As we get older, it’s tempting to tell young people to go forth and fuck up before the sands of time and responsibility bury them in bitter resignation, but how about let’s refrain from explicitly giving them bad financial advice. Not because they shouldn’t squander their money on Fireballs and porn like we all did/do, but because they don’t need any encouragement to do what their brains are literally already designed for: bad choices.
Over at Elite Daily, there is a piece called “If You Have Savings In Your 20s, You’re Doing Something Wrong” that advises twenty-somethings—at a time when the economy is still bonkers unless you’re rich, no less—to not save a dime because, basically, YOLO. And also because like, parents man, they sure are trying to get you to save so you’ll be boring just like them. Lame! Be cool! Don’t save money! Dicks in the wind!
Lauren Martin writes:
It’s this looming doom our parents carved into our unconscious, only to come out anytime we make an impulse purchase or have to spend the night without Netflix.
But like most things our parents have ingrained in us, we must consciously work to push it out. Because while they may have the best intentions, they don’t always have the best insight.
Well, except the insight that money in the bank is good, not just for peace of mind, but also for the likely realities of tomorrow, next week, next year.
They want us to save because it provides us with a safety net, but that’s exactly why we shouldn’t. Their need for us to have a safety net is just a giant metaphor for the difference between our parent’s generation and ours.
We’re taking our time growing up, refusing to be shackled by mortgages and diapers. We’re not trying to live with safety nets; we’re trying to live on the edge.
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Cool idea! But does that edge cover so much as any one of your insurance deductibles or include an emergency fund? Because it really really should.
Elsewhere, the piece is filled with party-girl platitudes like “When you’re too worried about your bank statement, you’re not making your own” that will stick in the craws of reasonable-minded folks everywhere. Yes, by all means, make a fucking statement, but why would you want the statement to be “broke as hell” or “has no foresight”?
When you’re saving for yourself, you’re refusing to bet on yourself
People who are saving in their 20s are people who don’t set their sights high. They’ve already dropped out of the game and settled for the minor leagues.
Your 20s are not the time to save; they’re the time to gamble. $200 a month isn’t going to make the dent that a $60,000 pay raise will after spending all those nights out networking.
Look, you can save and gamble. You can save money and go out and network. I’m not sure why Martin presents these things as mutually exclusive. I promise you can grab life by the balls, reach for the stars and dare to dream while still dropping a few bones in savings just in case.
Actual facts show that because of compound interest (hint: it’s the opposite of compound apathy), socking away $50 a week in your twenties nets you an extra $1 million in retirement funds after 45 years, which, based on my grasp of how work stability goes, is abso-fucking-lutely more of a sure thing than the $60k bump in salary you might hope to get, and if you did, that you might not manage any better.
To be clear, being in your twenties should be about as carefree as it gets barring actual childhood; after all, you can drink legally while still sporting a half-developed brain. And as we discussed recently, no one should hoard money to the point of joyless misery. But your twenties should not be so carefree as to leave you in crippling debt, with terrible credit and zero resources. Even if you don’t think you care now, your thirties will be peppered with sober reflections on just how stupid you were in your twenties; with realizations that if you’d only realized how Things Actually Work, you could’ve really set yourself up better.
You will eventually want to feel like you can afford a nice thing or two at least every now and then, whether it’s a vacation, a decent meal, new tires on your car before they wear down to slick rubber donuts, a better wardrobe for work, the apartment with the patio. It’s much more pleasant to spend your thirties settling into a better salary and the amenities it can afford, but most of us spend it cleaning up our dumb mistakes from the previous decade—maybe because we were simply too shortsighted, or maybe we were on the receiving end of shitty advice like this that was seductive and free-spirited enough to seem accurate.
The rest of Martin’s advice steers firmly clear of logic, i.e., “When you live your life by numbers, you strip yourself of poetry” and “When you care about your 401k, your life is just ‘k’”—which is mad true if you’re not actually, you know, thinking clearly. Growing up doesn’t happen one day all of a sudden, it comes gradually with increasingly better choices, insights, and planning until at a certain point you realize you are actually so effectively on the grid it would be totally fine if you decided to start up a cool drug habit. Make this your goal.
Having no money is depressing and anxiety-inducing. My car was bashed in and my purse was stolen this weekend in broad daylight and it sucked, but here’s what didn’t suck: knowing I had the money to get everything fixed and restored in a few days. It didn’t kill me to pay that deductible. In my savings-starved twenties, that $500 would have set me back for months.
Pretty much all of life is figuring out how to have a little fun without being a complete moron about the future. Saving money is not stupid or boring; it shows you know how to think two steps head. By all means, live dangerously. Have fun. And don’t be too hard on yourself, because mistakes are inevitable, and expected. But let’s not pretend privileged irresponsibility is some kind of bold new vision.
A savings account is not an evil adult conspiracy to rob you of your chill; it is in fact about the chillest thing you can have, because nothing beats knowing you’ve got it covered if something shitty comes up—and trust me, it will.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby