Dear Fellow Millennial,
I’m sure you’re sick of it, too. So many articles about millennials tell us that we’re lazy, that we don’t have our priorities straight or that we’re entitled. In fact, judging by these headlines it would seem that there’s a certain brand of career, lifestyle and personal finance guru that thinks we’re doing something (or everything) wrong.
They Don’t Understand
The problem is that the people writing these articles are often from other generations. They came of age in very different times. Many of them didn’t face the particular challenges that we do. On average, they enjoyed lower tuition rates, according to the Urban Institute, had fewer student loans according to statistics compiled by the Labor Department, and graduated at times when it was easier to get started in life – a fact that 78% of the population agrees with, according to a Heartland Monitor Poll.
We Got Dealt a Bad Hand
Most of these article writers don’t even bother to understand the broader challenges that millennials are facing before they uncap their pens and start prescribing how to fix what ails us. Like the fact that most millennials graduated at a time when youth unemployment was the highest it has been in decades according to Bureau of Labor statistics. Or that those who did manage to get jobs often ended up underemployed.
There are obviously broader economic reasons why many millennials are still living at home and it’s not because we’re lazy or unable to fly the coop. Sure, mom’s meatloaf is great but we’d all prefer the sweet taste of independence and our own apartments.
I don’t know about you, but I want to take these articles writers by the lapels and explain to them that employment for our generation has been a zero-sum game. Sure, their condescending article about 7 Stupid Mistakes Millennials Making In Their Job Search might help one millennial but it will be at the expense of another.
Tune Out the Attitude, Not the Advice
What annoys me most about these types of gurus is that fellow millennials like yourself aren’t likely to listen to the good advice that they sometimes have. When we were teenagers, we were liable to ignore even the wisest things our parents said when it was delivered in the form of a sanctimonious lecture. We’re not much different now. If we’re insulted and condescended to, we’re likely to just tune everything out.
But the problem is that because of all the challenges that we’ve faced since we came of age, we desperately need good financial and career advice. After all, it’s been widely predicted that we could end up being one of the first generations in recent memory to actually be worse off than our parents — a prediction that seems to be backed up by current U.S. Census statistics showing that we’re doing worse financially than our parents were at our age. If we’re not careful we could see all our dreams come crashing down because of money or the lack thereof.
I don’t need to tell you about the effects of the crushing student loan debt that so many of us are facing. Too many of my friends are already having to put off moving out on their own, getting married, buying a house or having kids because of their debt.
I also probably don’t need to talk about how our different priorities often mean that we sometimes choose to have more flexibility at work instead of higher salaries. We saw our parents sacrifice the best years of their lives working non-stop. We are the YOLO generation because of that.
But while it’s important to follow our passions and live full lives, we must also ensure that we don’t fall too far behind. That means that we have to make smart financial choices.
We Can Set Ourselves Up for Success
Most of the problems we face today are not problems that we had much control over. We can’t change the broader economic conditions that have caused our situations. But we can change how we act. We can save more. Pay off debt faster. Take on a side hustle to make a little more money. Invest in stocks. Sign up for the 401(k) program at work. Build good credit (getting your free credit report summary on Credit.com can help you come up with a plan for that).
Given our situations and our desire not to be tied to our jobs 24/7, we’re going to have to work smarter than any other generation. We can’t choose to just have fun today without also considering the future. We need a financial plan. Most of us don’t even know how much we’ll need to save in order to retire. We need to figure out that number and start working to save it.
As millennials, our biggest asset is time. Because of compound interest, $1 invested at age 20 could be worth as much as $21 by age 65 assuming a 7% annual return. By age 30, the value of that $1 is still $10.68 when you’re 65, but by age $40, it will only be $5.43.
If we start now it’s not too late. If we wait, it might be.
We Must Be Prepared
We don’t know what lies ahead of us. Our parents weren’t expecting the financial collapse. It caught them unaware. So we must prepare ourselves not only for the amazing things we might want to do in our lives in the future but also for the unforeseen road bumps along the way.
We might not like to talk about or think about money. It’s probably not our highest priority but we need to remember that money is freedom. Money is power. Money is choice. Money isn’t the only thing, but it the most crucial ingredient to making our greatest dreams possible.
It also ensures that we don’t end up having to eat dog food when we’re 80.
I Have Hope
I don’t know about you, but despite everything I have hope. Millennials are the most educated generation in history. We have experienced setbacks, but we have not been defeated. If any generation can face these economic conditions and come out better for it, I think it will be us.
We just need to figure out how to get better at all this financial stuff. So, despite the condescension, keep reading. Or better yet, find the millennials out there like myself trying to help you out condescension-free. Together, we can all live great lives without having to worry all the time about money.
That sounds like a good life to me.
This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.
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