Amidst the excitement (and disbelief!) that your child has finished school, it pays to have them think about what life ahead looks like – and how they will pay for it. It’s time to think about money skills for school leavers.

Finishing school is a time for celebration but also one of transition into adulthood. With that comes new-found responsibilities, particularly about money: earning, spending, saving.

Help your school leaver navigate their path towards financial independence by discussing these money matters with them:

Career choice

Kids are often told to follow their dreams. However, dreams don’t always pay the bills: look at how many out-of-work actors are waiting tables and pouring beers!

    By all means, your child should pursue their passions. But following the money when exploring study and career options can deliver the financial security to pursue those dreams while earning a comfortable living.

    Considerations include:

    • income-earning potential
    • growth prospects
    • future-proofing from technological disruption
    • repaying student loans

    For instance, young people are being incentivised to explore careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths); professions like teaching and nursing are unlikely to make humans redundant.


    The most crucial time to scrutinise superannuation is when first starting out, when we have the greatest ability to maximise returns.

    Everything from choosing the right fund to diversifying investments directly impacts our retirement balance. The difference over our working lives can be tens – even hundreds – of thousands of dollars.

    Young people often accumulate multiple super funds through casual jobs and are urged to consolidate to save money. This can backfire if done hastily – e.g. consolidating into a higher-fee fund or inadvertently scrapping favourable insurances.


    Considering insurance protections now can have big payoffs later – locking in cheaper rates and favourable terms offered to healthy young people – while also protecting against current risks:

    • Within super – e.g. life and permanent disability coverage without using after-tax income.
    • Private health – offsets income tax and allows coverage of costly conditions that may develop later. Adult children may or may not be able to retain cover through an existing family plan.
    • Asset protection – could they afford to replace their car/personal valuables without insurance?
    • Travel – many school leavers embark on gap years or overseas holidays.
    • Investing

    The earlier investing begins, the more time there is to grow wealth and recover any unexpected losses. There is no minimum amount needed to start.

    Savings alone likely won’t get today’s youth onto the property ladder – but investment earnings and equity could potentially cover a deposit.

    Options include:

    • Shares
    • Cash/term deposits
    • Foreign currencies
    • Investment trusts
    • Precious metals
    • Business/start-ups
    • Property – residential or commercial

    Your child should assess how much they can invest, their capacity to contribute more and their risk appetite.

    Emergency fund

    Every adult should have an emergency fund – readily accessible savings that are exclusively theirs. Because situations can and do arise where we need cash in a hurry: natural disasters, relationship breakdowns, illness, hacked accounts.

    Even a few dollars from each pay adds up, and doing so helps young people develop the habit of saving a percentage of their income.

    Having their own emergency cash also benefits you as parents, particularly given the prevalence of ‘hi mum’ scams – messages pretending to be your child urgently needing money.


    “Failing to plan is planning to fail,” a wise saying goes.

    A savings and investment plan is a valuable tool that will serve school leavers well as their financial situation becomes more complex over time with work, kids, mortgages, etc.

    It should cover their goals, what to do with any inheritances/trusts/gifts they have or are due to receive, and provide visibility over all income and expenses. Including basics like cooking versus eating out and cash versus card transactions will help them learn the value of money.

    This plan should be revisited regularly and updated where needed.

    Right advice

    One of the worst things young people can do is take advice about money from social media. ‘Finfluencers’ are typically illegal and dangerous – unqualified self-titled ‘experts’ pushing agendas for their own profit, or outright scams.

    However, even well-meaning relatives and friends can do more harm than good. Everyone’s circumstances are different: what worked for them may not suit your child.

    Encourage them to seek tailored advice from qualified professionals – a financial advisor, tax accountant, lawyers for property/business matters. Their advice is generally tax deductible and can be a savvy investment in starting adult life on the right foot!

    Helen Baker is a licensed Australian financial adviser and author of the new book, On Your Own Two Feet: The Essential Guide to Financial Independence for all Women (Ventura Press, $32.99). Helen is among the 1% of financial planners who hold a master’s degree in the field. Proceeds from book sales are donated to charities supporting disadvantaged women and children. Find out more at

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