Throughout our compulsory educational years, my cohort of big shot millennials were taught mathematics, business, and economics. We were taught from books, in an abstract way. “Train A departs Omaha at 9:30 going 50-miles-per-hour…” We learned concepts, but not application. Information, without a lesson. Education, before learning. Financial illiteracy ran roughshod. But, we were big shot millennials, and ignorance was bliss.
With our hopes and dreams burning bright, we took on the world. We earned a high school diploma and moved on XYZ University, which was a six year period of one poor decision after another—financial and otherwise. All went as planned, and 71% of us graduated with student loans at an average balance of over $35,000.
If it stopped there, we’d be fortunate. But, we’d only just begun.
With our big shot millennial Bachelor’s Degree in hand, we landed our first job at a median salary of $45,327. Seeing an amount of money that had never before been available to us, and noticing the toys popping up in the lives of our acquaintances, we quickly moved toward destroying that salary with personal consumption.
This started with a new car, purchased at an average cost of $33,560 and which 85% of us financed. We didn’t think of the car as costing a full year’s net wages, or the 3,000 hours of meetings, commuting, and busywork we would endure in exchange for an assembly of steel and wheels. Instead, we looked at the measly $440 per month over eight years at 6% interest. “I can afford $440 per month,” we said with reassurance, “I’m a big shot millennial.”
We justified the purchase. We need the new car, of course, for our 51-minute commute to the job and again to the nearby lunch spot, where over $1,000 per year would be spent between the hours of Noon and 1 PM. After work, that car has to take us to dinner. We’re big shot millennials now, with a job and all that, so we deserve to have a team of a dozen people direct us to an open table, serve us food, wash our dishes, and ask if we need more diet soda. We did this often. So often, in fact, that we quickly spent more at restaurants than we did at grocery stores.
Of course, that car needed to get us home. And not just any home—this is America, and we’re big shot millennials. Despite the average family size being almost a full person smaller than 50 years ago, our homes grew 1,000 square feet larger. We needed those two extra bedrooms, we said, for when mom would visit every few years. When mom came, we would want her to say, “my boy sure has become a big shot millennial.”
And behind it all, of course, was debt. The thought-to-be enormous salary we had when we graduated was soon hardly enough to make the minimum payments on our credit cards. We adapted to the insane lifestyle we had created and “more” was the only solution to our unwinnable race. Lifestyle inflation had now far outpaced our personal wage inflation, and the warm blanket of debt was readily standing by to make up the difference. Before we realized it, our debt-to-income ratio was over 100% and climbing. Interest payments started taking a bigger and bigger slice of our income pie, until there was no pie left for “necessities.” We were big shot millennials with big shot tastes, like $100 cable bills, $71 cell phone plans, and fancy child care that costs more than our rent.
As it became clear that things wouldn’t add up, we built a $38 Billion industry of payday loans, where we would spend tomorrow’s money for things we bought yesterday. When that satanic fountain ran dry, we put up the title for that beautiful car, supporting the mushrooming $8 billion title loan industry. We found out that $950 today would cost $2,150 ten months later. But, we didn’t care. We needed that $950; we’re big shot millennials.
But, it still wasn’t enough. It’s was never enough.
In a remorseful blaze of paperwork that was prefaced with “Chapter 13,” we destroyed our credit, credibility, and any chance of ever getting a mortgage. Broke and broken, and like 43% of our millennial brothers and 38% of our millennial sisters (the most since the 1940’s), we headed home to once again live with our parents.
Full circle. Cradle to cradle. Big shots no longer, and what did we learn? Nothing. Rather than evaluate what matters, we instead choose to blame. We blame the economy. We blame gas prices. We blame the lack of defined benefit pensions. We blame the casino stock markets. We blame the government. We blame the rich. We blame the poor. As long as it’s not ourselves, we blame it. We even blame the math—the same math we failed to learn so many years ago. When we’ve blamed everything, we blame some more. We blame in the comfort and mutual assurances of other fallen big shots.
We can ill afford to critically look at ourselves. Only righteousness lies within us; the real problems are external.
We are big shot millennials, and we live with our parents.
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