What You Should Have Been Taught in School: A Beginner’s Guide to Practical Life Skills

Can you tell me what the three basic rock types are? If you remember anything from your high school science class, you can probably answer with a certain amount of confidence: igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic.

Now, what can you tell me about where money comes from? Or how it works? Unless you majored in economics or currently have a career in finance, you’re probably not so confident about this answer (if you have one at all).

It’s almost become a rite of passage: you’re fresh out of high school or college, stumbling into a world of ETFs, jury duty, and medical insurance. And you have no idea what’s going on. Because, unfortunately, many aspects of our education system are out of date. In the world we live in today, there is far more value in knowing how to utilize available resources and engage with people than simply regurgitating facts and acing standardized tests.

Of course, a truly comprehensive guide would include managing your mental health, dealing with addiction, social etiquette, sexual education beyond putting rubbers on bananas, and much more. But that list would also be a mile long. So, to start off, this is a practical guide that covers some of the most basic everyday skills to help you make a smooth transition into adulthood, broken down into three main sections: personal finance, professional life, and household/essential skills.

Personal Finance

Banking. Budgeting. Loans. Credit scores. Insurance. Taxes. If the mere mention of these concepts makes you want to tug your hair out, you’re not alone. The road to personal finance can seem daunting, which is why people often choose to avoid the topic as much as they can— only 24% of millennials demonstrate basic financial literacy! And not knowing the basics of how money works often leads to a series of money mistakes that end up defining your financial life. Studies have shown that 44% of Americans don’t have enough cash to cover a $400 emergency, and 80% of Americans said that their retirement plan was to keep working.

But here’s the thing: you don’t need to be a professional banker or study the stock market religiously in order to build wealth. What you do need is to become mindful about how you earn and spend money, and educate yourself on how to budget and invest.

Budgeting

Creating a budget means that you’re tracking your expenses (where your money goes) and your income (where your money comes from). This will not only help you track and develop the right spending habits, but also help you set aside money for investment, emergency funds, etc. There are many ways that this can be done (and it’s worth taking the time to find the method that works best for you), but a common framework could look something like this:

  1. Determine why you’re making a budget. Write down your short-term and long-term goals (retirement savings, paying off debt, wanting to buy a house, etc.), as well as a realistic plan to reach them.
  2. Track every source of income in a month. This could include paychecks, settlements, investment income, etc.
  3. Track every purchase you make in a month. This helps find patterns in your expenses and monitor your current spending habits. Excel spreadsheets, mobile apps like Mint or Dollarbird, or even good ol’ fashioned pen-and-paper work great for this. Don’t forget to also take into account irregular expenses such as vacations, large purchases, and medical fees. Now split this into fixed expenses (essential costs such as rent and food) and discretionary spending (non-essential costs such as eating out, shopping, etc.).
  4. Now, for the budget. Again, there are a lot of ways to do this, but a very common one is the 50/30/20 rule, popularized by Senator Elizabeth Warren. Essentially, you allocate 50% of your total after-tax income to fixed expenses, 30% to discretionary spending, and 20% to savings.
Source: the balance.

I know it all sounds easier said than done, but once you get into the habit of budgeting and find out what methods work for you, you can not only finally stop stressing about spending money, but also save money for the future.

Investment

Now that you’ve set aside a certain amount of your income for savings, let’s talk about what you’re going to do with that money. One option is investment. Investment is different from saving (simply putting money aside) or trading (buying and selling stocks for short term profit) in that you’re trying to make your money grow over a longer term.

Source: Wealthsimple.

Sounds appealing, doesn’t it? But before you start thinking about investing, ask yourself these questions first:

  • Do I have a lot of credit card debt?
  • Do I have an emergency fund (in case of natural disasters, layoffs, medical emergencies, etc.)?
  • Is there any other pressing issue that requires a large sum of money?

If the answer to any of these is yes, then, as tempting as it might be, now might not be the time to invest. At the end of the day, you probably won’t be able to find an investment that can make up for the APR (annual percentage rate) that credit card companies are robbing you of.

