Why I’m sick of hearing Millennials get shit on.

The older generations love to whine about participation trophies, conveniently forgetting that they were the ones handing them out.  —Some guy on Reddit.

Each generation shits on the next; as a GenX’er I know this full well. Not every Boomer did this to us, of course, but the ones who shat on my generation did so THOROUGHLY, with great vigor and enthusiasm.

Your turn, Millennials.


Two weeks ago I saw this headline on CNBC: “Millennials don’t like motorcycles, and that’s killing Harley’s sales.”

The gist of the article was that asset management firm AllianceBernstein downgraded Harley-Davidson after a proprietary survey found that Millennials are less interested in owning motorcycles than their generational predecessors. While I don’t doubt AB’s analysts reached their conclusion objectively, the title made it far too easy for readers to infer that Harley’s yet another American institution these phone-gazing children can’t be bothered with.

Because: how the hell can they not like motorcycles?

After I finished the article I found my spirit–shall we say–troubled, so I shucked my shirt and kicked off my sandals and took to my hammock with a cigar and a bottle of Goslings Black Seal rum, and I tried to make sense of it. (The article, not the rum. Goslings Black Seal and I came to a mutual understanding lo these many years ago.)

What got up my ass was a pair of quotes from AB analyst David Beckel.

First: “It turns out millennials don’t ‘live to ride’ like their parents and grandparents did.”

And second: “[We’ve downgraded Harley] based on increased conviction that motorcycle demand in the US is in the throes of secular erosion, combined with weakened conviction in the materialization of near-term catalysts.”

Millennials don’t live to ride. Well…it sucks to have weakened conviction in the materialization of your near-term catalysts, I suppose…but I think Millennials know that even better than Harley-Davidson, and for sure they know what it’s like to be downgraded.

Here’s a thought: what if Millennials don’t buy Harleys because they can’t afford them?

And here’s another: Your failed business model is not my problem.

Anyway, links to three more articles were buried in the “you might also enjoy” section of the page’s footer, and I found each more spirit-troubling than the last. Screengrab:

(By the way, who’s this “Taboola” character? Some guy who sells Moroccan food to Han Solo?)

But yeah, after reading those three articles too, I felt the Harley piece was a clear case of one joke; three punchlines. Let’s discuss.


Article #1: “NFL player who lives on $60k a year says this book changed his mindset about money.”

When wide receiver Ryan Broyles got drafted by the Lions in 2012 he immediately pulled a Rich Dad / Poor Dad. During his contract term he squirreled away at the very least $1.1 million and probably a lot more, then set about living on sixty grand a year so his money wouldn’t run out on him in his old age. The article praised him for his prudence, and I do too.

But this article also made it easy for readers to make a negative inference. Broyles, a Millennial who abruptly got rich, was smart enough to realize he was in imminent financial danger and needed to mend his ways…making him the exception who proves the rule: young people can’t and maybe even can’t be bothered to manage money properly. And when you consider what they blow their money on—what’s this avocado toast I keep hearing about?—there’s little hope they’ll wise up.

Which is nuts. Hang out with any Millennial and chat with her about money, and she’ll be keenly aware she’s in bad financial straits…and that she needs to find A) reasons why, and B) solutions.

I’ll get to reasons and solutions further down, but for the moment we’re left with this question: how sound a financial foundation can you build when you’re broke?

Bureau of Labor statistics show that “the median earnings for full-time workers age 18 to 34 were $35,845 in 1980. By 2000 the same cohort was earning $37,355. For the period of 2009-2013, however, full-time workers between 18 and 34 had median earnings of just $33,883.” 1

And of course blah blah blah covfefe student loans.

So compare all that with Ryan Broyles’s signing bonus…and um…

And, um, the situation is grim. When you see what Millennials live on you start understanding why they’re piling up consumer debt at record rates.2 They’re not just blowing it all on avocado toast…it’s the rent and the gasoline and the navy blue suit and every other ante you have to throw in if you want to play the game at all.


Article #2: “Cramer to Trump: ‘Get the facts straight’ on Merck CEO Ken Frazier and drug pricing.”

Whether Merck engages in ripoff drug pricing or not, Jim Cramer’s broadside at Trump was one more reference to the fact that the exponential inflation of healthcare costs is sandbagging the financial well-being of Millennials (and everybody else), is gonna keep doing so for the foreseeable future, and might very well perpetuate itself into succeeding generations.

Which is why Bernie Sanders dominated the Millennial vote.3 Millennials cast more votes for a, quote, socialist than for Clinton and Trump combined…a watershed event, and one that’s at the very least a sign that they understand the pressure they’re under and are politically aware enough to try to find legislative relief.

