Broke Gen-Xer

There’s a YouTube channel called “broke millenial.” I don’t watch it because I don’t want to hear a millenial whine about how they have no money but it’s only because I’m a whole generation older and I also have no money. I wish this is something someone had prepared me for. By all respects, I did everything right. I was an excellent student in grade and high school so that I could get into a good college program. I secured a lot of scholarship money for college and that which was financed at the time, I paid back within two years of my college graduation. I got a job immediately after graduating from college and decided to live with my parents at the time to help pay back said loan as fast as possible. I then went to graduate school on 100% full scholarship through my PhD. I bought and paid for, bit by bit, a very conservative though sporty car. I worked full time through 5 of my 8 years of graduate school. I didn’t spend beyond my means. I had side hustles, the income of which went to entertainment and my clothes budget. I have been fully employed, save 3 months several years ago, since (and before) graduating from grad school.

How is it that I sit here today and I have no money?!?

There are definitely those little “keys” to the scenario that I can tick off on my fingers that contribute to this situation for sure:

  • I live in Chicago. Paying off debt here…good luck with that rich fantasy life.
  • I financed 3 years of living expenses…in Chicago. It was a calculated choice. I knew what I was doing. Looking back, shouldn’t have done it but there’s no re-do here. It’s done.
  • I own a car. And I LOVE EVERY MINUTE OF IT. I had it other ways for many years here and to me, a car is my freedom. It’s a choice.
  • I have a dog. I ALSO LOVE EVERY MINUTE OF IT. June’s my best pal and the best thing I ever did to regain my sanity. She’s not a negotiable.

I could keep ticking things off but the trend emerges: life is a series of choices. I am deeply paying for some and there’s no two ways about that. Others I choose because I need to have some quality of life. I don’t have lavish clothes. I don’t go out to eat or entertainment outside of my home often. Most of my diversions are mostly free. My needs are met but not extravagantly.

One of the biggest factors I’ve pinpointed now has never hit me this way before: I live alone. More than a couple times every year, I think how much easier it’d be to have another payer into this life. Yes, I get that some things are doubled but most are halved: if you consider most living expenses, they’re set by the month. Rent isn’t charged per person, nor is gas or electric. My guess is if I were to do a comparison month with someone else living here with me, those “usage” costs would be not much more than what I incur singly. I wish there was another way but the taboo of being almost in my mid-40s and needing a “roommate” are too much for even me to bear. I can’t even stand the thought of that.

I’ve been reflecting on how different our way of life is now than when my parents were my age…which by the way is 30 years ago, give or take. My dad worked for a company that gave a pension. He and my mom still live off of that as a base for their retirement while also leaning on several 401ks or 403bs that accumulated from a couple jobs they had. They collect social security and they should. Their lives don’t look radically different than when I lived with them (as a child and then again as an adult).

If I want to know why I have no money now, in part, it’s because I have no money for tomorrow. God bless the fortunate few(er) who have managed to fully fund their IRAs or set aside those retirement nest eggs. My parents, at my age and with three kids one of whom was a toddler, didn’t have any more money than I have day to day. They had a house they refinanced but they had bought that house for less than 100k and paid it off a couple times for various things. They did save when they could; they invested in our educations. My parents worked for all of it and there were times that were tighter than others. But they knew they had something meaningful to rest on when it came to retirement. I bet they rested easier.

I’m standing at a point now at which I can’t imagine ever being able to retire, unless I move to the middle of kansas and figure out how to make passive money from Adsense on google. I don’t believe there will be much of social security to lean on. Life will be more expensive with fewer options for the poor, a class of whom I will be solidly a member. I can’t imagine what will ever happen if I get sick or become unable to work. I’m going to put all of that in the worry pile for another day.

The question now is how do I capitalize on what I have–a very big degree, smarts, some people skills when I try–to build for something for the future. I have my eyes on tiny houses. I’m thinking about a career change to something that I think will be in demand but will be something I can abide doing long past my mid-60s. I’m already planning to drive my Subaru to the moon and back at least a few times, mile-wise. I’m trying to automate savings for the future and invest as much as I can now and hope the stock market still exists in a couple years.

I don’t think there’s a real answer. I think maybe the shift for me is thinking of my future as a value and making that a priority. It doesn’t feel very Zen to me. I prefer to live in the moment. Then again, I live in the moment in this country and not on the top of a mountain in Nepal. My moments cost more. And will increasingly so. I can only do what I can.

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