Advice for teen girls: Three big decisions

Last updated 05:00 01/07/2013
career woman
CAREER WOMAN: Your choice of employment, and so by extension your choice of higher education, or at least post-school education/training, needs to be something you love.

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It's funny to think I haven't been a teenager now for longer than I actually was one. But if I cast my mind back I can definitely remember some key lessons from the last decade or so.

There are a number of challenges that specifically affect women. I think there are three big areas that need attention: the decision to have children or not, your employment choices, and your financial situation. They are inevitably intertwined.

The decision to have children or not is a growing pressure area. Years ago, all good girls finished school, got married, bought a house, and had babies. That's what our grandmothers did, and often what our mothers did too.

In a relatively short period of time, girls leaving school had opportunities presented to them that were previously not there. Higher education, the ability to enter the workforce, the choice to be financially independent from your father or a husband, and a greater level of control over our health choices, all mean that women now have 100 per cent control over their life course.

This includes having kids. There are a growing number of women, myself included, who genuinely do not want to have children, and our partners are in agreement. But people will give you their opinion whether you ask for it or not, and you need to be prepared for it. My advice here is don't have kids because you think you should, or because it's 'time to have kids'. Genuinely consider whether you want to have a child in your life, and don't feel bad if the answer is 'no, I don't'.

Your choice of employment, and by extension your choice of higher education, needs to be something you love. Too many people, not just women, go to university and do the 'career courses', the degrees that guarantee them a job, no matter how generic or dull they found it.

I really enjoyed university, and have had a great career to date doing something I'm very good at, but do I love it? Probably not as much as I first thought. And now I'm on the cusp of a mid-career change. This is ok, but think how much time, money and effort I could have saved if I'd just done what I truly wanted to do in the first place. I was too scared of failing to pursue it when I was 17; well, it will be nearly 15 years later when I go back to give it a crack.

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Don't be afraid of failing or that you won't be able to get a job after uni - do something you love and pave your own way. Don't stay in a job that you hate, you will only limit your own potential as you work less and less toward any kind of professional success.

Finally, it is absolutely imperative that you educate yourself about personal finance, and take a wider economic view.

This will allow you to participate in politics, and vote appropriately for your circumstances, both locally and nationally. You will have a better understanding of where your tax dollar goes; and you will be able to do battle with your bank and get the best deals possible.

I believe it is important for women of all ages to be financially independent. I don't mean you need to have a secret bank account with a stash of cash in it, but you need to ensure your financial history is not totally connected to that of someone else, e.g. a partner or your parents.

Your superannuation should be your primary investment to start off with - put in the maximum Kiwisaver contribution you can from day one of your working life, and you will never miss it. Make additional contributions up to the maximum when you can. Do not underestimate the impact taking time out of the workforce, whether to have kids or continue study or whatever, will have on your superannuation - add to it while you can.

Having some debt is ok, you create a credit history, and so long as you pay things on time, it will remain a good one. Before you start saving significantly, pay all debt first, starting with the most expensive, and then roll that payment into the next one until it's paid off, and so on. Make the minimum repayments on your student loan for as long as it remains interest free, but once you have all your other debt paid off, get rid of it, it will only impact your ability to travel overseas for long periods of time, and despite the rumours it will affect your ability to purchase a property if that's what you want to do.

Pay inequality is a real phenomenon and you will need to be vocal about your pay and benefits situation, don't accept less than you're worth when compared to relative peers of either gender, and be prepared to walk away from a job if it does not reward you appropriately for your efforts. Your financial situation is your responsibility, and so it is up to you to understand it and maximise it.

Oh, also, just a few notes: don't drink to excess, it's never pretty. Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer. Finally, your parents are actually right about most things.

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