Even if they’re still learning how and where from.

Man…I caught an op-ed piece The Atlantic ran back in 2014; the theme of which was that Millennials’ political views are basically incoherent.4 When I looked it back up I found the lede especially provocative–as all good ledes should be, I guess:

“Millennial politics is simple, really. Young people support big government, unless it costs any more money. They’re for smaller government, unless budget cuts scratch a program they’ve heard of. They’d like Washington to fix everything, just so long as it doesn’t run anything.”

Which is to say: they’re just as bad at civics as they are at personal finance. There followed a lot of survey data to that effect.

Hang out listening to conversations at any Denny’s for a half-hour and you’ll realize that Millennials’ beliefs might be oxymoronic, but they’re also learned. You could swap ”Baby Boomers” or GenX’ers” for “Millennials” in that lede and you’d still be spot on. Dig into statistics—as we have been and will again—and you’ll see how much intergenerational projection there is in all this. Which is just as true for finance and it is for politics.

Speaking of which: the explosion in healthcare costs seems to have led me into politics, and politics isn’t the point of this article. AT ALL. I already regret mentioning it.

So let’s not mention it.

The point of all that was, I think, that nobody who leases a Harley oughtta dog the guy who spends all night outside the Apple store waiting to put the new iPhone on his credit card.

When you review the last forty years of economic history, you’re confronted with the eighties recession, the savings and loan crisis, junk bonds, the dot com bubble, and the housing crisis. Boomers and GenX’ers start looking like a bunch of rodeo goats…not who you’d want to follow into the ring. Sure, there was a seventeen-year boom lodged in there, but “irrational exuberance” milked it dry, and little of the subsequent recovery has trickled down to anyone younger than thirty.

In other words, we the older generations haven’t exactly done a good job teaching the younger one about finance. We don’t talk it and we don’t live it. So until we do better at prioritizing the subject in our schools—hasten the day, Lord, hasten the day—let’s not write Millennials off as a pack of dunces just yet. They themselves obviously bear ultimate responsibility for their own educations, but look at what we’ve given them to work with.

Let he who hath no shit on his own shoes walk on the white carpet.

/rant


Article #3: “Here’s how much you should have saved by thirty-five.”

“By 35, you should have the equivalent of twice your annual salary saved if you plan to retire at 67 and live a similar lifestyle.”

And:

“That’s twice as much as the amount you should have at 30, the equivalent of one year’s salary.”

That’s from Fidelity Investments.5 Somebody in The House That Lynch Built has cooked up an interesting retirement savings guideline. Viz.:

“Aim to save at least 1x your income at 30, 3x at 40, 7x at 55, 10x at 67.”

I think that’s a misstatement; I think what they mean is “aim to HAVE SAVED at least 1x your income at 30,” etc. And by “income” do they mean salary or take-home pay? But when I look at the data I can get behind those recommendations, if for no other reason than having 10x the annual cost of your lifestyle by age sixty-seven is better than having 5x or none at all.

I mean…

First of all, nobody–not Boomers, not GenX’ers, not Millennials–is hitting Fidelity’s targets. It’s as simple as this infographic published by Time Magazine:6

And second, it’s reasonable to believe a consequence of this trend is that Millennials will have to delay retirement until they’re well into their seventies.7

Again, grim stuff. But we KNOW all these problems exist, and Millennials understand that they’re both complicit in them and responsible for finding solutions.

So what are those solution(s), anyway?


As an advocate of financial independence and early retirement, I expect more and more Millennials to turn away from the birth/school/work/death model–i.e., spending most of their time here on Earth setting up a “similar lifestyle” in a traditional retirement. And I think they’ll gravitate to a concept known as “LeanFIRE.” I say that because the long-term risks of a lean but early pseudo-retirement are preferable to many over…oh…the long-term risks of spending fifty years in a miserable job…and that’s a belief we know Millennials are receptive to.8

In case you’re not familiar with LeanFIRE, let me explain.

A point that’s always underlain my work is that in the financial independence / early retirement movement we lean too much on the financial independence leg. Which I’m fine with, of course…there’s nothing like having “fuck-you” money as an antidote to the toxicity of our workplace and consumer cultures.

Don’t forget, however, that fuck-you money is a variable rather than a constant. Two million is great, but ten bucks can also be fuck-you money with the right kind of mindset. And you may not even need the ten.9

Hear me, O Millennials: granted that not everybody’s set up for that kind of lifestyle. But there’s still a decent shot that you can engineer yourself into a situation where you can dial your worklife way down before age fifty and possibly as early as your late twenties by finding the right combination of philosophy, frugality, self-reliance, passive income, and pleasant part-time work that allows you be freer, feel more financially secure on less income than you imagined possible, and in fact to be happier than you’ve ever been.

