Retailers are skipping over Thanksgiving with a vengeance this year. I’m not usually one of those people who hates when Christmas arrives too early (like right after Halloween). But this year, on a trek to go find stuff to add Thanksgiving cheer to my home, I was disappointed to find barely anything, but lots of Christmas merchandise. Every shop I went to seemed to scream “HURRY, AND BUY ALL THE THINGS!” It’s as though the gods of consumerism know that too much thankfulness might make people realize that food, friends, and family have the ability to fill a void in their lives. Or perhaps retailers are trying to avoid a repeat of December 2013’s scant Christmas returns by pushing sales early.
In millennial style (and perhaps mom style) I was resourceful and returned home with pom poms and spray paint. (Also, I don’t think I’m not alone in this Save-The-Turkey-Day sentiment, as ALL of the copper spray paint was sold out. So the paint suppliers have profited from Turkey Day, if no one else.)
Millennials are often described as resourceful, and sometimes post-consumeristic (or even anti-consumeristic). Though I value resourcefulness, it’s been out of necessity, rather than just raw idealism. As far as millennials being anti-consumeristic, I think it’s a bit of a stretch because they are buying things like iPhones. The experience I’ve had in emerging adulthood has changed my attitude in valuing things like gratitude, patience, and responsibility.
How I became “Cheap”
I love the idea of being self-sustaining. Me and my husband have hopped on all kinds of trends to be “cheaper”. We started a vegetable garden. I’ve learned short cuts to stock up on the cheapest and healthiest foods. I budget like a grandma who grew up during the Depression. I’m content with a “smaller” house. We’re renting. We don’t have cable. We cut back on everything possible in order to pay off loans. We buy things from thrift stores and garage sales (I got a denim chambray for $3 but it’s Miley Cyrus brand, don’t tell). We are a one-car household. Staying home with my kids pushed me to get more serious about freelance with numerous online tools, and opportunities at my disposal.
We started married life as homeowners (bought in 2007!) and our house lost over half of it’s value in the years to follow. I zillow-stalked our old house and it’s still just below 70% of the value we bought it for. Also my job at the time laid off several people and had mandatory furloughs. This was my introduction to the grown-up financial world.
Point being, you don’t forget these things overnight. So yea, the list goes on and on of the so-called “cheap” generation has formed their ideals in the midst of financial struggle. “Having it all” has never been an option, but ironically, I value what I’ve gained from living on a shoestring budget. “There has to be something more to life,” millennials think.
How I will actually be okay with having money and things… someday.
A couple years ago had a distinctly depressed, and almost nauseous feeling as I was driving through a nice subdivision. The SoCal neighborhood looked almost identical to the one I grew up in in NorCal.
It felt suffocating. I don’t know if it’s the inevitable “I don’t want to have my parent’s life” idealism that hits you in your youth. When your idealism screams against any sort of “grown up” monotony. I shared this experience with a friend who is in the same boat as I am (married + kids) and she had the exact same feeling. There is truth to this millennial-aversion to the traditional American Dream. The thought of just getting the house, the job and being a worker bee is incredibly depressing. There is so much more to life than that. And the Financial Crisis has shown how unreliable these things are anyway.
The attitudes that I’ve formed over the last decade will be with me for the rest of my life. Resourcefulness is a great value and one I’m glad I’ve embraced, but practical options can change my idealistic mindset. As salt-of-the earth as I like to see myself if someone was like “hey, here’s a $1,000 gift card to Anthropolgie” I would be pretty excited about that. You know, to achieve that perfect “did she sew it herself, wow she’s amazingly talented” look.
But, this panicky feeling I experienced was now two years ago. I had an even stranger experience recently. The big houses don’t look quite as scary. They seem inviting. Even, brimming with potential. Since my imaginary Revolutionary Road crisis, I’ve gone from one kid to two. We have paid off one student loan. And the future is looking pretty bright. A mortgage payment isn’t looking as restricting as it did years ago. Of course, if we moved to a different neighborhood, we would need another car. There could be a playroom all Ikea-ed out where my boys can make good memories. One room could be dedicated to be a home office with the stuff I need to expand my business. Maybe some money is budgeted to use for Skillshare. My kids will be at the age where my husband and I could leave them with family and finally go to Ireland, or Iceland, or some other kind of land.
For the first time it’s crossed my mind that it’s very likely that we will be comfortable in a few years. My brain can scarcely grasp it. We remember going to the buy one get one free coffee shop on Wednesdays to spend $2.00. That was splurge for us. Our practical situation will very likely change. And it will be a relief. Our kids will be able to join activities, we can provide the basics. We could save up for a car. Buy a place, not to keep up with the Joneses, but to be a home. These goals are far from the excesses of consumerism or discontent. This is a radical relief. And pride in myself that we worked our way out of debt and navigated our shoestring life together.
How “growing up” will still look different for millennials
My Twitter profile says “semi-successfully grown-up” but I keep adding notches to my grown-up cred, and that will inevitably continue over the years. It will be interesting to see which millennial values will endure as they mature. It could be that millennials will go on to do the “normal” stuff like buying houses and cars, but the mindset will be different. The correlation between square-footage and self-worth may be slightly alleviated as many of my peers who are homeowners actually like the “smaller” houses. Buying houses and cars might come with a degree of thankfulness rather than “showing off.” And practicality rather than excess. Homeownership and carownership has changed to a degree in my mind. It’s not a one-size-fits-all hand-me-down of the awkwardly gluttonous American Dream.
This post has been emotional for me to write. Getting out of debt is not about “stuff” or even money. It’s a symbol that with enough patience, and optimism that most thing will end up being ok in the end. And after being stunted because of practical realities, millennials might finally reach a place in their lives where the sky is the limit. And Oh man, I’m interested to see what millennials will do when they get the chance. When they have the practical means available to them. There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel if you’re willing to keep digging.
So, I am an idealist. I hope to always keep the ability to know how to enjoy life based on “nothing”– as in no things. But the practical reality is that income, and getting out of debt brings opportunity. I’ll most definitely have an appreciation for discipline, responsibility, sustainability in all things, and hard work for the rest of my life.
That, and DIY projects like spray-painting ugly turkey figurines from Salvation Army copper.