As a not-quite-recent college grad, I keep an eye out for the myriad of articles denouncing my generation’s flaws — our supposed lackadaisical attitude toward hard work, our affection for complaining that no one appreciates our “uniqueness,” and of course, our inability to handle our finances. While many of these articles tend to skew the facts and focus on the worst possible aspects of my generation, they’re not always so far off the mark.
I’ve experienced horror when speaking with others around my age — whether it’s the coworker oblivious of our employer-sponsored savings plan or the friend who consumes upwards of seven martinis in a single work happy hour without a thought to cost ($80 alarming dollars) — I’m not immune to judging my generation as all-around money failures.
So it was with pleasure that I read a recent “Wall Street Journal” article detailing how many in my generation have actually taken steps to ensure that they don’t end up down the financial black hole that so many of our parents have. Many of us looked on with alarm as the economy collapsed around us, and we don’t want to repeat the same mistakes (the ones within our control, anyway — major financial collapses are a bit different from taking on too much mortgage or credit card debt).
The articles states that “of employees under age 25, 44 percent participated in their companies’ 401(k) retirement plans in 2011, up from just 27 percent in 2003.” That’s amazing! Exceptional! I practically leapt for joy when I read it. And when I read that “about 45 percent of Americans under 35 had credit card debt in 2010, compared with 63 percent in 2002,” I wiped away a tear of happiness. It’s reassuring to learn that my generation is taking note of what it means to be financially stable and how we can go about getting to that point.
I’ve often thought that the reason I’m so frugal (sometimes too much so) is that I watched my own personal economic crisis in the form of my parents’ divorce. (There’s nothing like watching a car crash to make you drive just a bit more carefully.) While I know my generation might have gotten the fuzzy end of the lollipop when it comes to economic growth and opportunity, it’s good to know that the lessons of the past (be it historical financial meltdowns or earlier parental failures) aren’t lost on us.