family / finances / Marriage / money / work

Generation Poor

For the last couple of years my husband and I have been living on the edge. We’re not skydivers or stunt pilots or Cirque du Soleil performers. No, it’s much less avant-garde than that — we’re simply your regular 30-something, children of baby boomers, navigating a crappy economy and a world of student debt, all the while aspiring to do what we love.

We are a part of an ilk that has been coined “Generation Me.” We become adults later, and our soul-searching 20s have been referred to as “The Odyssey Years.” One of our key defining characteristics is that we were raised believing we’re special and thus deserving of a well-paying job doing what we love. For my husband and me, that translated into masters degrees — his in cinematography and mine in creative writing. We funded our degrees through a combination of government loans, bank loans, and parental support. Combined, our monthly payments are close to $2,000. And we will likely (unless my better half starts cooking meth) be making them for a good many years to come.

Perhaps this financial divulgence is an overshare: They say the Facebooking, tweeting generation tends to do that sort of thing. The reason our monetary situation is on my mind these days, other than the obvious one, is that we recently made a decision to move back to Canada for a while; we have been living in LA for the last five years. In short, there is a job for my husband there, and not one here — at least not one visible on the horizon. That’s how the freelance world works. He never knows when work will come. As for me, I, in the typical writer/personal assistant sort of way, cannot come close to supporting the two of us. Duh.

This is not a woe-is-me discussion. We both feel extremely fortunate in our lives. We call our apartment, decorated in flea market furniture and inherited duds, the poverty castle. We work as the managers of the building to lower the rent. We consider ourselves rich in fortune, if not in bank accounts. But no matter what we call it, our financial life is certainly precarious, largely because of the educational risks we took. Without a doubt, these were chances afforded to us because we were raised by relatively well-off Canadian parents. They invested in us. But they can’t (not to mention won’t and shouldn’t have to) invest in us forever. They, like many baby boomers, have their own retirements to think about. It’s not like they have pensions; they have stock portfolios. And we all know the state of the economy.

By and large, we’re not alone in our month-to-month predicament. It’s a way of life for many these days — some, like us, because of ballsy (stupid?) risks they took. The die has been cast on our student loans and we don’t live looking back. But if we do reflect for a moment, would we do it all again the same way? Honestly, we would have cut up a few more student credit card applications. And my husband might second-guess why he attended a top-tier American school. But we are, after all, doing what we love, or at least working towards it — just like our parents encouraged us to do.

Since generations tend to work in opposition to each other, I have to wonder if we will end up
pushing more financially secure routes for our kids. Will we counsel trade schools rather than broad, “find yourself,” undergraduate educations? Dissuade them from degrees in poetry and film? Time will tell.

Time, and whether we can afford to have kids to begin with.

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