(Jeezum crow, what a miscarriage of a sentence. It’s this devil rum, I tell you.)

But pushing on: leanFIRE has been, and continues to be, exhaustively discussed on Reddit. Have a look at this list of forums, AKA subreddits. Each falls under the LeanFIRE umbrella, and all are worth your attention. Call up a new window and see.

If you don’t know Reddit, simply enter into your browser “reddit.com” followed by the name of the sub you’re interested in…e.g., reddit.com/r/financialindependence.

And once you thoroughly understand LeanFIRE and have maybe even committed to it, anytime anybody implies you’re financially incompetent, you’ll be able to roll your eyes and shake your head and think, “Well, bubba, what are YOU working towards?”


To sum up…remember those stats I cited about the average starting salary Millennials can expect? Let’s not diss somebody with low income and/or low income potential for failing to manage money like they’re a professional football player.

Because by doing so you’re falling into the “If you’re poor if it’s your own fault” trap without admitting there might also be systemic problems in play—the same ones affecting every one of us, in fact, and not just Millennials. Isn’t that argument a little simpleminded?

Dude, we’re ALL screwed unless we work together.

And so much for that. Just remember that Boomers and GenX’ers alike are pressuring Millennials to simultaneously:

1. Engage in heavily materialist practices like buying high-end motorcycles with borrowed money,
2. Emulate anyone whose freakish success has guaranteed them a shot at financial respectability,
3. Meet retirement savings targets that not even the average Baby Boomer can, and
4. Do all the above in an economic environment that’s hostile to young workers.

No wonder Millennials feel shit on.

But not by me, man. As a member of a generation that had it much easier, I’ll fling participation trophies at Millennials like confetti at a wedding…because from where I swing in this hammock, it looks like they’re still showing up to a game that’s completely rigged against them.

So enough with the condescension. Because when your message to an entire generation is that they’re a bunch of lackadaisical entitled snowflakes unless they consume all they can while at the same time saving everything they make–and without complaining about it, to boot–well, maybe they can’t afford to flee that noise on a Harley, but they’ll for damn sure tune you out with their phones.


If you’re interested in making money off this intergenerational covfefe, my friend Gwen at FieryMillennials.com recommends the following book: Upside: Profiting from the Profound Demographic Shifts Ahead.

Also, thanks to Gwen and Julie at MillennialBoss.com for reviewing the first draft of this article.

Footnotes

  1. Quoted for the sake of convenience from a study by smartasset.com.
  2. Source: BusinessInsider.com.
  3. Source: The Washington Post
  4. Source: The Atlantic.
  5. Source: Fidelity.
  6. Source: Time Magazine
  7. Source: NerdWallet.
  8. Source: Forbes.
  9. Check out Daniel Suelo’s blog for an interesting case study.

Author: ER Dude

Sick of your job? After a thirteen-year career, Early Retirement Dude fled corporate America for good. You can do it too! Visit http://EarlyRetirementDude.com or email EarlyRetirementDude@gmail.com.

19 thoughts

  1. My mind is blown. Excellent job as always. I think I need a splash of rum too to digest the information which was thrown on me now. Thanks, Dude.

    1. Thank yez thank yez. Felt good to unlimber the fingers and let this one rush out. It’s something that’s been bothering me for quite some time. I recommend a Dark & Stormy.

  2. Puh-REACH. Thank you for seeing it the Millennial way. 😉 I’d also add that we don’t like motorcycles because they’re *incredibly* dangerous and uncomfortable. We can’t afford many of the things that previous generations could afford by our age because of high debt loads and entry-level jobs that pay crap.

  3. Boom!

    As a millennial- I read this post with great glee. While I typically laugh and roll my eyes, it does get old being told that I am lazy, bad with finances, obsessed with my phone and can’t read a map to save my life because I am a #millennial. Well, hate to break it to you but that isn’t exactly me 😉 I happen to be very proficient with a map, not so proficient with my phone/tech gadgets, a hard worker/high income earner and decent enough with my finances to be blowing Fidelity’s suggestion out of the water. Do I get my trophy now? (kidding!)

  4. Yeah I need to share this twice, like I love you and I love this. Not to toot our horn but figuring how much millennials had shit thrown at them, we’re doing right where we should be. We grew up during the big bust and that set the tone for the start of our adulthood. Then tack on the outrageous cost for college and the debt incurred. Then tack on the fact that decent jobs that only gather in the big city center where rent is at least 50% of our take home…omg how depressing. I’ll stop now.

