Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The 1920s called. They want this generation back.

Taking time off work, but can't afford to go anywhere?  That's a staycation.  Salvaging used goods thrown away by others is no longer dumpster-diving, it's "free-cycling".  And books and books of clipped coupons are no longer the domain of grandmas, but of twenty-somethings.

Things that haven't been in vogue since the Great Depression are now skyrocketing back into popularity.  Don't believe me?  Take a visit to Google and see how many people now raise chickens at home (even in urban dwellings).

Frugality is my generation's new hobby.  "Sure," you might be thinking.  "Times are tight."  But it's my belief that there are several issues beyond the Great Recession contributing to this widespread penny-pinching.

(Bear in mind, these are only trends I've observed amongst my circle of friends and family.  Therefore, this is a heavily biased study, predominated by Southern, lower-middle-class, Christian women.  While a lot of people our age are clubbing, we're asking our husbands for chest freezers as an anniversary present, so we can buy meat and cheese cheaper in bulk.)

We got married and had kids young.  There is no avoiding that 9/11 made a huge impact on the people of my generation.  I was in my 11th-grade History class when the towers were hit, setting one of the most tragic incidents in America's history smackdab in the middle of my most transitional and formative years.  I graduated high school and left for college under the shadows of terrorism (abroad and homegrown) and war.  Guys I'd cut-up with in Chapel were heading overseas to fight.

It should come as no surprise then, that during a few years after 9/11, there was a bump (particularly in the South) of young marriages.  Everything was unsure.  Girls who might have otherwise waited until graduating college were saying "yes" to marriage proposals from boyfriends who might not come back from Afghanistan or Iraq.

However, the majority of Americans continue to marry later, most men around 28 and women around 26.  This makes those of us who married young (like myself at 21, or both my sisters, at 20) stand out even more.

Another thing influencing our generation's desire to start families young is the fact that many of us came from broken homes. Our parents' generation, baby boomers, make up the majority of divorced couples in America. Growing up, it was a rarity for a friend's parents to still be married. So, when we grew up, we got married and had kids and created the family life that we couldn't remember from our own childhoods.

And it's those of us with families who have to be frugal. While almost all of my church friends are married, and most of them have kids, I do have old friends from my time working retail who remain unattached. And it's hard explaining to them that I can't go drop $50 on drinks because I need that money to buy diapers. Studies may show that, in the long run, married people are financially better-off, but it certainly doesn't feel that way now.

However, one of the nice thing about having kids young is that they then have relatively young grandparents, who are always great to help out.  And that's a good thing because...

We blame our parents.  Okay, I'll admit I sensationalized that a bit.  But, to an extent, it is true that we Gen-Yers place a lot of fault for the economic downturn on our parents' generation.  They were the ones who bought big houses they couldn't afford and ran up credit card debt on gadgets and shiny appliances.  Theirs was the generation who valued such trifles as timeshares and a third car.  And now, because of the economic downturn, they're working past retirement age and hogging all the good jobs, with their superior education and seniority.  And Social Security, which my generation has completely given up on ever collecting, is still there for them.

Frugality is my generation's rebellion.  We've become a nation of Alex P. Keatons, growing more conservative by the year, not necessarily because it's a good idea, but because whatever our parents did obviously wasn't working.  Of course, this is a vast oversimplification, but it's hard to appreciate social theory's application and economic ramifications when your new "extreme couponing" hobby is taking up all your time.

The Great Recession.  Hey, I said this wasn't the only reason we've embraced frugality.  I never said it wasn't the biggest reason.

No comments:

Post a Comment