Friday, February 10, 2006

Generation "Debt"

MSNBC has an article on how 'Generation Debt' is Going Deep Into the Red. The increases in the cost of housing and a college education have far outpaced income increases while the typical job market for college graduates is shrinking in favor of an expanding sector that typically pays minimum wage. This leaves our youth facing the prime of their lives with crushing debt. It also leaves them unlikely to ever match their parents' standard of living.

Sounds pretty gloomy. This situation isn't anyone's "fault" but I have to wonder what effect that boomer parents have had in all this. As a generation they've experienced some huge shifts in the financial landscape, and that has to play a part.

Don't despair though. I do think there are many folks out there who aren't sticking their head in the sand, but meeting and beating that level of debt head on (cheers to our younger PF bloggers decimating debt!). The article's final page has several suggestions for grabbing hold of the financial reins including creating a budget, setting financial goals, saving for retirement and other helpful basics.

One of the things that I think is hard for people is to understand the long term financial impact of justifying what can amount to overspending on their children. What parent wants to deny their child? Parents want their kids to have "everything" but without an understanding of long term goals and needs, spending in the present can get out of hand. The article suggests:

Put your future over your children’s present. Many young families are lavishing more money on their kids when they should be thinking long-term first, said Manning. “They justify the money they spend on their youngsters, such as buying an expensive house in a good school district as worth it for their future, but in reality they would be better served if there was enough money to send them to college.”
It's important for people to not feel powerless. Whether it's from paying off your debt to changing public policy. Another suggestion in the article is for young adults to get involved in the political landscape to address some of these problems. Tamara Draut, author of Strapped: Why America’s 20- and 30-Somethings Can’t Get Ahead points out why this is critical:

“We’re the first Americans to start our lives with five-figure debt and start our careers in an Darwinian new economy. Congress has decimated college financial aid and let the minimum wage fall to historic lows. If we continue to tune out and check out of the political process, our future will be all but stolen from us.”

If you've been keeping up with personal finance lately, there wasn't much that was new in this article, but it's a good hard look at the combined effect that certain trends are having on our youth and our shared future. It's not just that youth are all spendy spendy with the credit card (though that may be part of the problem, but it's certainly NOT just our it?) so let's just stop blaming and make sure this doesn't come crashing down on all our heads (too gloomy?)

I think the key is to make yourself aware and educate yourself on your situation and don't slip into denial and then...just START. Do any one of those things on the list just to get going. Starting is the best thing you can choose to do.



  1. Good post, Caitlin. Certainly made me think.

    I don't really have debt issues (partly because I've been careful to avoid it, and partly because I come from enough privilege that I was not saddled with student loans). My major financial challenge is something else you mention in your post--I can't get over the feeling that I should be living as comfortably (read: extravaggantly) as my parents did/do.

    I don't want to blame my parents for my financial challenges, but I will say that my father laughs at me for saving for retirement at such a young age (29), and my mother has virtually ALL her money in real estate (in her gorgeous expensive primary home, not even an income-generating rental) and encourages me to do the same. They both think I'm too anal about money, and they pressue me to buy a nicer car, nicer house, etc. The purse strings were cut with mutual satisfaction a long time ago, so it's not like they're proposing to pay for a more luxurious lifestyle for me. But they feel uncomfortable with my parsimonious ways and want to see me living it up more.

    Even though I know their way is not for me, I still long for more expensive vacations, nicer furniture, etc. It's hard to reconcile myself to living within my means.

    Luckily I have a much-older sister who was also uncomfortable with the risky investments and the gratuitous spending of our parents. She's very frugal, and a savvy investor. She got to me while I was in college, so that by the time I was out of college I was thinking about opening a Roth IRA, etc.

    Okay, too wordy. I'm done.

  2. Not too wordy at all! My sister is 21 and a junior and I'd like to contribute to her financial education, you made me realize there's still time ;)

    There really are generational difference at work here. For one take on what those are, get ahold of Fred Brock's "Live Well on Less Than You Think" -- the book is sort of useless but the first chapter on generational differences is interesting even if I don't agree with every thing he says.

    That chapter might lead to a better understanding of your parents mindset and/or better ways to communicate with them about this. But to anyone reading this comment, I have to stress that i don't think the book is worth buying at any price....Definitely a library book!


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