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Whether college for your child starts this year or in 5 years, the prospect of pushing them out of the nest is a scary one. Are they prepared for all they will face? Have you taught them enough to be self-reliant or will they be calling home with questions every 2 hours? To help you prepare your child for adulthood, here are 13 life skills your teenager should have before leaving home!
Financial Life Skills for Teens
1 – How to set up a budget
Hopefully, your child has been practicing basic budgeting from a young age, but if not, now is the time to sit them down and show them how to prioritize their spending. What is their source(s) of income? What are their necessary expenses? (Rent, car insurance, cell phone) How much are they putting aside for the future or towards debt payments? How much does that leave for fun spending with friends?
Budgeting is a lifelong skill that will help them avoid debt and start them on their way to achieving their longer-term goals. You Need a Budget is excellent for setting up new budgeters and is my favorite budget app. If you have a family account, you can set your teenager up with their own budget for free on your account to gain practice!
2 – How to invest for their future
Young adults have the most potent financial asset on their side – time. If your child didn’t have personal finance education in school (they probably didn’t!), they may not know the power of exponential growth and compound interest. Teach it to them early to give them a chance to shine!
With teens, it is best to frame investing in a context they are interested in and can understand. For instance, how can they become millionaires? The long-term return of the stock market since the 1920s is ~10%. Explain to them that all they have to do is put away just $140 a month into a Roth IRA, invested in a low-cost S&P index fund, from their 18th birthday until their 30th birthday. Make investing that money a top priority in their budget.
If they did that, they would invest $20,160 over 12 years. If they didn’t invest another penny and didn’t touch the account as it grew, that $20,000 investment could be expected to increase to over $1,000,000 for retirement by age 65! A 50 times return on their initial investment! Money they could access completely tax-free! Alternatively, if they wanted to wait to invest that same amount, $20,160, all at once when they turned 30, they would only have $566,000 at retirement. Giving up almost half their value by not starting early!
3 – How to use credit cards responsibly
As newly minted adults, especially if they are headed to college, your child is in for their first credit card offers in the mail. While credit cards can be a great tool if used responsibly (they are safer to use online than a debit card, have the potential of earning rewards), they can also wholly kill your child’s ability to reach their goals if they rack up expensive debt or ruin their credit scores through late payments.
Talk to your kids regularly about responsible use of credit cards. Payoff statements in full and on time every month, don’t buy things they can’t afford and keep things simple with only one card early on. Help them understand that credit card companies don’t exist to be their friends; these companies make the most money from people who make poor financial decisions.
4 – How to write a resume and cover letter
Resumes should be only one page, have no typos, focus their education and life experience details for the job they are applying for, and have an organized format. If they have unique work experience, interests, or skills make sure they are included to help their resume stand out!
When it comes to cover letters, it is all about the preparation put into it. Explain to your teen that they should never submit a standard cover letter or a letter addressed “to whom it may concern.” Take the time to find out the name of the hiring manager or HR representative and include details of why they are interested in this particular job and what benefits they can bring to the company. For top positions, cover letters are set aside.
Homemaking Life Skills for Teens
5 – How to do laundry
Not only do you not want your teen to be the smelly kid in class, how they wash their clothes will impact the life of their wardrobe. Not reading labels or sorting clothes can lead to irreparable damage. And then there are the longer-term effects, like stuffing a washing machine too full of clothes causing extra wear and tear on the fabrics.
Teach your child the basics of laundry, including not using too much detergent, how to read the ideal cleaning method on the tag, and how to treat stains. Little tips and tricks are great too, such as letting them know that fabric softeners may make their towels softer but they will also less absorbent!
6 – How to cook (at least the basics!)
Millennials eat out an average of 5 times a week, spending over $2,900 annually on eating out! This takes enormous chunks out of their budget, money they could be saving. Don’t let your teen leave the house without understanding the basics of healthy cooking.
Now, you don’t need to spend hours in the kitchen with your grumpy teenager teaching them to make Baked Alaska or the perfect Hollandaise sauce. But they should probably know how to fry an egg, cook chicken, grill a steak, and steam vegetables. Plus, a few lessons on reading easy recipes probably won’t go to waste.
Oh, and if they don’t know how to use a grill, make sure you show them. My mom owns a vacation rental property, and renters once tried to put charcoal in her gas grill. The tank was on the grill and connected. They are lucky it didn’t explode, and we still don’t know what they were thinking…
7 – How to keep their home clean
Assuming you aren’t planning on driving up to clean their dorm room or first apartment every week, teaching your child how to keep their home clean should be a top priority. You don’t want them to be the hated roommate or face high costs of pest infestations!
Make sure your teen knows how to dust, vacuum, wash dishes, store food safely, and clean their bathroom. Visit your local Target or stop by Amazon to order them their first set of cleaning supplies so they know what they need and can just buy replacements as they run out. (My mom bought me a lovely blue bin from Ikea for all my cleaning products that still sits in my laundry room today!)
