DeFrates column: The issue — affording life
September 11, 2018
In today's installation of the Ante-Millennial, I'd like to talk about budgets. Between baby boomers and millennials there is a large, controversial gap in how money is earned, valued and spent. The older generation sees whiny, entitled young people. The younger generation sees a towering pile of financial impossibilities.
In this column you will find some generalizations, a few stereotypes and multiple references to the internet. Please remember that my goal is to make fun of everyone equally, which I am only able to do because I am guilty of the mistakes made on both sides.
Millennials say they can't afford things like housing, student loans and hospital bills, but you believe very strongly that they probably could if they knew what a budget looked like from the inside. Or maybe if they worked harder. Or, as in a recent internet meme, if they mowed grass on the weekends.
First of all, I want to congratulate your generation on finally embracing snarky internet memes. The kid pushing the mower with the words "GoFundMe in the 1970s" is a classic. Welcome to the world of visual sarcasm, we're glad you're here.
Second of all, wow. Really? You're saying that if they just put in a little more sweat equity on a Saturday morning down the street with the Hendersons, they wouldn't need to start an internet page to pay off their $40,000 of medical bills.
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Did you know that, even when adjusted for inflation, the cost of living for the average American household has risen significantly since the much adored 1970s? Starter home prices have almost doubled, the cost of college has more than tripled, and almost every other essential piece of the American Dream just costs more.
Did you know that, according to a recent Forbes study, millennial salaries are, on average, 20 percent lower than they were for you at the same age?
And did you know it's kind of your fault?
Again, according to Forbes, the accumulation of wealth for much of this generation is significantly lower than their parents at the same age, not in small part because they entered the workforce, or tried to, during the Great Recession.
You complain that young adults shouldn't demand higher salaries and minimum wage because they go and buy a $3 coffee, or the infamous avocado toast. But the reality is that, even without these expensive little extras, millennials are paying more for housing, making about 20 percent less at the same level of education and work, and are further burdened with skyrocketing health care costs. Also, the average adult under 35 has $37,000 in student loan debt.
Seriously guys, learn how to live on a dang budget. There is no other way to say it. Your student loans will not magically disappear, and while you can hope for another recession to lower real estate prices, that's probably not going to work out in your favor in the long run.
You are going to have to figure out what it means to live below your means. That means not leasing a brand new Subaru or Toyota, or buying tickets to the show at Red Rocks or JAS every other weekend of the summer. It means staying in with your friends instead of going out. It definitely means not buying craft brews, or craft coffees, or even just crafts for a while.
You may be working two jobs and still struggle to make ends meet, but that is possibly because you haven't held either of those jobs for more than 18 months. Try staying put even when your boss is a jerk. Or even when you have to miss out on a road trip or a weekend getaway with friends. You get better pay, and maybe your benefits increase, too. You don't actually deserve all of those experiences, or little personal treats just because you had a bad week.
Stop equating the spending of money on experience with happiness. You may have learned the lesson from your parents that more "stuff" does not make you more happy in the long-run, but you are still relying on the belief that money must be spent liberally to lead a life worth living. Experiential costs are still costs. Just because Instagram applauds you for your beautiful journeys does not mean you get to ignore the reality of your credit card bill.
Close to Home
The relevance of this issue in our valley is very tangible and often talked about. We are losing millennial workers from professional positions every year. It makes sense. How could someone with $400/month student loan debt come here, work for less than their parents did and afford the average rent of $1,200/month?
Our valley's economy depends on young, seasonal workers who can live crammed together in tiny apartments in Aspen. When they dare to dream about settling down, we tell them if they can't afford it here, they should probably just go live somewhere else. A huge percentage of 20- and 30-somethings have several jobs, and the idea of a family surviving here on one income is laughable. So then factor in the need for child care, and just in case you haven't checked recently, that is between $40 and $80 a day (for a pre-schooler and infant respectively).
So they leave. Local schools have long struggled with constant turnover, as have many nonprofits. And a quick glance at the classifieds confirms that businesses from Aspen to Rifle are desperate to fill empty positions.
So, boomers of the valley, instead of rolling your eyes, listen to the concerns of the adults who will soon make up more than half the workforce — their concerns and struggles are real.
Millennials of the valley — stop going to Red Rocks and JAS because you think you really deserve a break. Communicate and compromise, too.
Lindsay DeFrates is a freelance writer living in Glenwood Springs. She can be reached at http://www.roaringforkwriter.com and appreciates your thoughts and suggestions about future topics for the Ante-Millennial.