Published on 22/11/2023
By Emma Rush
This article was written by Simplicity’s newest intern Emma, providing a fresh perspective from the younger generation on tackling the cost of living crisis.
With the continuous increases in the cost of living, from eye-watering grocery prices to outrageous rents, it is getting harder to have hope as a young New Zealander. However, despite these ongoing challenges, I believe there are many small changes you can make in life that can make a big difference - over both the short and long-term. At 22, I look back at my past six years of work and education amidst COVID-19, and feel grateful for several of the decisions I made at 16 that many of my peers did not. On the flipside, I also have my regrets.
So I thought, why not share the love around some financial lessons I’ve learnt as a young adult in these trying times, and hopefully provide some useful tips for others (including avoiding the mistakes I have made):
Start work and save early
One of the most beneficial choices I think I made as a teenager was starting work as early as possible, in order to build a more solid CV. I started babysitting at the age of 14 and moved into swim teaching when I was 16. By the time I finished university at 20, I had six years of working experience under my belt. My years of experience working with kids has given me long-lasting job security and showed potential employers that I had developed the soft skills required to operate within what can often be a challenging environment. It proved to be an invaluable advantage when applying for graduate positions.
Something I wish I had done differently is to have saved and invested more of the money I earned during my teenage years. During high school, blowing cash on eating out and concert tickets was incredibly tempting and easy - meaning I basically lived paycheck to paycheck. Once I reached university and had to stand on my own two feet financially, I realised that saving more during those early years could’ve saved me significant stress. I also wish I had learnt about investing early, which I suspect could have left me in a more stable financial position. If I had saved and invested just $20 a week over six years, at a return rate of 5% I’d now have over $7,000 put away – a lot of money for someone my age.
Learn to budget carefully
When the price of a block of cheese is almost the same as the hourly rate of the minimum wage, it’s essential to learn how to manage your money sensibly. One of the positive choices I made early on was to separate my income into separate accounts as soon as it arrived. While I have already mentioned that I wish I’d saved more, I thankfully never ended up in a situation where I couldn’t afford rent or groceries, because I put the money aside (into my specific accounts) immediately.
What I wish I had better managed as a young adult was how I spent money on food. Learning to cook cheaply is a skill I think could have saved me a lot of money, along with avoiding one too many UberEats orders per month. With takeaway deliveries so easily accessible, it’s an easy trap to fall into. Learning to cook cheap meals in 20 minutes is a hugely helpful way to mitigate the risk of overspending on food.
Prioritise experiences over ‘stuff’
One thing I don’t regret spending my money on is travel. While it cost me much of my disposable income, my overseas backpacking trip taught me many fundamental lessons. Exposing yourself to different cultures, history, and nature is an invaluable learning experience and puts our lives into perspective. While I am undoubtedly privileged in having the ability to travel, sleeping in humid hostel rooms with 16 people where you don’t speak the language, and living off pasta pesto can teach you a lot (IMHO). Becoming a master of living on as little as possible is a skill I transferred to my everyday life upon my return.
There are several things I could have done better as a teenager which would have allowed more money to travel and a significant nest egg for the future. However, it's never too late to start. I have taken the lessons I learnt along the way and applied them to my daily life now, which in another six years (and further into the future!) should leave me in a much better financial standing than if I had stayed grounded in my old habits.
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