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.