There are constant pressures to spend – especially as a twentysomething. Marketing companies have perfected the appeal to youthfulness and adventure. And sometimes people get trapped in façades of the “good life.” They buy expensive cocktails, go to clubs, and spend til the only thing that’s dry is their wallet.
I’d be lying if I said that doesn’t sound fun from time to time. It’s a blast getting to hang out with friends, blow off some steam, and recognize that life is finite. Let’s have fun when we can and spend in the moment. For a few moments we can pretend like the financial pressures of student loans, income inequality, and variable credit debt don’t exist. When we swipe, the worries disappear.
Why am I talking about spending like there’s no tomorrow? Because two days ago I read something that shocked my senses. An Elite Daily author, Lauren Martin, wrote an article entitled, “If you have savings in your 20s, you’re doing something wrong.”
The entire foundation was on the premise of partying hard, networking, and enjoying life when you can. Instead of saving money or contributing to a 401k, Ms. Martin advocated for being on the edge and nearly penniless.
She explained that you needn’t worry about saving at this time because later in life you’ll be making more. With great simplicity, a friend of Lauren’s says, “Don’t save money. Make more money.” From then on, she’s awakened to the idea that buying expensive items is her right and obligation. When she turns 40 and looks back on her twenties, she feels confident that it will all be money well spent.
Her article wraps up with 7 of the most egregious statements I’ve read about finances:
- “When you’re too worried about your bank statement, you’re not making your own.”
- “When you’re saving for yourself, you’re refusing to bet on yourself.”
- “When you have something to bank on, you have nothing to reach for.”
- “When you live your life by numbers, you strip yourself of poetry.”
- “When you die, you can’t take your money with you.”
- “When you deprive yourself, you don’t learn how to TREAT YO SELF.”
- “When you care about your 401k, your like is just a ‘k.’”
Giving Lauren the benefit of the doubt, her words can almost be read as aspirational and inspirational. You might think, “Yes, I’m going to live it up while I can and make a name for myself. I’m going to show everyone who I am. Watch out world!” But read them again, and you’ll begin to notice privilege, ignorance, selfishness, and myopia.
Perhaps most egregious of all her recommendations is the age-old line, “When you die, you can’t take your money with you.” The adage is right, when you’re dead, you’re all dead. Unfortunately, this author is missing many of the reasonable reasons to save. By socking away cash when you’re young, you’ll be better prepared for uncertain medical complications, job loss, and anything life throws at you. But even more, death brings an opportunity to give back. I intend to give what I can to charities and offer the rest to family. If, instead, I spent it all on drinks in my twenties, I’d have nothing for either.
The second line I want to focus in on is, “When you’re too worried about your bank statement, you’re not making your own.” Presumably, Lauren’s suggesting you must spend money to make a name for yourself. Whether it’s the expensive clothing she purchases or fanciful “networking” opportunities at restaurants, she seems to know how to make her own statement.
But making a statement is complex in a society bombarded with advertising. Being unique requires constant reanalysis of culture. To be countercultural and your own person is actually difficult when certain brands aim to sell to that exact demographic. The good news is that statements needn’t cost anything. I can make a statement by saving, and that might be the most powerful of all.
The Internet is vast and diverse. Finding voices that encourage wanton spending is easy. What took me by alarm and spurred a response was two-fold. First, the article was published on a fairly popular news and opinion website. Second, the article had been shared over 35,000 times in two days. Lauren hit on the pulse of a large group of twentysomethings. Her article explicitly supported spendthrift ways. Anyone that needed an excuse to empty their wallets could find solace in her words.
We’re constantly at a precipice between spending and saving. Each day we are confronted with this choice. We can spend our savings away in a flash of 20s, or save for the many moments that life brings. To break away from the herd mentality and save can be challenging, but the choice is ours.
Berin Kinsman says
The article linked to and discussed here is by far the worst, most dangerous pile of bad advice I’ve seen in a long time. As a man in his 50s who did live like that, I sincerely wish that I’d been more fiscally responsible and saved more in my 20s.
Alyssa @ Generation YRA says
I enjoyed very much so reading your response to this article! I, too read this piece yesterday and my jaw almost hit the floor. The fact that it’s been shared over 35,000 times within the last two days perpetuates the overlooming stereotypes of people in their 20’s regarding money. It seems there is almost a tribe that can justify such spendthrift ways when it spreads like rapid fire through a major media platform. Most of the piece seemed incredibly caustic to me. Since I choose to save, prepare for life’s unexpected happenings, and bare mind of supporting my future family & community after I pass – this is viewed as incomprehensible & almost irresponsible to living life as it should be in your 20’s? I know it takes work, but I feel I have a fairly nice balance between preparing a financial foundation, and living in the present without having to deplete my wallet. If anyone were to have a level minded response to this piece, it would definitely be you! Thank you, Sam for your words.
it takes all kinds to make the world go around…to each his own…;-)))
Thanks for sharing this. One reason a lot of young people connect with stuff like this is that it’s easy. It’s not that hard to just focus on spending and forgetting about saving. Having a plan for retirement is boring and requires work, which is why many people never get around to it. Most people just want to do what’s easy, rather than what’s necessary (I think Optimus Prime said that.)
As someone in their 20s who’s lived both the dreams of her parents (got married, found job, bought house) and Lauren Martin (luxury international vacations, expensive clothes/shoes, regular expensive meals out), neither made me happy. I’m glad I’ve done both though because it’s allowed me to find the things that are right for me.
