Empty Wallet No.3

The Reality of the Situation

0 The sad symbolism of millennials. Avocado, Krzysztof Puszczyński | Stocksnap.io

Things have noticeably taken a nose-dive off a canyon cliff since I last wrote about the austerity plan M and I implemented to improve our financial situation.

Budgeting is still the rule but with considerable urgency since I’ve lost my full-time job. That sense of financial security, that steady paycheck with its illusory sense of comfort is all gone. It’s been gone for five weeks now.

Unemployment benefits are helping, sort of, but let’s be real. That’s not a long-term solution. It’s not meant to be a long-term solution.

On top of this my current lease expires at the end of July. Without the requisite guarantor and finances, none of this is looking good.

Yet, I continue with a strange sense of optimism.

It’s a coping mechanism I developed as an undergraduate dealing with stressful, seemingly apocalyptic situations. This is one of them.

I’ve taken a small loan from my parents to help pay for more immediate bills but beyond that, it’s all been a hustle. Claiming weekly unemployment, staying healthy and calm, finding employment, pitching freelance work. I’m even signed up with a temp agency. I’ve had call backs but haven’t received an offer. Not yet, anyway.

It’s frustrating. It’s demoralizing. It’s dehumanizing.

But it goes beyond my immediate situation to a larger problem that many in my age cohort are faced with. Whatever baby boomers may call us, this is the reality of many in my generation.

Money is anxiety. It’s easy for older folks to blame us individually for our financial woes, and claim, “well, when I was young I worked hard!” as if we’re not hustling our asses off. It’s easy for them to scoff at the avocado toast but this misses the larger problem, the more nefarious issue at play that make our collective woes a big problem for us and potentially the future.

Millennials often joke about “adulting”—those behaviors and practices that are often associated with, well, being an adult, a very responsible adult that pays their bills and doesn’t worry about late fees and so on—but the veneer of truth behind this meme is the reality that we cannot achieve adulthood as our elders envisioned it because we’re (1) forgoing the car purchases, (2) demanding better wages and labor practices, (3) forgoing home ownership, (4) forgoing making babies and maintaining nuclear families and so on. If it weren’t for the dotcom bubble, September 11, housing crisis, the prolonged war and more that affected us during our prime years, we’d likely be happily puttering along the glorious route of the “American Dream” for generations to come.

But good things are not forever and there comes a time when events upend the Bob Rossian-utopia of life. Whether our parents and grandparents (hell, maybe even great-grandparents) wants to accept it or not, this is our reality and not only are we surviving it. We’re trying to change it for the better.

“Becoming poor is not an event. It is a process.”
(Hobbes, 2018)

I consider myself fairly privileged in that I grew up in a middle class home, overseas in a military family. Between the single-earner income and the subsidy provided by the U.S. government (all military families get this) live was very good. There’s also a lot of hope, excitement, and expectation this community has for its children, to go to great universities and achieve amazing things.

But this type of living hasn’t translated to me. Between post-secondary education, taking on part-time and full-time jobs with relatively low pay, I haven’t known real financial security since leaving home. It’s always paycheck to paycheck but I’ve been … lucky, perhaps. I’ve even come to the conclusion that I’ve been able to “survive” because of my middle class upbringing. I started up high enough on the ladder that if I spiraled downward, I had a ways to go before hitting rock bottom. Of course, my current situation hasn’t kept me from thinking and feeling (many times) that I’ve hit rock bottom.

No job. Little money. Hustling for pocket change here and there. With rent, phone bills, debt payments, it’s easier to just disappear. But that’ll also make things worse so we’re left with no real choice but to shuffle through, finding what dignity we can in dark corners that is life right now.

I’ve always felt anxious about money, and the current situation doesn’t help. I’ve become, in some ways, numb to the paralytic effects of the financial insecurity and anxiety especially when thinking about the next month and a half when we have to find and somehow secure a new apartment. It’s shitty and the stress is making us physically ill.

“What we are witnessing is a generation suffering not only from the perennial maladies of social change but from a particular set of indignities spawned by an economy that extracts and exploits, an educational system designed to enforce those deprivations, and a set of politicians who not only believe there is nothing wrong with this state of affairs but insist on calling it liberty.”
(Jones, 2018)

There are plenty of news sources and blogs with tips and advice on how to deal with financial stress. While they’re all practical and potentially useful, most of these articles fail to provide a critical analysis and push towards a systemic change that will improve outcomes for future generations. When you have an entire cohort suffering financially and socially, that’s not an indicator of individual poor judgements. It’s a sign of something larger, more nefarious, and with greater societal impact. Give us articles about that. Give us insight into the policies and practices of previous generations that led us to this point. Give us a platform to collaborate and bring ideas for change to improve everyone’s lot. We don’t need the thousandth iteration of Budgeting 101.

Educated, ambitious, and hard-working but also struggling with pretty much everything. Yet we somehow make it work. For better or worse.

– 30 –

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