For many women, getting married and raising the perfect nuclear family is the path they expect to follow.

But that's not always how the story pans out. With International Womens Day this month, we chat to property investor Helen Collier-Kogtevs about her unexpected journey towards claiming her own financial independence.

“Back in my childhood, we only rented as we couldn’t afford to buy. Being raised by a single mother meant that life had its struggles, so the idea of ever owning a home was a pipe dream,” she shares.

“Managing money was never something taught to us as kids – nor was money ever discussed. Coming from a migrant background, discussing the subject of money was taboo in our household. And as we struggled to make ends meet, put food on the table and pay our electricity bill, our family motto was that we borrowed from St Paul to pay St Peter and then we borrowed from St Peter to pay back St Paul.”

These very struggles went on to shape Helen’s aspirations and future career. Initially she went down the same path as most – built her career, worked hard, and rewarded herself with lots of “things”, which she wracked up as debts on her credit card.

Eventually, she realised she was getting nowhere financially, and that’s when she developed a deep love of property. She made plenty of mistakes along the way, but also had plenty of successes – and ultimately went on to build a profitable portfolio.

“Without property, I’m very clear that I would be stuck in the corporate rat race, working long hours, putting up with office politics and looking forward to annual leave as a way of getting a reprieve. I would have returned to work months after having a baby and holidays would be camping or short interstate trips,” she reflects.

“I’m a big believer in ‘a man is not a retirement plan’ and so I hope that I have inspired other women to have a go, to not rely on a husband/partner to create the wealth and provide an opportunity for women to learn about property investing so that they can do it too for themselves.”

Helen has worn many hats since then – she’s an investor and business owner in the property industry who recently went back to school to get her Diploma in Finance and Mortgage Brokering. In addition to being a proud mother to her pre-teen, investment-savvy daughter, she is also a philanthropist and a founding member of the SHaRM Foundation.

“Property has allowed me to pay it forward. Being a founding member of SHaRM Foundation allows me to be part of something bigger, and I love working with a group of passionate expats who are committed to making a difference to the kids and community in Vanuatu,” she says.

“Whether it’s building a new toilet block for 600 school kids, a new classroom, installing a water pump or donating bras to the women in villages, being part of SHaRM keeps me grounded, humbled and grateful for the life I now have.”

Helen credits property investment for enabling her to live life on her terms.

“Property has given me a new life, a different perspective and the luxury of time to be, do and have on my terms. With a portfolio, life now affords more choices, more options and more new experiences!”