Ask LH: How Do I Become Independent?

Ask LH: How Do I Become Independent?

Hi Lifehacker, I’ve recently finished high school and am now preparing to move out of the family home and into the real world, like many my age. Only problem is, I have no idea how it works.

Everything I’ve done has been with parents help so far and now things like getting a job, finding accommodation, getting insurance and more seem impossible. Do you know of any crash course, tips or booklets on how to become independent? It was worth a try, thanks! Nest Leaver

Image: Martinak15

Dear NL,

In the wise words of Douglas Adams, Don’t Panic!

The reality is that nobody when leaving home has any real idea of how it “all” works. Nobody. Yes, some might think they do, but everyone’s journey through life is different and there’s a large proportion of learning that can only happen on your feet, not in your head.

I’ll use a personal example; when I left home, or in my case, when home left me as I stayed in the same town despite my family moving several hundred kilometres away, I worked out renting relatively quickly, but not well. I ended up in one place which was wildly unsuitable (I left) and one place where I was lightly ripped off by my flatmates on the rent (I let them know how dodgy that was, and they paid me back). Both lessons learned the hard way, but not exactly something that could be “taught”. School of hard knocks, and all that.

That being said, a little preparation is no bad thing either, because there are some really bad pitfalls worth dodging.

The issue of securing employment is one that comes up at the Ask Lifehacker desk quite frequently; for starters we’ve covered how to get a job interview here and how to get a job sans relevant experience here. For resume help, our Resume section is well worth perusing.

In a longer term frame, if you’re finding it hard to secure work there are government resources and training schemes for the longer-term unemployed, such as the Federal Government’s Employment portal, which has a specific section for the younger unemployed.

On the accommodation front, likewise, we’ve got plenty of resources when it comes to common renting problems to read through here.

The reality that I found, and it does seem to be fairly universal, is that you’re not unique in becoming independent, and as such a lot of the folk you’ll deal with will be willing to walk you gently along the steps you need to take when signing your first rental contracts, getting proper insurance and so on and so forth.

It’s worth consulting with a few people when making those decisions for the first time because it is possible to end up in a poor situation, but then the shonks should become quickly apparent when they’re giving you advice that wildly varies from the norm.

Also, remember that if all else fails, given your parents have been happy to advise you previously, they’re a good resource to fall back on if you’re unsure of a contract or similar.

Is that entirely independent? No. Does it matter if you’re benefitting from their experience? Not at all.

You’re asking for independent advice from them, rather than being dependent upon them. How you choose to act on that advice is up to you, and that’s what independence is really all about. Independence isn’t a step that always has to happen all at once.

If any readers have advice of their own for NL, head to the comments section below.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • If you get stuck in these you can always ask experts in every single thing you do for assistance and tell them it’s your first time. Even if they can’t directly assist you themselves, most should be able to refer you to the appropriate choice, or independent bodies. Government bodies in particular should be good for this.

    1) Be patient with everything. You will be jumping through endless hoops compared to anything else you’ve done. Independence = paperwork. There’s no avoiding it, so get used to it. Take it slow, be methodical, careful, and sure. If you don’t know about something on paperwork? Ask. Keep asking til you’re satisfied you know, NOT when you sense people are getting frustrated explaining or until you’re embarrassed.

    2) Be honest with everyone. Many folks you’re going to deal with have been doing what they’re doing longer than you’ve been alive, have seen it all, and they won’t take kindly to you trying to cover something up or sneak your way into something you may not be eligible for. I strongly recommend, for example, you walk into a Centrelink and straight-up ask what you’re eligible to claim for, what you need to do to get to it. (Suggestions: Youth allowance, Rent Assistance, Low Income Health Care Card, Living Away From Home Allowance.) Setting up utilities? Ask what’s cheapest, and what traps people fall into that make costs balloon. Same goes for bank accounts, whatever. With a good, honest rapport with customer service personnel, many will volunteer warning information that they might otherwise have let you find out the hard way. If your priority is price? Say so.

    3) Get your documents in order. Birth certificate, driver’s licence, high schoool certificate, Tax File Number, medicare card. If you don’t have them, get them. Passport, too, if you can. The world runs on documents, and you’ll need these ones for the big important things like renting, bank accounts, centrelink benefits and the like. Keep them all somewhere separate, safe, and distinct, where you always know you can turn to find the core documents.

    4) Document and store everything. Set yourself up with a ‘professional’, separate email and document suite (eg: google drive) for starting fresh. If a bank or employer or anything else officialish needs an email address for contact, this is the mail you use. It’ll help you with looking things up for years. Notice of Assessment from the tax office, all the rest, no matter how you get it, forward it or scan it here.

    5) Do not get a credit card. Statistics are showing this is the biggest trap for young players there is, along with hire-purchase, radio rentals, 3yr-interest-free, payday loans, personal loans, etc, etc. Your credit rating is your ‘adult score’. Protect it. Get a visa/mastercard debit card instead. One attached to your bank account. Maybe even have a separate bank account you can shuffle funds to it on, so that automatic debits will fail against it if you haven’t planned for them. At 3-5 bucks a month, it can be a decent investment.