If you are in a good position to invest: hurray! Check out this article from Wealthsimple that breaks down all the different types of investments (stocks, mutual funds, bonds, etc.) so you can see which is most suitable for you. Once you’ve done that, I’d like to bring your attention to the golden rules of investment:

  1. Start early. I want to take this chance to introduce the single most powerful concept in investment: compound interest. In a nutshell, this just means that you get paid interest on everything you’ve invested, plus all the previous interest you’ve already gained.
  2. Invest in things that increase in value over time (such as stocks and real estate) instead of those that decrease in value over time (such as cars). Enough said.
  3. Index funds (relatively predictable funds that try to match the average investment returns of a market) are better than actively managed mutual funds (highly unpredictable funds that try to outperform the market). And almost all of the time, trying to beat the average investment returns just don’t work. Data from S&P Dow Indices says that from 2001–2016, more than 90% of U.S. funds directed by managers did worse than the S&P 500 (a stock market index). As if you need any more convincing, mutual funds can require daily or even hourly management, while index funds may only require a check-in every few years.
  4. Diversify your portfolio. By spreading your investments across different companies, industries, and countries, you protect yourself from fluctuations in any one investment.
Source: Wealthsimple.

And there you have it! If you want to grow rich on a middle-class salary, you need to learn how to sidestep the consumption habits that so many of us fall victim to, and learn how to grow your savings.

Explore Further: Resources to Check Out

Professional Life

Resume

You don’t need me to tell you that having a solid resume is crucial in landing your next job. So let’s dive right into some of the key aspects you should think about including, as well as some tips that can help you stand out and showcase your awesome skills and experiences.

Include in your resume:

  • Contact section. You should include your full name, email, and phone number. Select social media platforms, such as LinkedIn or a professional website, could also go here.
  • Profile section. You can include a resume objective (where you introduce yourself and outline your career goals) or a resume summary (summarize your achievements and describe how they fit the company’s values).
  • Skills section. This is where you really want to do some research on the company you’re applying to, and see which of your skills matches what they’re looking for. Common things could include communication, leadership, teamwork, and technical skills (such as proficiency with certain software and applications).
  • Education section. This should include your highest level of education and your degree, as well as any relevant coursework, awards, and recognition you received there.
  • Experience section. This is the most important part of your resume, because it highlights your major achievements and growth throughout your career, demonstrates your skills in application, and backs up what you’re saying with specific experiences and statistics.

Tips to help highlight your achievements:

  • Use a pre-designed template. This can help you personalize your resume and achieve the aesthetics while saving time. If you don’t know where to start, Canva and Microsoft Word offer some great professional templates.
  • Choose a suitable, easy-to-follow format. Whether it’s chronological or targeted, the format you choose should really help to tell your story and sell your profile to the company.
  • Include keywords from the company’s values, as well as the job description. This increases the chances your resume will match available positions, and will help you score an interview.

Job Interviews

If you’re contacted for an interview, it most likely means your potential employer thinks you could be a good fit for the job. Hurray! Now, let’s seal the deal by following some of these tips:

  • Research the company (mission, clients, values, etc.). Take advantage of their website, social media, blogs, news about them, etc.
  • Prepare answers in advance to common questions. Examples could be “Why are you interested in working here?”, “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?”, “Tell me about a challenging situation at your previous position and how you handled it.”, and “Why should we hire you?” Make sure your answers match what they’re looking for in a general employee, but also that they’re catered for the specific position you’re applying for. Avoid simply stating things (“I’m a good leader”) and instead back it up with specific experiences and how you handled them (“At my previous position, we were faced with … here’s how I led the team to…”).
  • Prepare questions you want to ask them. This shows that you’re genuinely interested in working there, and that you’ve taken the initiative to do research. Go beyond the surface level questions, and show that you’re knowledgeable about the industry and already thinking about ways you could contribute to the company.
  • Get points for the little things too. Be punctual. Dress professionally. Develop a firm handshake. Bring an extra copy of your resume to show that you’re prepared.
  • Follow up with an email thanking them for their time and consideration, and reiterate why you’re interested in the job and why you would be a good fit.
Source: e-Learning Infographics.

