How teens and young women are falling through the financial literacy gap

Former high school teacher and charity founder, Jessica Brown, has seen many young girls on the cusp of adulthood struggle to gain financial independence due to financial illiteracy and financial abuse. She told Insight what’s needed to help these young women and how to help protect yourself against financial abuse.

teenage girl

Many young women are lacking the financial literacy skills to become financially independent. Source: SBS / , Hero Images

In her early 20s, *Amanda had long-term employment, lived in a rental property and had a healthy amount of savings.

Then *Amanda met a man and fell in love. Over time, this man became financially abusive. He gained access to her bank accounts, changed passwords and stole money.

When *Amanda realised what was happening and worked up the courage to confront him, he became physically abusive. In a final blow the man withdrew a large sum of money from her account and left the country.

This experience left *Amanda in a dark place. She tried to work as much as possible to pay off the debt but she couldn’t get on top of it. Her mental health sprialled and she was left unable to work and suicidal.

*Amanda isn’t alone in her financial struggles. By the age of 17, *Jasmine had lived with 14 different foster families. Just before her 18th birthday she left the system, couch surfed and then ended up living rough on the streets.

She had no money and suffered from complex mental health issues and drug addiction. There was no one in her life she could turn to for help. Eventually she overdosed, but thankfully lived to tell the tale.

*Amanda and *Jasmine are examples of many young women in Australia who are struggling financially and dealing with trauma. I’ve heard stories like theirs countless times.

Previously I worked as a high school teacher and after that in women’s charities. I’d have girls and young women constantly pop into my office asking for financial help, whether it be about obtaining a tax file number or setting up a bank account. I quickly came to realise there was a gap in the market for young girls as they transitioned into adulthood.

Jessica Brown
Founder of Warrior Woman Foundation, Jessica Brown. Source: Supplied

Research from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia has shown that women whose highest level of education was Year 12 or less have a financial literacy rate of 38.3 per cent while the rate for tertiary qualified women is 65.2 per cent.

So I decided to start a to help young girls from the ages of 15-25 transition from out of home care into independent living, as well as young women who simply need a helping hand to gain independence. These women need a network of safe, stable, positive, female role models in their lives.

Looking to the future

*Amanda and *Jasmine have gone on to do extraordinarily well. They received the help they needed and were able to get back on their feet. But change is needed if we’re going to help the next generation of women before they get to breaking point.

As a former teacher my experience has been that financial literacy is really only taught in subjects like commerce, business studies or economics. I believe that all students should be taught this in school, and it should be implemented into the school curriculum from an early age.

We need to make financial independence a priority for women, given that statistics show older, single women aged 55+ are becoming one of the fastest growing financially vulnerable groups in Australia.

Through the teaching of financial literacy to all students, we can also help prevent financial abuse by teaching vulnerable young women the skills and confidence to take control of their finances and see the early warning signs of abusers.

Many young women who find themselves in the situation of financial abuse are led to believe that they are not good with money, like in the case of *Amanda, and that they are not confident managing it and therefore shouldn’t. By teaching financial literacy as soon as possible in a young woman’s life it can positively mould her relationship with money and more importantly, her belief in her ability to manage it.

Tips to protect yourself from financial abuse

Over the years in my line of work I’ve learnt there are some key things women can do to help protect themselves from financial abuse. These are:

  • Stay in touch with people you trust, and don’t be afraid to talk about any concerns you have.
  • Learn to recognise and avoid financial scams.
  • Regularly check bank and credit card statements for unauthorised transactions.
  • Open your own mail.
  • Store documents, account logins and passwords in a safe and secure place.
  • If you lend money to someone, put it in writing and make a plan with them for repayment.
  • Never sign documents you don't understand.
  • Where possible, get independent and confidential legal or financial advice.
  • Ask someone you trust to check that the person who manages your money is doing it in your best interests.
*Not their real name.

*Jessica Brown started  to help young women gain financial independence. Their goal is for every Australian woman to achieve independence through financial wellbeing, and to increase the financial literacy rates of young women in Australia so that they have the confidence to take charge of earning and managing their own money, plan for future economic security, and protect themselves from financial abuse.

If you, or someone you know, needs assistance you can contact on 13 11 14 or 1800 737 732

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5 min read
Published 9 June 2021 at 3:08pm
By As told to Gemma Wilson
Source: SBS