8 – How to select good produce
Produce is expensive and nothing is more disappointing than biting into a mealy apple or cutting open a cantaloupe to find it is rock solid. Be sure to take your kids on a few runs to the grocery store and show them how you are picking out produce.
If you struggle with finding the best produce yourself, check out these guides from Kitchn on choosing the best vegetables and the best fruits together with your teen. Maybe you can both learn to make the most of your grocery budget!
The average American throws away 65 pounds of clothing every single year. Some don’t fit, but some only have small defects that people don’t have the time or skill to fix themselves. How much money could your teen save over their lifetime if they knew how to repair their clothes, not just replace them?
If you don’t sew, or you are afraid your teen will forget as soon as they need the skill, YouTube can be an invaluable resource. There are tons of videos for everything your child could need. Just set them up with a basic sewing kit and send them on their way!
I taught myself how to sew as an adult, but it is now a skill I use frequently. Sewing on a button is easy work and only requires a needle and thread. Patching a rip is equally simple with a simple mending stitch, something I have to use for Daddy Fish and Fuss Fish regularly! Putting a patch on can be a little more difficult, but iron-on patches are plenty for clothes to use for yard work or maintenance projects!
Maintenance Life Skills for Teens
10 – How to use basic hand tools
Does your child know how to use a hammer, screwdriver, drill, and saw? Do they know how to patch a small hole or replace a piece of drywall? With a shortage of tradespeople, hiring a handyman for small tasks is only getting more and more expensive. Knowing how to use essential tools for hanging pictures, installing shelves, and other minor repairs will help your child save on security deposits and take more significant ownership of their future homes.
During our first year in our home, Daddy Fish and I had two birds get stuck in our bathroom wall during a holiday weekend. If we had had to call a handyman, one may not have been available until Monday (and the birds would have died in the wall), or we would have had to pay overtime prices. Instead, Daddy Fish cut a hole in the drywall, rescued the birds, and we headed to Lowe’s. A small piece of patching drywall, some putty, a bit of scrap lumber, and some extra paint from the basement later the bathroom was looking good as new! Faster, cheaper, and personally fulfilling.
11 – How to paint
Painting a room is the perfect way to make a new home feel like yours and one of the cheapest ways to improve selling value before listing a property for sale. But hiring painters is expensive, with 90% of the cost being labor! That is some significant savings if you know how to paint yourself.
Undertake at least one home improvement project with your teen before they leave home that includes painting. Show them how to tape off, safely cut in, and roll the larger sections. If this is your first rodeo as well, invite a friend or family member over who knows what they’re doing or pull up your trusty YouTube app. Oh, and get lots of plastic sheeting for the floor.
12 – How to jump-start a car
Okay, okay, I know we all have roadside assistance either through AAA or in our car insurance packages today. But do you really want your child waiting an hour or more for a tow truck to come jump start their car? Jumping a car takes just minutes, and the knowledge can help your teen help others who find themselves stuck.
A set of jumper cables costs can be purchased for less than $20, while a portable jump starter, if your child is often in rural areas or traveling late at night, can be purchased for $70 or less. Personally, I like the emergency roadside assistance kit from AAA. For less than $25, your child can keep jumper cables, emergency vest, basic first aid, and more in their car at all times.
Here is a step-by-step guide to jump-starting a car. If you worry your child may forget, print it off and tuck it into their jumper cable case in their car!
13 – How to keep up with necessary car maintenance
For many young adults, their car is their most valuable asset. They use it on a daily basis and repairs can set them back months in their budget. So while they don’t need to change the oil themselves, they do need to know how to keep track of maintenance and tune-ups.
Have your teen set up alerts in their phone or email calendar for when their car needs an oil change or regular tune-ups. Also, show them how to check the tire pressure in their car each month, how to check their tire wear with a penny, how to fill their tires at the local gas station, and how to refill their windshield wiper fluid – including teaching them when to switch to defroster from standard fluid!
Cars are expensive, but the more carefully your teen maintains them, the cheaper they are and the longer they last. Cars can regularly get over 100,000 miles if well cared for, lasting your child many years.
Preparing your teen for adulthood
Unfortunately, we can’t teach our kids everything they will need to know before they leave our homes. But we can prepare them to be self-reliant and know how to find solutions to their problems. Teaching your teens these necessary skills before they leave home will give them the base they need to build on their knowledge over time. They will know that they can be financially responsible, care for themselves, and fix things with their own hands. When the world inevitably knocks them down, what could be a better source of confidence than that?
What life skills won’t you let your child leave home without? If you don’t have kids, what is the most valuable skill your parents taught you before you left home? Drop a note in the comments to share your experiences!