Our Parents Tell Us To "Quit Whining" – Do They Really Understand Our Debt Situation?

USA Today is running a six-week long series on younger people and debt and this first installment titled Young people struggle to deal with kiss of debt jumps right into some statistics regarding the current trends of piling on more debt. While it is no surprise that those of us in our generation and younger are facing significant debt issues, what I did find surprising in this article is the discussion on the disparity between our generation and our parents.

For starters, the article says:

Some in the generations before them seem to feel little sympathy. They recall their own college days, when they worked during the school year and summers to pay tuition. What some may not recognize is how much college costs have soared above the overall inflation rate since then.


” ‘Quit whining’ — I’ve heard that a lot,” says Draut, who is director of the economic opportunity program at Demos, a public-policy research group. “Someone sees a 25-year-old buy a plasma-screen TV at Best Buy, and they think every 25-year-old is buying a plasma-screen TV at Best Buy.”


“There’s the common misconception that they have these debts because they’re buying iPods or cable TV,” Strauss says. “It’s not that. It’s student loans and housing.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I know that college tuition is increasing at a rate that far exceeds inflation, but to put the blame high tuition as the reason for our generation’s debt problems is far from completely accurate. It is true that if someone wants to attend college and doesn’t have scholarships or help from parents that the cost for an education can bury someone with tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt, but there are many ways to combat this.

First, you don’t need to attend a major university right from day one. If you are strapped for money to attend college it is common practice to attend a local community college for the first or second year. As long as you take the time to ensure the courses you take will be able to transfer, you could save tens of thousands of dollars over starting out at the major university of your choice. The second biggest thing someone can do to help with high college costs is to have a job while attending school. It is quite possible to hold down a part-time job and still do well with your studies. Not only is it possible, but you could likely make enough money to cover a majority of your tuition. Working part-time during school and full-time over the summer could easily allow a student to make tuition, if not room and board as well.

In response to the article where our parents are telling us to quit whining, I have to at least partially agree. Yes, things like college, homes and vehicles cost more than they used to, but this is not the primary reason we are in debt. Our parents are right, we need to stop whining and take some responsibility for our actions. While this applies more often to the youngest of Generation X and Generation Y, one of the primary reasons there is such a debt problem is a sense of entitlement.

Older twentysomethings are part of so-called Generation X, which includes those born from the early ’60s to the early ’80s. They grew up at a time when layoffs and divorce were hitting families hard. As a result, most of them tend to be realistic about company loyalty (they’re not counting on it) or Social Security (not counting on it) or even their family’s ability to care for them (they don’t even want to ask).

Independence and skepticism run high. “Even the tail end of the Gen Xers can’t imagine living with their parents again,” says Floren of Experience. “They’d rather pitch a tent.”

Younger twentysomethings, those about 25 and younger, are part of the Millennials, also known as Generation Y. More dependent on their parents, they’ve grown up in what some see as overprotective households. Their parents even have a nickname, “helicopter parents,” for the way they hover.

That’s left a group of young twentysomethings who tend to be casually optimistic about their future — no matter what.

“They expect things to be given to them,” Floren says. “Even Gen Xers are ticked off by their sense of entitlement. They think: ‘What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you just dive in?’ “

If you look at the sense of entitlement with the ease of obtaining credit, you have just found the answer to why young adults have a debt problem. It is a dangerous combination of a mindset where someone feels they deserve to be successful with the ability to obtain a means to feel successful. Credit is the vehicle and many young people got in for the ride.

I think our parents are right, young people who find themselves complaining about their situation should in general stop whining and step up and begin to take responsibility and make amends to improve their situation. On the other hand, the fiscal irresponsibility does not fall completely on our shoulders. Most of our parents did not educate us on personal finance issues, and our parents also did not have the ease to obtain credit for every little purchase when raising us. Our parents are also from a generation of pensions and social security so saving money for retirement was not a trait that was generally passed onto us.

It is up to us to change our country’s debt situation and to create more responsible spending and savings habits. We can put the blame on anything we want, but in the end we are in control of our future. We can start by educating ourselves on how to wisely spend, save and help our children create a new generation of financial prosperity.

I look forward to the next six weeks to see where this USA Today series goes from here.

Update: I noticed another great post that discusses this article over at Get Rich Slowly. The post does a great job and highlighting some key points from the article.

Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle

My name is Jeremy Vohwinkle, and I’ve spent a number of years working in the finance industry providing financial advice to regular investors and those participating in employer-sponsored retirement plans.


This sure was an interesting article four years later with the economy and debt situation where it is now. I am one of those optimistic Millennials, but I think it is good we have optimism. This recession is hitting us hard, in that recent college graduates are finding it hard to get into the job market. I am spending some time to go to graduate school and I am hopeful that when I get done in 4 years I can find a good job.


