, including when to go to the doctor.
  6. Basic first aid life skills: Everyone should have a first aid kit, and should know how to use it. Know how to disinfect a minor cut, what to do if it doesn’t stop bleeding, and when to use heat or cold on an injury.
Life skills: Self care and photo of medications.

Image CC By 2.0 by Taki Steve, via Flickr.

Medical/Personal Care and Sexual Health

  1. Over the counter medicines: Know the different categories of over the counter medications. Understand dosages, instructions, and warnings. Be aware of possible drug interactions.
  2. Accessing emergency services. We taught them to call 911 for police, fire, or ambulance services. But when do you go to the emergency room, and when do you go to urgent care? It can be hard to tell. Here’s a guide to help you make that decision.
  3. How to get health care without insurance. If you don’t have insurance, but need health care, here are some options. How to find and get health insurance is another essential skill.
  4. Know how safe sex works. Sex happens. Understand how different birth control methods work, and how to protect yourself and your partner from disease. If you’re becoming intimate with someone, discuss protection in advance. It’s also a good idea to get tested for STDs. These life skills are a must.
  5. Recognize when you’ve had too much to drink. Don’t be afraid to ask a trusted person for help. It might save your life.
  6. Know how to have fun without drinking or using drugs.

Personal Mental Health

  1. Recognize when you’re feeling overwhelmed and take a break. Here are some tips for getting through it and moving forward.
  2. Understand how to recognize and work through stress and ordinary anxiety.
  3. Learn your body’s cycles (yes, men too), and how sleep, food, exercise, stress, and illness affect you.
  4. Learn emotional resilience. Teach yourself how to bounce back after a disappointment.
  5. Learn basic time management. It can help you do what you need to do, and can reduce stress.
  6. Know how to spot fake news. This can save you stress and embarrassment.

Essential Life Skills Set #2: Domestic Survival

Ok, “housekeeping and basic repairs” doesn’t sound as exciting. But knowing how to fix things around the house, and keep your dwelling clean are also vital life skills. Here are the basics.


  1. Keeping a clean home: It’s not as hard as you think. Here’s how to keep your house clean in just twenty minutes a day.
  2. How to do your own laundry: It’s easy, but it’s also easy to mess it up and ruin your favorite garment. The secret is to read care labels, wash like with like, and know when to use hot, warm, or cold water.
  3. Washing dishes by hand. It sounds basic, but there is a right way to wash dishes by hand.


  1. Cooking a healthy meal: Everyone should have one tasty, healthy meal up their sleeve. Here are some healthy student friendly meals from celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.
  2. Know how to store food, how to defrost it, and how to tell if it’s safe to eat.
  3. Understand how to safely cook meat, if you eat meat.
  4. Get familiar with different cooking techniques. Different techniques can make your meals more flavorful, nutritious, and interesting.

Car Care

Life skills: Car car. Photo of teenage boy changing a tire.

Image CC BY 2.0, by Mike Petrucci, via Flickr.

  1. How to change a tire. At some point in your life, you will need to change a flat tire on your car. Here’s how.
  2. Changing the oil in your car. Changing the oil in your car keeps your car running, and helps to avoid costly repairs. The good news is, it’s an easy job you can do yourself cheaply.

Basic Home Repairs

  1. Fixing a leaky pipe or faucet. If you can stop that drip, you’ll save money and your sanity.
  2. How to unplug a toilet. It’s a dirty job, but at some point you will have to do it. Here’s how.
  3. Unplugging a drain. There are many ways to do it. Here are a few.
  4. How to start a fire without matches. You don’t need to rub sticks together. You can use a battery and tinfoil, a magnifying glass, or even a water bottle and paper.
  5. Know how to shut off water and gas in case of emergency.
  6. Understand what to do in case of a power outage.

Essential Life Skills Set #3: Financial Survival

A lot of people find dealing with money stressful. It doesn’t have to be. All it takes is a bit of planning.


  1. Understand how to find an apartment, and what you will need to secure it. Consider a roommate to cut down on expenses.
  2. Learn how rental and lease agreements work
  3. Figure out how to protect yourself from bad landlords, and how to get out of a lease if you have to.
  4. Figure out how much money you will need to live comfortably in your area.

Personal Finance

Life skills: Personal finance. Photo of money.

Image CC BY-SA 2.0, by 401k 2012, via Flickr.

  1. Know how to open a bank account.
  2. Create a monthly budget and stick to it. Bloomberg has some good financial planning information for people just starting out. This is perhaps one of the most important life skills for financial survival.
  3. Have a savings plan, no matter how much, or how little you make. Even $10 a paycheck will add up.
  4. Understand how credit works, how to monitor your credit, and why it’s important to keep your credit rating clean.
  5. You should also know how loans work, understand why payday loans cause more problems than they solve, and recognize signs you might be heading for credit card trouble. These are vital life skills.
  6. Know what interest is and how it works.
  7. If you do get into debt trouble, here are some tips for getting out of it.
  8. Know how to comparison shop. Factor in not only price, but quality, convenience, and extra charges like shipping or interest fees if buying on credit.
  9. Know how to tell if you need something or just want it. It sounds simple, but it’s one of the most important and most neglected life skills.

Your Car

  1. Understand how to buy a carThink about whether you should buy or lease, or have a new or used car.
  2. Learn how to buy auto insurance. It’s the law in many places, and in an accident, it can save your bacon. Make sure to get the right coverage for your situation.
  3. Register your vehicle. Every state has different instructions.
  4. Get a driver’s license. The DMV website for your state can show you how.