I went through a period where I spent $1000 a month on clothes and shoes – and while it made me happy in the moment, it didn’t improve my overall happiness. But it was something I’d never felt that I could do before that point (since it was irresponsible) and now that I’ve done, I recognize that it didn’t make me any better and that I was no happier. So I’m glad that it happened because it taught me something important about myself.
Same for buying my house – I did it because that was the “good” investment decision. But I hated it because I wasn’t emotionally ready to settle or to care for a house. And I learned a lot from the experience of owning and maintaining a home and what my priorities really are.
I think there’s so much pressure to always do the right and smart thing financially, but really being 20-something is a learning experience. For many of us, it’s our first experience of being an adult and I think it’s okay to do stupid things as long as you learn from them and it allows you to settle into yourself. Now that I’m close to the end of my 20s, I know what’s valuable for me to spend my money on. I know what makes me happy and what I enjoy. But I wouldn’t have learned that from someone telling me because their experiences, interests, and values differ from my own.
Oh my goodness, I am so so so glad someone replied to this. I thought about it, but every time I sat down to try to reply, it got a little… ranty, to say the very least. Thank you for this balanced and all-too-true response – I’m in awe of your ability to rationally tackle it without the use of all-caps!
Debt Hater says
That was a great response to that article! I had read this the other one you had linked, and I just cringed as I went through it. She made some decent points about life and enjoying it, but there’s no reason the two ideas have to be mutually exclusive. Now after reading the author’s biography, I’m pretty sure the article was just created to get outrage and generate clicks.
Still – you raise really great points! Just because you aren’t saving for retirement, I see no point in at least not having your own emergency fund, or a “safety net” as that author put it.
The Elite Daily was bought out at the beginning of the year by The Daily Mail (think the UK equivalent of Fox News). I may be overly cynical but I suspect someone wants to start buying stuff again like the “good old days of the 2000’s” and are starting a “nudge” campaign. I feel sorry for the people who get burnt by it.
Yikes! This has to be the scariest and saddest thing I’ve read on the internet in a while. Lauren apparently doesn’t understand that the day may come when she is not able to make money and she will wish she had saved some. 20-somethings are not immune to car accidents, cancer or any of the other tragedies that strike people every day.
This article is probably coming from someone who has not had to deal with life’s hardship yet. I’m totally for enjoying life but also to be prepared for what life throws at you. These two things are not mutually exclusive. I travel a lot but I also save a lot for retirement and emergency fund. I just choose to live a daily frugal life so that I can do all that. I don’t wish the woman bad things but eventually it’s bound to happen, and then she will appreciate the saving aspect of financial life!
What an amazing response to this. Absolutely. I spent the first half of my 20s going hog wild, but having a baby changed all that. I’m all about responsible saving now. It’s so hard in this culture, but you make me feel like I’m not alone. Thank tou!
Jenna L at Hello Suckers says
Really interesting points, Sam!
I’m in my early twenties and about to start my final year of university and I know all too well the pressure that you described. The majority of my friends have full-time jobs and so can splash out on living in the moment. I personally often find that I have to reel myself in from that culture, particularly as I don’t have any other income besides my student finance.
As much as I agree with some of what Lauren said about living in the moment and not obsessing over your funds, I would like more financial security in the future and to be debt-free and I know that behaving like the others won’t get me there!
Kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor says
Great response to a vapid thesis. I agree that generosity is much better plan for your money after death than blowing it all when you’re probably half a century away from the end! And like you said it’s a false dichotomy that you can’t have fun or be interesting if you don’t spend all your money in the ways marketers have trained the masses to.
Seems to me Ms. Martin subscribes, perhaps subconsciously, to one of the most financially destructive philosophies of which I know: having fun = spending money. Hey folks: you CAN have loads of fun AND still save money!
DP @ Someday Extraordinary says
Yeah, chalk this up to just about the worst advice anyone can give. How about this: “Save now so you can enjoy your future sooner”? The problem with her entire premise is that you can’t just turn the switch when you turn 30 and expect to know how to save. You’ll be in for a world of hurt if you go that route and it will take you years to readjust – if you can at all. Anyway, thanks for setting the record straight!
Mrs. SimplyFinanciallyFree says
Wow…Just wow… I would really be curious to see where she is at in say 10 years when she finally grows up and doesn’t have a dime to her name. Want to buy a house? Sorry, but you can’t afford a home to hold all of those clothes you have purchased over the years. Car break down? Well that sucks, just add it to your credit card since you have no emergency savings. To each their own but it scares me that people might actually follow her article as advice.
It is interesting because I can look back on my short life thus far and say that I have lived and experienced A LOT of things… But was also calculated about how approached that.. so while I’ve done everything I’ve wanted in terms of partying, vacations, traveling and so forth.. I’ve also banked a fairly large sum of money… now.. Had I not done all that partying, vacations, traveling and such I could have already amassed a cool $Million net worth to kick back some dividends… but I wouldn’t trade it… Living a little while you younger is also expected.. Those experiences are invaluable to life as well.
I just want to throw a thought out there: what if the 35K shares aren’t because us millennials are glad we finally found someone to support our wasteful spending? What if a large portion of them are shares about how ridiculous the article is? My friend did share the article with me…to go off about how horrible the article was and how ignorant it was for such a popular website to post it. I also shared the website, again to blast it as completely ignorant and a piece of rubbish. Us millennials get a bad rap (a lot of which isn’t true – and I could go on a rant about how the older generations screwed us over and are now talking about how awful our generation is), but what if a majority of us didn’t believe the BS the article wrote? There are wasteful spenders in every generation, but that doesn’t mean the whole generation buys into that kind of thinking…