What I’m about to write might piss people off. I’m going to write it anyway. In the past two days I’ve relayed the same sentiment to two different people.
“I feel like I’m getting older. I’d like to be more responsible and think longer term. I’m concerned about my student debt and wish I had more in my retirement savings.”
Both of them had nearly identical reactions.
“Well, don’t worry. Everyone in our generation is in too much debt and is pretty much screwed for retirement.”
The first time I thought it was a fluke. The second time felt like a punch in the gut. If someone had told me they wanted to be thinking longer term about their finances, I would say, “Great idea! Good for you! I want to too!” Not, “don’t worry about it, because no one else is.”
Perhaps some would argue that they weren’t saying “No one else is” but rather, “No one else can.” But, I think that’s the problem.
Many Americans in their 20’s feel screwed and totally comfortable being screwed. They took out a lot of student loans and didn’t find 100K jobs waiting for them on the other side. Many people in this group have decided that we’ve gotten the shortest end of the stick of any generation that came before us. But, I kinda think that’s bullshit.
And, yeah, the Bush administration really did a number on our economy. I will not pretend that I’m not in a stable, well-paying job now—but I also graduated with a mountain of student debt and a degree in creative writing from a Catholic college no had heard of in 2009 (that’s the height of the crash y’all.) I’ve had 5 full time jobs since graduating college, including the one that I have now. I have left exactly one of them on my own accord. Every other job has laid me off or gone under completely. There are over a billion people in the US who have had it tougher than me and have worked way harder. Please, do not for one second think that I am smugly declaring that “I made it, so anyone can!” But, what I am saying, is that it hasn’t exactly been an easy, sunshiney road the entire way.
Though my road, and most people’s roads, have been often rainy and dark, I haven’t been enlisted against my will to fight a war I don’t understand. I have control over my reproductive rights. I haven’t had to pack up everything I own and head west in a covered wagon, burying two of my children along the way. I haven’t worked my land all season, only to have a drought destroy my harvest and thus my livelihood. I’ve never been asked to use a separate water fountain because I’m black. I can vote. I have not been sent off to a work camp, and then slaughtered.
And some of my generation has experienced one of those exact problems in the past ten years. Some people have experienced worse. But, a lot of us, haven’t experienced anything near that level suffering.
So, yes, it’s not the 80’s anymore. Dreams of being debt free shortly after school, a year or two of your salary saved and a big McMansion purchased are all too ridiculous for most of us. But, you can also now get your Masters degree online in your pajamas. A job now exists where you do nothing but manage corporate twitter accounts. While we still have a long way to go for truly Equal Opportunity Employment, we are all using the same bathrooms (I mean, men and women are still separated, but you get it where I’m going with this.)
So why don’t we spend less time giving ourselves excuses and more time shifting our expectations? Buying a big house in the suburbs and being totally debt free by 30 probably isn’t in the cards for me. That doesn’t mean I have to throw my hands up and decide that there’s simply no way I could handle my finances more responsibly.
I can live more simply; cutting back spending on things like eating out and uber rides (we now have an app that gets a car to pick me up exactly where I am and then I can pay him/her with my phone after the ride is over. Seriously, people) and putting more toward retirement and paying off my debt is completely reasonable. There’s absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t be doing just that— in fact it’s my responsibility. I just wish I had more support and encouragement from my peers, instead of an invitation to stop caring and wait for someone else to clean up the mess. I also wish that everyone would stop feeling so sorry for how terrible we have it. Things aren’t perfect, but people have thrived under much, much worse circumstances. So, stop whining* and start making something out of this one, rare, strange, beautiful life.
*Disclaimer: I know that there are A LOT of people who feel the same way I do. I also know there are A LOT of people who feel differently than I do. I respect their opinion, experience and point of view. I am NOT saying that everyone else is wrong and needs to listen to me.
I exist in two places,
here and where you are.