All in a day’s work for teens
A part-time job helps cover costs and provides valuable financial lessons
The teenage years are full of milestones that come with a hefty price tag. From managing their mobile phone plan to driving lessons to outfits for school formals to schoolies to university fees, there are plenty of big expenses on the teenage radar.
Of course, one way to help fund their increasingly busy social life is to encourage them to get a part-time job and save. Two in five Australian parents say their 14- to 18-year-old kids have a paid job outside the home and nearly half of them started working before they turned 16, according to a survey carried out for the Financial Planning Association (FPA).
I do recommend a part-time job for teenagers. Often getting a foot in the door for part-time work is harder than it sounds. Employers typically don’t employ young people without experience. There are some exceptions, such as McDonald's, which takes on young people from 14 to 16 with the consent of their parents or guardians.
Finding work that is compatible with school isn’t always easy. Part-time jobs during term time can be demanding and get in the way of study and other school commitments such as sport, music and drama. One of my kids’ friends worked in a pharmacy on Saturdays and attempted to take some time off during her final exams, only to be abused by her boss and forced to either work or lose her job.
Summer jobs can be the best introduction to part-time work. School students have around six weeks off while university students can have three months. It is intensely competitive and always a good idea to start looking early – often in October or November – for signs in the local shops for positions vacant. Once they leave school and start studying, working parttime while they are at uni is much easier.
When my kids got a part-time job, their approach to money changed monumentally. They started to use phrases that I hadn’t heard before, such as “That is so expensive” and “I’m not paying that much”.
Until they started working, they didn’t really appreciate how much things cost. But they soon came to realise that it would take them hours of hauling heavy bags of potatoes out of the fridge at the hamburger chain or standing at a cash register or serving people ice-cream to pay for a night out or a new outfit.
Frequently, hospitality jobs exploit young people, not paying them an award wage, let alone superannuation. One of my kids was forever on a “trainee” wage at a big fast-food chain. When she moved to a health food shop, the employer was always late with wages – sometimes months.
She also worked in an upmarket cafe in a shopping centre and was never paid, so she left. She returned many times but the manager was never around to pay her. After this experience she really valued an employer who paid the award wage and super and was reasonable.
Managing money from a part-time job is good for their financial awareness. My daughter promptly checks her account on pay day to see if she has been paid. She can log into her super fund to be sure the super contribution has been made.
Teenagers need all the help they can get in becoming financially literate. With so many temptations competing for their money – and now with Afterpay allowing them to delay payment for goods – they need to be careful not to get into debt.
A job can help – but not always.
A survey by ING to coincide with the launch of its Orange Everyday Youth account found that 71% of teens are already thinking about how much they’ll need to be financially secure in the future. It found that almost half of them are saving for the long term and 75% are putting away more than half of their weekly earnings.
Susan Hely has been a senior investment writer at The Sydney Morning Herald. She wrote the best-selling Women & Money.