The struggle is real -- a great description for life in your 20s. We've all been there. So I can totally empathize if you tell me about your FOMO and complain about missing nights out with friends. But when you tell me that saving money and being financially responsible in your 20s is wrong, I'll go ahead and say you're setting yourself up for failure.
I came across an article published by Elite Daily recently, and it not only made me a little sadder than usual that people in my generation are living up to what society thinks about us, but it also made me realize that there are people out there who actually take articles like this seriously.
The headline caught my attention -- thinking it was a joke. But as I continued reading, I was horrified by what the writer, Lauren Martin, had to say -- explaining why saving money in your 20s means you’re doing something wrong. And before I go any further, it saddens me even more to have to point out that you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the Internet. Because unfortunately, there are outlets that publish articles with titles like this: "If You Have Savings In Your 20s, You're Doing Something Wrong."
Read more: 13 smart money moves to make in your 20s
Here are just a few highlights of Martin’s misguided advice to her fellow millennials:
- “I wasn’t going out with friends, had yet to go to a club and had never seen the inside of a taxi. I couldn’t enjoy my life because I was too busy worrying about my bank statement. I was too busy watching my savings instead of savoring my youth.”
- “I don’t know about you, but I like to enjoy my life. I like to go out to eat, buy clothes I don’t ‘need’ and spend money with friends on memorable nights out.”
- “When did our 20s start to feel like our 40s? When did we get weighed down with the same pressure and stresses as a woman with four kids and a second mortgage?”
With way too many people offering their advice on the Internet, it can be difficult to cut through all the clutter. And it's alarming how much clutter there is out there, making it extremely frustrating for people who are looking for legitimate information to better their lives.
But what's even more alarming is that some people have referred to Martin’s article as a “wake-up” call.
Here's a wake-up call: While millennials are on track to be the most educated generation in U.S. history, they have very little to no understanding of money and basic financial concepts.
So for people who may not be convinced that saving in your 20s means "you're doing something wrong” — and even for people who are convinced of such nonsense — here’s why you shouldn't take this foolish advice and how ignoring the concept of saving money could actually be what ruins your life.
If you have savings in your 20s, you're actually doing something RIGHT
"[Our parents] want us to save because it provides us with a safety net, but that's exactly why we shouldn’t.”
I'm sorry to be the one to break it to you, but there is no magic “safety net” that pays for irresponsible twenty-somethings.
“Their need for us to have a safety net is just a giant metaphor for the difference between our parent’s generation and ours… They were saving for kids while we still want to be kids,” Martin wrote.
"We're taking our time growing up, refusing to be shackled by mortgages and diapers. We're not trying to live with safety nets; we're trying to live on the edge.”
I get it — there are a lot of people out there telling us we’re lazy, entitled and doing everything wrong when it comes to money, saving and overall personal and professional achievement. And it’s difficult to listen to advice that’s often delivered in a condescending manner. But the problem is, these people become right about our generation the moment we tune out the good advice and say “we already know everything there is to know and we don’t want to be like our parents anyway!”
Here’s why that’s a bad mentality.
Although you may want to act like it, you are actually no longer kids, and no one is going to take care of you. Not everyone has a financial safety net provided for them — they have to provide it for themselves.
And if there comes a time when you do want to grow up, financial irresponsibility in your 20s is exactly what will prevent you from doing all those things like being “shackled by mortgages and [kids].” Because while you may not realize it now, your credit score is a real thing, and it will matter when you want to buy big girl things. To spell it out: When you realize it’s time to stop throwing money down the drain on rent and want to buy a house, that won’t be an option. What will also matter is having money for a down payment, which most people have to make and save on their own.
And going out to eat every night, frequenting nightclubs in New York City and buying clothes you don't "need" are all great ways to become that woman with four kids, a second mortgage and no money to provide for those kids.
Saving for yourself IS betting on yourself
"When you’re saving for yourself, you’re refusing to bet on yourself."
Let’s clarify this… When you’re saving for yourself, you’re refusing to bet that someone else will do it for you — and that's smart, because that would be a bad bet to make.