    1. Thanks, Lily…much obliged. Re: the circumstances you mention…sounds like you and I would agree it’s a matter of deciding for yourself what success is and shooting for that rather than surrendering to whatever society’s definition of the week happens to be…and/or worse: copping out altogether. Which is easy for me to say from up here on this pile of money I made back when the economy was kinder to younger people, but I’m not wearing a TAG Heuer either, and I don’t feel any less successful for it. You guys got this, man. When capitalism fucks you, fuck capitalism right back.

  5. All of these headlines have it backwards. It’s not the job of the consumer to like what is offered. Rather- it’s the business’ job to offer something that the consumer wants. Otherwise why would I buy it? Out of loyalty? To a faceless corporation? That’s crazy!

  6. Thank you for the highly entertaining rant. 🙂
    I respectfully disagree with what I perceive to be the underlying premise of your post — that millennials have it harder than previous generations. I am guessing that I am maybe 3 or 4 years older than you. The fall of my senior year in college (1987), there was a huge financial crisis. (I lived in NYC at the time and remember that it was so bad that, after Black Friday, Wall Streeters were throwing themselves off of buildings. Literally.) As a result, I graduated into a poor economy. I decided to continue my education for several more years and as I was about to graduate, 1991-92, the economy again took a dive. Jobs in my profession, which were plentiful 3 years earlier when I started school, evaporated. I had significant student loans and I spent several years cobbling together a mix of contract work and self-employment. I eventually left the profession for which I had incurred all of the student loans, obtained some training in a completely different occupation, and started my own business. Although personally incredibly rewarding, I discovered that I am good at whatever it is that I do, but that I am not good at the business side of running a business. It’s hard to do everything yourself. My issue with the personal finance community is that there are all sorts of articles encouraging millennials to start their own businesses and “do what they love” which only give the “rose-colored glasses” view and fail to provide realistic information. It takes a LONG time, and maybe never, for profits to materialize. And, if after say 10 years, one comes to the realization that they will never make enough money at their business, then what? The answer for me, was to make a lifestyle move to a very different region of the country and, ironically, I am now working (mostly contentedly) in my first profession with a steady paycheck, great benefits, collegial work environment, and a ridiculous amount of flexibility. Moral of my rant: If at first you don’t figure it out, keep trying. Decide what’s important to you, continually re-invent yourself and adjust your goals accordingly. It may take 50 jobs, moving, re-training, whatever, but it is possible to find a work situation that mostly works whatever your generation. Millennials are not unique in landing in hard times. Goal-setting and perseverance, with a little luck thrown in, are the only ways forward. I believe that’s the closest to a universal truth that I’ve found.

    1. >Thank you for the highly entertaining rant.

      Sure thing! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      >I respectfully disagree with what I perceive to be the underlying premise of your post — that millennials have it harder than previous generations.

      That’s cool…I totally see where you’re coming from. You’re right; we’re close to the same age. I entered college in 1987 and got out of grad school in 1993. Economy wasn’t that great.

      I don’t have time to dig into the stats just now, but maybe a way to rephrase my premise is that I think Millennials are much more financially exploited than GenX’ers or Baby Boomers. The counter-argument is of course that nobody’s holding a gun to their heads.

      >it is possible to find a work situation that mostly works whatever your generation.

      Yeah, this is why I got into my thoughts on leanFIRE. Sounds like you and I would agree on the maxim, “If the rules work against you, change games.”

      >Millennials are not unique in landing in hard times.

      Amen.

      1. One more thought — I recently read somewhere a quote from an educator that people who were educated in the 1980’s “were the most lost of the lost.” At that time, technology was just emerging. I bought my first computer (an Apple II?) when I was a junior in college. I don’t know what it was capable of since there was no internet to consult. I just used it for word processing. People my age are the tail end of the technology illiterates. I have noticed that people who are just a few years younger, like you :), are, in general, much more technologically sophisticated than my peers and people older than I am. Sure, it’s possible (and now quite necessary) to take it upon oneself to become technologically proficient, but it wasn’t the culture that I grew up in. Millennials, in contrast, are incredibly tech savvy. Not only are they not afraid of tech, they embrace it. I think that due to the revolution in access to information and innovation in sharing ideas, getting funding, working remotely and connecting with people anywhere, anytime, millennials are in a uniquely powerful position to leverage their tech advantage and achieve amazing things. As to your re-phrasing — that millennials are the most financially exploited — yes, in the sense that the old model of college, student loans, graduate school, student loans, is outdated and if one gets sucked in, it is hard to emerge. But no, in the sense that traditional boundaries and social mores that my peers and I often feel judged by are not even on millennial radar screens. It’s not that they are changing the rules to different rules. It seems to me that there are no rules anymore and that is both exhilarating and terrifying.

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