As I sit in a coffee shop, and take in the millennials around me, I see one very common theme – they’ve got a lot of stuff. Surrounded by smart-phones, laptops, designer handbags and freshly done nails… all while sipping on $6 dollar coffees. My setting for the day inspired me to poke around the internet and learn about the financial fate of millennials. The studies are contradictory. Some studies claim millennials are the ‘financially illiterate’ generation, destined to work until our expiration. While others believe we’re one step ahead of our parents and are preparing for retirement at faster rates then they did. I think both are true, on a case by case basis.
In spite of an improving job market, many millennials are struggling to find professional jobs. Higher education isn’t what it used to be. With steep tuition fees, and a tough job market, more debt now means more risk. As a 25 year old who has defeated the battle against the never ending credit card bill (thanks interest rates), the words risk and debt now terrify me.
My father: a blue collar labourer, my mother: a stay at home mom, penny pinched every cent they could to ensure my brother and I would avoid the financial struggles many millennials face today. The result of their example: I came out of school $12,000 in debt. Not from educational costs, but debt accumulated from distractions. One would assume the influence of my parents careful spending, and financial success would have saved me from making financial mistakes. It didn’t. And this is why.
Through the magic of advertising, social media, and our peers we are constantly bombarded with the hottest new trend. Spending can feel like a drug. It gives instant gratification and when indulged in, can leave a nasty hangover. We are the next big wave of consumers. All around us are the newest hard to resist gadgets, over-priced data packages, and utter convenience dangling in our faces. With these distractions all around, it’s all to easy to gather at minimum, some debt from wants rather than needs. We live in a world of financial distractions, a world where plastic money is invisible money, and incentives are used as tactics to loop you into poor financial decisions. Don’t pay for one year. Zero-percent financing. No interest. No money down. Does that sound familiar? Those are tactics.
Like many, university was the first time I ever had to manage my own money. Come frosh week (that’s what us Canadians refer to the first week of school), the halls are lined with vendors, displays, giveaways, and good ol’ tactics. “Excuse me miss, would you like a free t-shirt? Just sign up here for this credit card.” With the expectation to cut that card up when it came in the mail, the reality of being a starving student, and not having what-I-wanted when-I-wanted set in, and that free t-shirt ended up costing me over 2 grand.
With these financial distractions, and our reputation for being entitled, it’s all too easy for millennials to become the target of these common consumer tactics. It’s not always easy to choose disciple over distraction, especially when distraction is so shiny, and so in trend this season.
My point: as much as we’ve become the punchline of generations before us, we are a wise generation. We’ve been born into a world of temptation and convenience. Many of us are thrown into a pool of debt accumulated from school costs, and then add financial distractions around us. It’s enough to make us drown. If you don’t want to drown, you’ll have to do what we entitled millennials hate…. sacrifice.
Instant gratification is the worst gratification when it comes to money. We have the ability to set the bar for ourselves, spend wisely and plan for a rich future. Set goals for yourself. Don’t be afraid to make a meal at home, pre-drink before the bar, buy the Coach instead of the Marc Jacobs. You’ll be okay. And hey, I love that you drive an 85 civic. It’s classic, compact and great on fuel!
Maybe I’m writing this because after being in debt, battling debt, and now fearing debt, I don’t have it in me to buy fancy bags, and top-notch gadgets, and yes, I envy you and you’re lack of fear. But maybe, it’s because I want my mistakes as a young millennial to inspire you. It taught me a huge lesson, and potentially saved my future financial success. Don’t doubt it. I still slip up every once and awhile and spoil myself. But, if it’s poor timing. I do it with guilt.
As I end, I leave you with this thought: it’s not being cheap, it’s being careful.