To finish this section off, I wanted to share with you one of my favourite pieces of business advice, from American journalist Erica Williams Simon:

“Don’t ever attach yourself to a person, a place, a company, an organization, or a project. Attach yourself to a mission, a calling, a purpose ONLY. That’s how you keep your power and your peace.”

Explore Further: Resources to Check Out

This section was mainly about acquiring a job; for further information on relationships at work and building connections, please consult one of the following:

Household/Essential Skills

Skills like cooking and home maintenance are necessary at any age, and it’s never too late to brush up on your sewing abilities or make sure you know how to check your tire pressure. Unlike finances and professional life, these skills are much less all-consuming in your life, and it’s very easy to dedicate just a few minutes every day to learn some of these things.

Home Maintenance

Here’s an essential list of home maintenance tasks that everyone should learn how to do, from RealSimple:

  • Resetting a tripped circuit breaker
  • Turning off the water
  • Hanging a painting or shelf
  • Painting a wall
  • Snaking a drain
  • Fixing a running toilet
  • Patching a hole in drywall
  • Fixing a squeaking hinge
  • Re-caulking

While snaking a drain or re-caulking might not be on your list of “sexiest skills”, when you’re ankle-deep in water from a plumbing leak, you’ll be glad you know how to locate your main water shut-off valve.

If you think you need to brush up on (or learn for the first time) any of these skills, check out this article for detailed instructions on a how-to for any task on this list.

Car Maintenance

Here’s a list from Family Handyman of essential car maintenance skills that are good to have under your belt:

  • Checking tire pressure
  • Replacing wiper blades
  • Checking oil level
  • Checking tire tread depth
  • Jump starting a dead battery
  • Checking engine air filter
  • Refilling windshield washer fluid

Again, if you need any further clarification, check out this article.

Basic First Aid

“The mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell” is permanently etched into our brains, but how many of us would be confident enough in our knowledge to give CPR during an emergency? In a study conducted with students of a medical college, only 11.2% of participants said they had any previous exposure to first aid training. A medical college!

Being able to provide aid until paramedics arrive is a vital skill set that could end up saving someone’s life. The following are a few basic first aid procedures you should familiarize yourself with, from Verywell Health, based on recommendations from the American Heart Association and American Red Cross:

CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation): used when a person is in cardiac arrest

  1. First things first: call 911 (or ask someone else to).
  2. Lay the person on their back and open their airway by tilting their head back and lifting their chin.
  3. Check for breathing by placing your ear over the person’s mouth. Start CPR immediately if they are not breathing.
  4. Clasping one hand on top of the other, perform 30 chest compressions with the heel of your hand in the centre of their chest.
  5. Lift their chin, pinch their nose, and perform two rescue breaths, watching for their chest rising.
  6. Repeat steps 1–5 until an ambulance or AED (automated external defibrillator) arrives.
Source: Mayo Clinic.

Controlling bleeding:

  1. If the bleeding is severe, call for an ambulance. In the meantime, you need to control the bleeding.
  2. Apply direct pressure to the wound using gauze or cloth.
  3. Elevate the wound above the heart, which stops the flow of blood.

Sprains (when the ligaments connecting bones at a joint tears) and fractures (a break in a bone):

  1. Control any bleeding.
  2. Immobilize the area by placing a splint (rigid object) next to the injury and tying it in place.
  3. Ice the injury for 20 minutes every 3–4 hours to reduce swelling. Again, raising the injury above the heart can help with swelling.

Check out Verywell Health’s article here for treatment on less serious injuries such as nosebleeds and blisters.

Explore Further: Resources to Check Out

There are a lot of things in life that are truly hard (coping with the loss of a loved one, struggling with a mental health disorder; the list goes on), and there’s no easy way around them. But managing your finances, keeping your home in order, and preparing for a job interview shouldn’t be as difficult as we make them out to be. There are so many incredible podcasts, blogs, and books out there that will teach you everything from how to pay bills to how to assemble IKEA furniture. Know that everyone is struggling to figure it out, and in the meantime, give yourself a pat on the back for making it through this article— now you know how to budget and invest, how to land that interview, and how to deliver CPR!

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