The pressure is on for students to get into good colleges and good jobs, so parents and teachers tend to focus on academics. As a result, many people graduate with a lot of book learning—but practically no idea how to take care of themselves. For all women, and for marriage-minded women especially, picking up a few basic skill sets is a matter of urgency in the first weeks and months away from home.
Fortunately, the most important skills independent women need are easy to learn, even if they do take a lifetime to master. We suggest that women should learn these 10 vital skills for happy, independent lives.
10. Keep the right clothes on her back.
Keeping yourself in clean clothes on your own budget can be trickier that it seems. To help clothes last as long as possible, you’ll need to know how to wash (by machine and by hand), dry, iron, and fold your clothes. Learn to recognize gaps in your wardrobe so you only buy what you need. And be sure to understand the wardrobe requirements and prepare for any events you’re likely to attend: athletic, casual, business casual, professional, cocktail, semi-formal, formal, and black-tie. Read more about keeping a thrifty wardrobe…
9. Clean up after herself.
It’s fun to laugh at messy rooms in high school and college, but roommates, friends, and potential mates expect a clean home as part of your hospitality. Set yourself a cleaning routine and stick to it. At minimum, wash dishes and straighten up once a day, clean the toilet and vacuum once a week, change your sheets and towels once every two weeks, and dust at least once a month. Depending on your salary, consider hiring help if you can’t keep up your house—you might even prefer working a few extra hours so you can pay someone else to help out. When all else fails, at least take the time for a fifteen-minute company clean before welcoming your guests.
8. Feed herself.
When you’re off the gravy train and there isn’t a cafeteria in sight, meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking are your responsibility. Read up on the latest about nutritious food. Make and stick to a food budget. Learn to cook a few quick and easy meals. (Crockpot meals are a great option for busy professionals!) Be sure you have one “show-off” dish to pull out for company.
7. Apply for a job.
In today’s job market, it probably isn’t a good idea to wait until after graduation to apply for a job. Ask for help from your parents or other mentors to create a great résumé. Look for a part-time job you can work around your classes or a full-time job during summer breaks. Even if you don’t successfully land a job right away, you’ll have experience “selling yourself” and overcoming the fear of job interviews.
Like applying for a job, you shouldn’t wait until you’re on your own to start keeping a budget. Many college students today are already taking care of their own finances—and good for them! If your parents are still your primary source of income, present a budget allowance to your parents and stick to it. You can even try to use supplemental income from a part-time job to wean yourself off your parent’s money slowly so you don’t have to go cold turkey come graduation day. No matter who’s paying, make sure that you spend only money you have. Student loan debt is already a huge burden for many graduates; don’t add consumer credit card debt to the mix.
5. Manage her time.
How we spend our time says a lot about what we value. Students who value their educations do their homework. Young adults who want to marry take time to date. And professionals who want to advance in their careers work hard. You will always make time for what it most important to you—so make sure your priorities are in check. After that, find a system that works for you to balance personal, professional, and social needs. Try to include a little reflection time at the end of each day.
4. Conduct herself comfortably around men.
Many marriage-minded women who make it to graduation without a beau struggle to find someone to connect with or show potential partners that they are interested. Practice honesty with close male friends and potential partners–start with men who support you to build your confidence. You’ll need to be able to share yourself emotionally to enter and maintain a healthy relationship. The same applies to women who aren’t looking for a long-term relationship. In any setting, being able to communicate assertively with men is a vital skill.
3. Understand her body.
Sex Ed does not begin to cover the intricate system of a woman’s body. You may know where babies come from, but do you know the difference between your follicular and luteal phases and how they make you feel? What about the difference between healthful and unhealthful vaginal discharge? Understanding your body can empower you to make important decisions about the way you live your life. (I highly recommend Taking Charge of Your Fertility for the curious.)
2. Learn from her mistakes.
I once had to tell my younger cousin that part of being an adult is living with the unexpected. Things won’t always go the way you planned. You might overdraft your checking account or botch an important job interview. Instead of wallowing in self-pity or self-blame, use the lessons you learned to improve. Forgive yourself when you mess up, but make it your goal never to make the same mistake twice.
1. Know and respect herself.
Teenage and young adult women struggle to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Our culture encourages us to put on airs of false modesty, or to keep the things that make us special to ourselves. Before you take on the world, arm yourself with the knowledge of your strengths and fortify yourself against your weaknesses. And remember, no matter what strengths and weaknesses you have, you are a valuable human being.
Already mastered the ten skills? What was hardest for you when you graduated? Not on your own yet? What scares you the most about taking responsibility for yourself?