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October 9, 2012

A Millennial’s Rebuttal to Being Classified as "The Cheapest Generation”

During the month of October, we’re exploring content focused on youth, specifically millennials and the Class of 2016. For our first post, we asked one of our interns, aka a millennial, to provide perspective on how she felt about the Atlantic labeling her a member of the “Cheapest Generation.” Read Shandi’s rebuttal to this classification below.

“When I was 24 years old, I had a kid, a house, a car, and a job with benefits. You really need to get it together, Shandi. What’s wrong with you?”

I can’t even begin to count the amount of times I’ve had this conversation with my parents. Not only does this not help people my age, it angers us. Does Generation X think that we’re happy with what little we, the Millennials, have? Do they think we like being compared to Gen X, who seemingly had it all? We don’t own cars – we rent Zipcars. We don’t own houses – we rent tiny apartments in cities with three or so roommates. Twenty years after James Carville said, “It’s the economy, stupid,” the phrase still rings true. Generations above us see us as being cheap and not investing in the things they bought at our age. We see it as the only choice we have.

There is a difference in being cheap and being broke. A commenter on The Atlantic points out, “Cheap is when you have money and refuse to spend it; frugal is when you don’t spend the money you don’t have.” We are frugal. We are broke. We have nothing, other than a mountain of debt and maybe a Smartphone (if we can afford it). There is a common occurrence called “The Lipstick Effect”, which is when women spend money on beauty products during a recession. The idea is that people will still buy luxury goods in tough times but will buy goods that don’t affect their bank account as greatly (i.e. buying lipstick vs. expensive clothing). Smartphones are the Millennials lipstick. Yes, they cost on average $1,700 a year (according to the Wall Street Journal), but that’s less than what an average car costs per year ($8,946 according to AAA) or a mortgage payment (averaging $1,000 a month).

When we were growing up, we were told to go to college and we’d get a good job. So we went to college, paid what seemed like a million dollars (hey, it’s four times as expensive for a college education now than it was for Gen X), left with tens of thousands of dollars in debt (also ridiculously high when compared to the debt Gen X took out), and all the jobs vanished. On top of all of that, the housing market crashed. We saw our friends and family members get laid off and struggle with months of unemployment. We saw unpaid mortgage payments that led to massive foreclosures throughout the country. And all we could do was cross our fingers and apply to hundreds of jobs that we would never hear back from. If you were a Millennial, would you see buying a car or a house as the most important thing? I doubt it. Trust me, we would LOVE to be able to have those things – it’s just not in the cards right now. We scrape by, doing the best we can.

A generation before us rose up above the Great Depression and fought in World War II. Tom Brokaw called them “the Greatest Generation.” The Millennials are entering the worst unemployment rates and economic state since the Great Depression. Our coming of age was defined by the September 11th attacks and we barely remember a time when our country wasn’t at war. When the Greatest Generation persevered through their tough times, their frugality and self-determination was encouraged. The Millennials, however, are seen as cheap and entitled. There is no reason we should be viewed

negatively for the same traits that were once celebrated.

We are extremely educated and are already changing the way the world works. Never before has there been a time when a generation has had the ability to communicate the way the Millennials do. We have Facebook, Twitter, texting, etc. at our disposal at all times. We can reach millions of people who have the same wants and desires about their future with the click of a button, a creation of a group on Facebook, or a hashtag on Twitter. Mahatma Gandhi said, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.” We can band together and create a movement to change the future – for the better.

Interested in learning more about millennials? Make sure to register for our MITX Future M session on ‘How the Class of 2016 Will Change the World of Marketing?’

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  • DanBetweenJobs

    Amen Shandi, Amen

  • http://www.kaitlinmaud.com/ Kaitlin Maud

    “Smartphones are the Millennials lipstick.” – loved this point. Great post, Shandi!

  • http://www.jonbishop.com/ JonBishop

    I love the end of the second to last paragraph “When the Greatest Generation persevered through their tough times, their frugality and self-determination was encouraged. The Millennials, however, are seen as cheap and entitled.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/jpike76 Josh Pike

    Very well written post.

  • Donna

    Great essay Shandi! Congrats!

  • Jerry – Brookline

    Might be the first time I’ve clicked on a LinkedIn post. Nicely written! Individuals with your perspective and work ethic are *not* the problem. And I also hope you’re not the exception. As a GenXer who started looking for work in the depths of the 90-91 recession, many of us understand – the difference is we entered an economy rebounding with normal growth rates (3-4%). It didn’t have massive stimulus spending or zero interest rates for three years either. It had two presidents (Bush 41 and Clinton) who did the right things for the job markets. That’s an essay unto itself. Great points in your Atlantic rebuttal.

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