Unfortunately though, many people who are currently retired, or plan on retiring in the next 5-10 years, they are relying almost completely on SS and/or an employer's pension. Obviously this trend is starting to change and more focus is being put on people needing to save in their 401k or IRAs for their retirement income, but unfortunately there is a large segment of the population out there right now that does not have this luxury.

When I was practicing as a financial planner, it was sad to see so many people unprepared for retirement because they have been counting on SS for so many years. I would constantly meet with people in their 50's who were ready to start planning for their retirement, and I would say about 80% had less than $10,000 saved for retirement. They came to me looking for answers on retiring only to find out that SS will replace only a fraction of what they were bringing home, and if they were lucky enough to have a pension, they might possibly be able to replace 50% of their income. This came as a tremendous shock to most and their retirement dreams were crushed.

But, I agree, SS was never meant to fund someone's retirement completely, but people have looked at it as just for for so long. There has been no real pressure to save your own money for retirement, so why would you when you knew you had SS coming your way?

It is going to be a long and painful shift from the mentality of a government sponsored retirement to personal retirement savings and it will be interesting to see how the next 10-20 years play out.


I don't know, SS was never meant to be a person's primary income source in retirement. That said, I'm 30 and looking forward to having SS as a supplement. I Don't count on it, but if its still there, it will be a nice bonus. I have enough in my 401K right now that even if I stopped contributing, I know I won't starve. And I still have 30 plus years to go.


I think there are two sides that we need to look at here. One, if you're a student or recent graduate (high school or college), you have to be realistic about whatever your financial situation is, and act accordingly. If you can't afford a nice TV or the nice vacation because you don't make enough money, don't buy it. That should also go for your choice of school -- $30,000 a year for a private college or the free ride to State U? I went to a private college and I know I'd take the free ride to State U in a second. And certainly your career choice should at least keep earnings in mind (although you need to make sure you LIKE what you do).

On the other hand, there's always some jerk with an agenda that turns these discussions into a story about "lack of personal responsibility" and how we're all getting soft because of Medicare and Social Security. It's important to note that at one time we had neither Medicare nor Social Security, and someone from that mythical past where everyone took responsibility for themselves somehow thought they were a good idea. Maybe that great era of responsbility wasn't so great, after all? Medicare and Social Security exist because of Murphy's Law -- what can go wrong, will go wrong, for somebody. Are you willing to let someone live in squalor when it does?

That having been said, *I* am not leaving my future up to Medicare and Social Security -- even if the system were sound (it's not -- shame on us), I want to have fun when I'm retired, not merely subsist.


Michelle, great work on the satire. The line, "the gift that keeps on taking" is soooooo true.

Often times we talk about the "power of compounding interest" when investing but unfortunately it works the other way as well. Making those minimum payments compounds the amount we owe and definitely "keeps taking" away from us.


I agree with you Steve, and I also don't want to get too political, but I believe there are too many ways for people to get by in life by catching a ride on some government assistance or just sue their way to the lifestyle they desire.

Where is the personal accountability? There isn't any anymore. While this article sort of touched on it, it comes down to the mentality of if you aren't where you want to me or don't get what you want, it is someone or something else's fault. Of course, it can't be because you aren't trying or working hard enough, it has to be because you are entitled to it, so someone or something is preventing you from achieving this!

But I digress, I don't want to get too ranty, but in summary I wanted to agree with your comments.

Col. Steve Austin
Col. Steve Austin

"Helicopter parents" -- that's pretty funny. AKA Baby Boomers. The helicopter adjective may also tangentially allude to Chairman Bernanke, who was dubbed Helicopter Ben with his anecdote (and actually he was referencing the late Milton Friedman) that the Fed could always make a helicopter drop of money to defeat deflation. I believe that Bernanke is a Baby Boomer as well. It all adds up now. ;-)

Regarding your comment about Gen X taking responsibility to change the US gov't's debt situation, I agree. I don't see any of the currently working generations focusing on it. We hear lots of talk about reducing the deficit in the federal budget, but no talk of maintaining a budget surplus long enough to pay off that debt. The only way it gets addressed now is by maintaining a controlled, moderate level of inflation, which erodes the real value of the debt. A bit of a cope out in my book.

I don't wish to turn this too political, but I'll say this much: if we want people to take responsibility, we should take away crutches like Medicare and Social Security. Personal responsibility would become paramount, followed quickly by familial responsibility. After that one's church and other non-profit orgs. Only then should governments get involved, and then only local and state. The federal government has no business holding our hands with entitlement programs. No one is going to take care of us. Always look out for Number 1! Work our asses off and make it happen -- isn't that the realist American Dream?

Gen X sends.