Health and Retirement

  1. You need health insurance. If your employer doesn’t provide it, you may qualify for government assistance. You can also find information at Healthcare.gov.
  2. Plan for retirement. It will come sooner than you think.

Essential Life Skills Set #4: Getting Around

It’s good to have a plan. It’s even better to have a backup plan. Knowing your transportation options is one of the most valuable life skills.

  1. Learn how to read a mapYou won’t always have an internet connection.
  2. Understand directions — north, south, east, west — and find landmarks in your area to guide you.
  3. Get to know your public transportation options. Know how to get from here to there, how much it will cost, and how to read a timetable.
  4. Figure out how long it takes to get from A to B on foot, on bike, on public transportation, and in the car. That way, if one method lets you down, you know your options.

Essential Life Skills Set #5: Social Survival

Social survival isn’t just about avoiding embarrassment. Making and keeping friends will help you live longer — and happier. It’s also important to know when to let a friendship, or any relationship go. Politeness and good manners are very important life skills, and can get you far. And everyone should know how to ask for what they want and need.

Friendships and Relationships

  1. How to make friends. Online friends are great, but sometimes you can’t beat in-person contact. Make the effort. It’s worth it. Here are some ways to get started.
  2. How to be a good friend. If you want a friend, be a friend. Be a good friend.
  3. Learn how to take responsibility for mistakes. Learn how to apologize, make amends, and move on.
  4. Likewise, learn to forgive other people’s mistakes. We’re all only human.
  5. Learn how to be a good listenerThis will help more than you know at work, at school, and in relationships.
  6. Know how to make peace with someone you’ve had a conflict with.
  7. Learn how to work effectively with someone you don’t like.
Life skills: Friends and relationships Photo of young people with friends.

Image CC BY-SA 2.0, by Nick Gray, via Flickr.

Personal Social Survival

  1. Learn your boundaries and how to set limits with people. Be kind but firm. Speak plainly. Learn how to say no. It will save you and others a lot of trouble.
  2. Recognize when someone is using you.
  3. Understand basic politeness.
  4. Know how to ask for what you want.  
  5. Learn how to accept rejection. Whether you didn’t get the job, or someone turned you down for a date, it’s seldom about you. Getting angry won’t help, and you can’t make someone like you. Move on. If it keeps happening, consider asking a trusted person for pointers.
  6. It’s OK to ask for help. Here’s how.


  1. Learn how to ask someone outIf the answer is ‘no,’ be gracious and move on.
  2. Know how to recognize if someone is into you, or if they’re not.
  3. It’s also good to know how to politely turn someone down.
  4. You should also know how to nurture a budding relationship.
  5. Learn how to recognize if someone will be a good partner. Here are some more clues.
  6. Likewise, you should know the signs of abuse and how to safely leave an abusive relationship if you need to.
  7. You should also know how to end a relationship, and when.

Essential Life Skills Set #6: Staying Safe

Bilbo Baggins said, “It’s a dangerous business, walking out your front door.” But it doesn’t have to be, if you know what to expect, and prepare.

  1. Internet safety. It’s not just for kids. Know how to protect your personal and financial data and how to avoid scams.
  2. Know how to avoid potentially dangerous situations. Listen to your instinct. It could save your life.
  3. It’s never a bad idea for anyone, male or female, to have some basic self defense training.
  4. Have a plan for if you find yourself stranded. Know how to stay safe if your car breaks down. When you go out, have a backup plan for how to get home if your car, ride, or public transportation lets you down.
  5. Keep a survival kit. For your purse or backpack, include extra cash and a credit card, an emergency snack, a phone charger, and, if you wear high heels, a pair of fold-up flat shoes in case you have to walk. For your car, include water, nonperishable food, and protective, weather appropriate shoes and clothing.
  6. Understand the weather in your area, and prepare for it. Learn how to keep warm in the cold, and how to avoid overheating.

Essential Life Skills Set #7: Workplace Survival

Life skills: Workplace survival. Photo of keyboard with CAREER and SHIFT keys.

Image CC BY-SA 2.0, by Career Key, via Flickr.

Get a job. Keep a job. Move your career forward. These require life skills, as well as job skills. Master these, and you’ll be well on your way.

  1. Every adult needs to know how to look for and apply for a job.
  2. Have a basic idea of what sort of work you might enjoy or be good at.
  3. Make a plan for your career. Remember that plans can change, but it’s always a good idea to set goals.
  4. Cultivate a side hustle. Who knows where those extra skills might lead you? And a little extra money never hurts.
  5. Know which job markets are growing, and how to break into them.
  6. Know what skills are in demand and how to get them.
  7. Figure out how much education you need, and what kind. If a four year degree isn’t necessary in your field, save your money. Likewise, consider a state college, junior college or vocational school for a lower cost option.
  8. Most employers will ask for a resume or CV. Here’s how to put one together.
  9. Interview skills are vital.
  10. Understand salaries in your field. When you apply for a job, is the salary offered in that range?
  11. Demonstrate that you have a strong work ethic. It will take you far.
  12. Understand how to cooperate in the workplace, even with people you don’t like.
  13. Don’t neglect basic workplace etiquette.
  14. Know how and when to seek promotion or ask for a raise.
  15. How to come back from a bad performance review.
  16. What do do if you’re laid off or fired. 

Life is complicated and full of potential pitfalls. But it’s also glorious and diverse. Plan and strategize, and build your skills. But don’t forget to take time to enjoy it.

Featured Image CC BY 2.0 by ThoroughlyReviewed, via Flickr.

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