You can hardly peruse Facebook or news sites these days without finding some commentary on Millennials. Some articles insinuate that Gen-Y is entitled and lazy, while others delve a little deeper to look into the challenges many in this generation face.
I recently read an article about how Millennials spend their money titled “Pets, debts and e-cigarettes: how millennials spend their paychecks”. Now I wouldn’t consider myself part of this so-called Me Me Me Generation but according to Wikipedia’s age range I am smack in the middle of it. (Okay, so maybe being born in 1986 puts me about 1/4 of the way in, but I look younger than I am… Right? Right?!?) In case you don’t have time to read the article, here is an overview:
- A non-scientific case study of six Millennials ranging in age from 23 to 29 was completed to see how they spend their money and how much they earn.
- Salaries ranged from $0 (one young lady was unemployed) to $130,000 annually, with a median income range of $30,000-$33,000 a year.
- Each person spent their money in different ways, but both income and spending were self-reported. Their expenses were then broken down into the top five categories.
- The highest reported expenses were typically rent, food, and student loans, closely followed by things like medications, daycare, and car payments.
- Of their top expense categories only one person listed hair appointments, one listed cigarettes, two listed gym memberships, and one listed travel.
The question I’m left with after reading this article is:
If we’re spending money on the same things as other generations, why are we being labeled as entitled?
Now let me jump to my own life; if I were to be included in that article, what would my “Top 5” look like?
Now let’s see how my income stacks up:
Assuming everyone in the article works an average of 40 hours per week, the average hourly rate would be $21.31. In comparison mine is $20.24. With my second job and working about 65 hours per week, my income per hour drops to $19.55.
It looks like I am right in line with others in my generation. I know there are a few in the higher echelon and many more making less than I am, but for ease let’s just go with the numbers we have here. With the average monthly rent payment of $790 and a mean net income of $2,770.83 per month (if we are all in the 25% tax bracket), this means that Millennials, on average, are spending about 28.5% of their income on rent. Completing the same calculation for student loans, Millennials spend an additional 24% on college debt each month.
When other generations describe Millennials as being lazy or extravagant spenders I get a little riled up. In fact, one of the issues my own parents have when it comes to my spending is that they “don’t know where all my money goes”. Even when I break everything down, showing them my budget, they don’t believe me. It seems like a lot of people from Generation X are wearing the same blinders. After all, they paid rent (or a mortgage) and made much less money than we’re making now. So why can’t we save like they did?
There are a myriad of possible answers to this question, not the least of which is inflation, but I’m not going to get into that right now. What I’d like to focus on is student debt. This 2013 article featured in The Huffington Post goes over some of the numbers haunting Millennials. The most relevant point to me is that the average student loan debt of Millennials graduating with a 4-year degree is around $26,600. The article points out:
This can be contrasted to 1993, when less than half of students graduated with debt, and those who did had an average of $9,350 in loans. Maybe we are just bad with our money?
This writer echoes what I’ve heard so many Baby Boomers say: “You’re just bad with your money.” I think all Millennials everywhere throw our hands up and retort right back with me: “Fuck off.” Because it’s not just the fact that we have student loans. It’s the inflation of the cost of a college education that’s really killing us.
I started college in 2004; the tuition there at that time was about $34,000. The tuition at that same school today, 12 years after I started, is just under $55,000. The same education now costs 62% than it did when I started college.
You read that correctly – 62% percent.
In comparison, let’s look at U.S. inflation over the same period of time:
I’ll just come right out and say it. $42,700 is nowhere near $55,000, and 25.5% is nowhere near 61%.
So the added burden of student loan payments, is it any wonder why Millennials can’t save for a mortgage, pay for a new car with hard-earned cash, or deposit more into their 401k each month?
I think this is part of the reason people my age (or younger) get excited when they hear me talk about buying a Tiny House. They struggle with the same financial burdens that I do. Even if they can’t see themselves living in a Tiny House, it inspires them to think outside the box in terms of living situations and expenses. The people that balk at this idea are primarily members of older generations who do not understand the weight that is student loan debt.
We can’t buy huge houses then pay them off in 10 years (like you did) because we’re paying the amount of your mortgage in student loan debt every month.
I can’t keep banging my head against the wall to conform to what one group of people thinks of as “normal”. My circumstances are different than yours were at my age. My priorities, therefore, must be different.
It’s time for our parents and grandparents to look at us in a new light. It’s time for Generation X to give Generation Y a little break. It’s time for us to look at our futures differently. Because we are different. And like you taught us Mom and Dad, different just ain’t so bad.
Let us become the swans you always said we could be.