Graduating from college is a lot like leaving a video game world where do-overs and extra lives are omnipresent for a reality that allows few mistakes and fewer second chances.
Moving a horde of old stuff into your parents house will make you realize that you own too many ironic band t-shirts to fit into a dresser drawer, and that you’re lucky to be granted a spot on the old bed in which you used to dream about going to college.
This transitional period is usually accompanied in proximity by the moving on or moving out of your elders, who are packing their lifetime of things into boxes bound for smaller, assisted living accommodations.
You begin to realize that we’ve all placed so much value just in the space we take up on things. The realization then comes that when it’s all said and done, things begin to lose their meaning and seem meaningless, while people and memories who exist outside of our cardboard moving boxes seem so much more meaningful.
Without as many distractions in our lives, we might find it easier to embrace the meaningful while purging the meaningless. In other words: why not keep it simple?
The stock market crash of 2008 rang as a wake-up call to Americans and to the world around.
Highlighted in the 2015 film The Big Short, the aftermath of the 2008 crash saw $5 trillion in savings, pensions, 401K, bonds and real estate value lost. That in addition to 8 million people losing their jobs and 6 million people losing their homes – all in the U.S. alone.
What caused all this?
Greed and over-exhuberance is commonly at the root of any answer. While Wall Street bankers saw opportunity in packaging the interest rates and collateralized debt tied to the lending of money to hopeful homeowners, they weren’t exactly alone in the creation of such a financial disaster. Someone had to buy the unaffordable house(s) in order for the rates to build and the stock market to crash.
Just on a common sense level, one can see the overwhelming abundance of newly-built luxury apartment complexes in any urban area across the country, the skyrocketing prices of simple clothing items like jeans and collared shirts, and the seemingly aloof disposition of consumers as they spend hundreds of dollars at bars and restaurants in the name of enjoying the fruits of their labor.
Even those with the means are beginning to notice.
“Society right now, it almost feels like the twenties,” said rapper G-Eazy in an interview with Elle. “There is this overindulgence and partying and drinking and going out and there is this, like, darkness to it—you can’t just overindulge to that level without any repercussions in the big picture.”
That is coming from someone who operates in the most notoriously fiscally irresponsible profession!
Prevailing sentiments tell us that we need to experience life now, because there is no guarantee that existing lifeline systems like social security or Medicare will exist in the same capacity that they do today. Further more, who knows if we’ll be able to retire at any point? Thus, why not take a trip to Mexico tomorrow and enjoy our retirement now?
While some of those questions hold serious weight, the consequences of solving them with cavalier spending on experiences is far from a solution.
Let’s look at some very simple financial realities that exemplify what it means to be a young adult in 2016. These may not be representative of you, or all of the people you know, but they do a good job of painting a picture that appears all-too-real for many of your peers.
In an April, 2016 article by The Atlantic, it’s estimated that the average income of a 29-year-old “millennial” is around $35,000. That millennial is increasingly found to be without a college degree, living with another roommate as opposed to alone and has held several jobs within a few year’s span.
If a base $35,000 income doesn’t initially scream, “making it” to you, that’s because it isn’t. Business Insider found that the average cost of living for a family as of 2015 is around $31,000 in a middle-American city like Chicago, based off of The Economic Policy Institute’s 2015 Family Budget Calculator, which accounts for costs such as rent, child care, healthcare, food, transportation and taxes. All of those being agreed upon bare necessities of life in America.
As a result of the disparities between income and the cost of living, the increasingly crippling consumer market we willingly participate in and probably just sheer unawareness – it’s said that over 50% of people between ages 18-34 have less than $1,000 in their savings account.
It gets worse!
For those of us who were lucky enough to finish college, the average Class of 2016 graduate has accrued $37,172 in student loan debt, though according to another April, 2016 article – this time by Forbes, 43% of borrowers holding federal loans are behind on payments or are neglecting to pay them altogether.
On an over-simplified level: we’re making less, saving less and spending more. We’re behind on our debt obligations and ultimately we’re in over our fiscal heads.
After hearing all of that you might throw your hands up and continue to spend on your experiences now as it seems no matter what you do, you’re doomed to a life of debt and catching up to an abstract number that can’t be caught.
Though buying rounds like Diddy and flying to Cabo San Lucas for a holiday are enjoyable endeavors, you’re going to have to face your decisions sooner or later.
Why not start today?
Place your value less in material possessions and less of your pocket book on the pursuit of them (they never end by the way, that’s the way consumer culture works!). Try getting rid of a third of the things you own for starters, and see if you miss those things in a week. You may even find yourself less stressed, unburdened by the anxiety of keeping up.
Start saving today. Dedicate a certain amount of your paycheck to your savings account, and then another portion to a healthy retirement fund like a 401K or a Roth IRA. Better yet, set it up so that your employer does it automatically – you won’t even notice!
Go out less and do things that don’t cost you. Walking, hiking and swimming are a few examples of free entertainment that will keep you in better physical and mental health. If you do them with a partner, you might even feel a stronger connection to that person. You won’t just be saving money, you’ll be executing a fulfilling endeavor that won’t end in you chundering into a wastebasket the next morning.
Find joy in the things that you can attain, and quit comparing yourself to others. It’s so easy to see someone else’s pictures from Playa del Carmen and assume that it’s the norm for people your age to be galavanting around the world, designer shades and Moscow Mules in hand. In reality, most of us are just barely making it, squeezing our pennies to take mom to a show next month. Take pride in the fact that you earned those experiences.
Keep it simple. Live simple. Be simple.
It’ll work out in your favor down the road.