    6) Don’t make career/life decisions over a romantic interest unless you’ve been with them for years and intend to be with them for years more. The story behind damn near every dumb career/accommodation/miscellaneous decision I’ve ever made begins with, “Well, there was a woman…”
    If you ever hear yourself thinking, “No-one understands our love, we’re different/special, this is the one,” smack yourself in the face. Hard.

    7) Expect that everyone is out to fuck you, but don’t let it get you down or stop you from going ahead. Be prepared, not paranoid, let folks know that you always like to make sure you have an exit strategy because it’s a mean old world out there; nothing personal. Polite… but careful. They’ll understand. Anyone who gets upset about that attitude is probably out to fuck you.
    This means: ask for clarification about how much you’re going to pay for things, when you’re going to pay for them, how long you’ll pay for them, and how you’ll stop paying for them. If it sounds too good to be true, it very, very likely is. Employers don’t give you anything for nothing, or take bets ‘because they’ve got a good feeling’. Don’t do unpaid ‘trial’ work. You work, you get paid. The problem with entry-level jobs is that they’re far more prone to being exploited, due to your inexperience with your rights. A staggering number of industrial relations complaints that result in fines are from parents reporting their kids being exploited in their first job. If you don’t have that overprotective, suspicious presence watching out for you, you owe it to yourself to BE that suspicious presence.

    8) Set yourself up with the ultimate entry-level employability basics.
    This means: RSA (responsible service of alcohol), RSG (responsible service in gaming), senior first aid certificate, Cert 2 or 3 in Security – Security Guarding, open manual driver’s licence, and get your typing speed above 50 WPM with 100% accuracy.
    These are incredibly easy certs/skills to acquire, relatively cheap for what they are, and will ensure that ‘shotgun scatter’ (blast everything, you’ll probably hit something) approaches to job applications get some traction.
    Plus, some courses advertise that they guarantee you a job when you finish their training. Might be a shit job, but welcome to unemployment. Oh, and on this, see rule 7. A ‘guarantee’ comes with inverted commas. No-one can guarantee you anything.

    9) Set yourself a bed-time. You’ll need it. Working is a fuck of a lot more draining than school ever was. Training, even moreso. This goes for all other matters of self-discipline that you may never have realized were achieved by your parents nagging, like basic home cleaning and hygeine maintenance. A friend of mine once sent me a SMS: “Being an adult means I can sit on the couch eating a bag of cheese and no-one can stop me.” I asked him if he wanted me to stop him, and he said, “…Please.”

    10) Just in general… anytime you move residence, budget for around an unexpected $500-1500 in costs. That just seems to be about what happens. Don’t know why, it’s always something and it always comes to about that.

    11) Employment – Part 2: Do not just go with the first job network provider that Centrelink refers you to. Go, sure, get a rapport with your case manager if you can, whatever… they’re not going to be bending over backwards for you, no matter what they say. That system is configured to generate income based on government bonuses for placing long-term unemployed and you won’t actually initially count as that. Your job network provider is just you bare minimum to keep getting paid that shitty amount of welfare. You REALLY want to work? Join some agencies. Multiple. What you really want is to find one that doesn’t just take your resume and put it on file, but who brings you in for an interview, tests your typing, gets your licences. Try looking up agencies like Randstadt, Skilled, that kind of thing. There are hundreds of them.

    Sadly for the job hunter, not all jobs are available to view for everyone in any central location. Places like Seek have a crack at it, but the fact is that different recruitment agencies tie down exclusive contracts with different employers. By applying for more agencies, you’re opening yourself up to access more jobs. Some never advertise through agencies or job network providers AT ALL and simply post their available jobs to be applied for directly on their own corporate websites. Think of any corporation you’ve heard of in the news and look at their website to see if they have an ‘About’ or ‘Careers’ section. Airlines, banks, whatever…

    • Fantastic advice!! Can’t fault a bit of it.

      I guess the only thing to add is to remain lighthearted and remember as serious as it all sounds it is actually gonna be fun! Plus excercise, cos even if you don’t recognize it, it helps.

      Good luck NL!!

    • Dude you should write a book. A lot of good advice here.

      I would humbly add:

      – You are about to experience the best 5-10 years of your life! Don’t be afraid to take chances and embrace a life of adventure in which you discover many things about yourself and grow as a person.

      – At your age you’ve got the drive, passion and patience to put up with a lot of hardships. You’ll have tough times, expect them, they’ll make you stronger.

      – Think big and aim high, having a goal in sight will help you get through those tough times.

      – Expect your goals to change as you learn more about yourself, that’s ok too.

    • Just wanted to echo everyone else’s thoughts. This is good stuff.

      NL: make sure you ask advice of your support network too. Your family, whatever form that takes, your friends, etc etc. You’re not alone, and you’re not the first. Hell, you’ve reached out to anonymous strangers on the net so I know you already know the value of not reinventing the wheel. 🙂

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