“People who are saving in their 20s are people who don’t set their sights high,” Martin wrote. “Your 20s are not the time to save; they’re the time to gamble. $200 a month isn’t going to make the dent that a $60,000 pay raise will after spending all those nights out networking.”
This is what is called a lack of ambition.
Here’s a gamble: I’m willing to bet that nine out of 10 people you meet at the nightclub aren’t the folks handing out $60,000 raises to the “kid” who just wants to live on the edge. But I guess that depends on what kind of “nightclub” it is…
Financial freedom gives you the ability to do whatever you want with your life, but it's something you have to achieve for yourself. I'm sorry if I'm the one to tell you, but no one is going to hand that to you.
No one is going to save for you
“When you care about your 401(k), your life is just ‘k.’”
In case you missed it: The reason people are able to retire is because they saved money throughout their life. And Martin's arguments make it very clear she's unfamiliar with the concept of compound interest -- which would be fine if she wasn't offering people idiotic advice on the Internet for the purpose of a few thousand Facebook shares.
And want to know what’s way worse than a life that’s just “k”? One in which you have to work until you die, because you have no money saved. Or one in which you become homeless, because you have no financial safety net and no magical genie (or rich parents) to bail you out. Or how about one in which your dire financial situation leads to mental health issues… because yes, that’s real for a lot of people.
And Martin’s argument that if “you live your life around your retirement fund, you may as well retire,” is a great way to end up living in your parents’ basement forever.
Everything doesn't just 'work out'
“Everything works out, and if you’re smart, able and had a job once, you’ll have one again…. When you have nothing to lose, you have everything to gain.”
False. People who weren’t “living on the edge” during the Great Recession likely remember the millions of Americans who lost great jobs. And when it came to finding a new one, being “smart” — and even having a college degree — didn’t help.
For a lot of people, the privilege of saving money was no longer an option. Because while they were plenty smart and able — with a good job — they were forced to live on their savings, borrow other people's savings, take jobs for less pay (if they could find one) and “live on the edge” without health insurance.
And a lot of people did reach the point where they had nothing to lose, because they had lost it all, and they’ll be the first to tell you it’s not a “cool” way to live.
So while “Sex and the City” may have taught you differently, the real world will teach you that everything doesn’t just work out.
Millennials are known to be an optimistic bunch, which isn't a bad thing, as long as that optimism isn't just masking your naiveté, which is clearly what's going on behind a headline like Martin's.
You CAN save money & enjoy life, too!
“When you deprive yourself, you don’t learn how to TREAT YO SELF.”
Maybe if life were like a sitcom... But unfortunately, the reference does nothing but support the stereotype that millennials have no concept of reality.
The actual reality is, you CAN save money and still enjoy life. Really, I promise.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying your money, but enjoying it doesn’t mean you have to waste it. And actually, wasting it means you won’t be able to enjoy nice things later — either in the near future or further down the road.
Contrary to Martin’s explanation of her first-world problems, saving isn't actually synonymous with deprivation. It’s about creating a sustainable lifestyle — for the present and for the future. It’s about betting on yourself so you don’t have to rely on anyone else, because at the end of the day, the only person who is ever going to really care about your success is you.
The good news...
The good news is that more and more millennials are getting back on track financially -- budgeting and saving, despite bad advice from entitled peers who are struggling with higher-than-normal levels of FOMO (fear of missing out).
According to a recent survey by investment and financial planning firm T. Rowe Price, 88% of millennials say they are pretty good at living within their means, and 67% say they save by any means necessary. On top of that, millennials ranked contributing to a 401(k) and paying down debt equally as their top priority.
“[Millennials] are exhibiting financial discipline in managing their spending and are defying stereotypes that this generation is prone to spend-thrift, short-sighted thinking," said Anne Coveney, senior manager of Retirement Thought Leadership at T. Rowe Price.
And according to the survey, millennials are even more likely than baby boomers to track expenses and budget. And despite what Lauren Martin says, boomers would likely tell you to save -- and don't stop saving. Because while missing one girls' night out seems tragic at the time, your near-retirement self will hate you for not saving and ultimately forcing yourself to work later in life and put off retirement.
So take a risk — care less about being cool and give a **** about your life, because no one is going to clean up your mess for you later.