If You Don’t Have Savings In Your 20s, You’re A Fucking Idiot

friends-no-money

From the time I woke up this morning, to the time I am writing this (around 2:45 PM), approximately 50 people have sent me this article, titled “If You Have Savings In Your 20s, You’re Doing Something Wrong.” And I must say, I’m impressed with my own ability to curate a personal brand here — now people come to me with all of their personal finance tidbits, in addition to news about Jeff Goldblum. But onto the article in question: aside from the obvious assumptions we can draw from the title and accompanying photo of several attractive young white people YOLO’ing it up on what appears to be a safari (?), let’s take a moment to read some of the nuggets of wisdom in this millenial monstrosity:

This goes back to a piece of advice a very successful friend gave me: “Don’t save money. Make more money,” he nonchalantly stated, pushing me into a taxi.

Unlike most things people tell me, this advice did not go in one ear and out the other; it stayed with me and changed the way I look at everything from my career to my savings.

Before this piece of advice, I was frantic. I was always doubting and always feeling guilty. I lived in the most exciting city in the world (also the most expensive) and had yet to experience it.

I was trying to save, which meant trying not to eat. I wasn’t going out with friends, had yet to go to a club and had never seen the inside of a taxi.

I couldn’t enjoy my life because I was too busy worrying about my bank statement. I was too busy watching my savings instead of savoring my youth.

Now, take a moment to suppress that gag reflex and let’s break this down. Because, no matter how trolly this particular article might seem — and we shouldn’t discount the troll factor here, it’s quite possible that this was concocted at least in part for the hate clicks — it echoes a fairly popular sentiment in our culture that needs to be addressed, and then promptly destroyed. We are, in many ways, the YOLO generation when it comes to finances: started off on the worst possible foot with mountains of student debt and a recession-destroyed economy, we are left to fend for ourselves in a world that still thinks we yearn to own McMansions and drive a leased luxury SUV. We have been left with our parents’ framework for adulthood, and neither want what they had, nor have the security they took for granted.

So instead, many of us have refused to participate in the system altogether, using the idea that we might not be settled down and property owners by our 30th birthday to excuse the idea that we shouldn’t take care of our basic responsibilities. We all know the guy (or girl) who is too busy attending Burning Man and posting 200-photo Facebook albums of the event to worry about a 401k. We all know the mentality that says “We’re young, the economy’s fucked, so who gives a shit??  We’ll make money eventually.” And given that our generation’s business icons are the #disrupters who launch their #startups in their #20s after #droppingout of college and have gone on to become child billionaires, it always feels on some level like we’re one idea away from being the next, less-clammy Mark Zuckerberg.

And so even if this article is trolling — and again, it very well might be — it taps into a very real set of ideas and beliefs that are actively damaging our generation. I know this, because I was one of them. When I started TFD, I was YOLO’ing my way through my 20s, with nothing to show in my savings account, despite having a good job, benefits, and all of the right ingredients to setting up a good safety net and start putting away for the future. I had no excuse to be where I was, except that I loved instant gratification, taking taxis instead of the subway, and imagining that some far-off, smarter version of myself would come into a lot of money through some as-yet-unknown method. I was a fucking idiot, basically, so I started this blog, and have since gotten much better about money.

And I know I’m not alone, because hundreds of people have since written here, saying that their mentality was essentially the same — and that until they accepted their responsibility in creating their own future, they were doomed to live a shitty one. Obviously, if you are a dire financial situation and are totally unable to accrue any savings, you are not a fucking idiot for not having any. But if you are like many millenials and just haven’t been super smart about money, because you subconsciously believe the financial world is above your understanding or participation, you have no one to blame but yourself for going throughout your 20s without, at the very least, an emergency fund in case something goes wrong.

Because here’s the thing: there’s a very good chance that we’re going to live past our 20s, and unlike the human Anthropologie throw pillows that write these articles, we’re probably going to want to enjoy the rest of our lives. We don’t want fun, spontaneous adventures to come to a hard stop the second we turn 30, we don’t want to accept that our days of going on photogenic safaris with our friends are over, and commence the slow, grey descent into the sweet embrace of death. We want to live! And in order to do that — in order to have the freedom to pursue our dreams, to travel, to try new things and take risks — we need to have the cushion that can only come from savings. A little bit of delayed gratification today means that we can spread our fun out throughout our whole lives, instead of using up all of our “wild ‘n’ young” chips in our first decade as legal adults.

It’s just a little bit of delayed gratification, too. It’s not that you only have to save, or only have to ~live ur best life in tha big city~. It can be a little bit of both, and if we’re smart about how we utilize side jobs, speciality savings accounts, and reasonable investments, our 30th birthday won’t have to be a day-long anxiety attack accompanied by a cake. It can be something fun, and a chance to look back on all of the good decisions we made in our 20s (while stilling allowing ourselves to be human, and make mistakes). Because, yes, we were dealt a shitty hand by the economy and the college industrial complex, but that doesn’t mean we have to double down on the shittiness and treat our entire young adulthood like a hotel party where we don’t plan on getting our deposit back. We can take care of ourselves, and fight against the obstacles we have to deal with.

We don’t need to end up in a McMansion with a diversified portfolio and a polo shirt-heavy wardrobe by the time we’re 30, but we also don’t have to end up destitute and covered in Mardis Gras beads, either. And if you want to learn how to actually save while still living a relatively sweet life, enjoy this shameless plug for a video that will show you how we did it at TFD. It’s not that fucking hard. Promise.

  • meep the reincarnated.

    great piece!

  • Caitlin Hofmeister

    Freudian slip: The headline is “If you have savings in your 20s, you’re doing something wrong.” You wrote “If you don’t have savings…” You’re so on it, you can’t even write down such a ridiculous statement. 🙂

    • chelseafagan

      Good catch! 😉

      • Caitlin Hofmeister

        Great piece! Also, “human Anthropologie throw pillows,” is the single best phrase I’ve maybe ever heard.

  • Lina Abascal

    My biggest question is like, if youre supposed to save 6-9 months, how many months is that supposed to take to initially save? 4x that? 5x?

    • jaye em

      Not sure how other folks figure it out, but it really depends on your living situation, job, spending habits, and cost of living where you are at. My suggestion would be for you to either review or keep track of your month-to-month spending for 1-2 months and figure out how much you can shave and put into a savings account. And then determine what 6-9 months for cost of living looks like for you, which will also help you determine how long it will take to build a substantial savings account. It might mean living frugally for a little bit, but it definitely helps in the long run to have that buffer. Not sure if this helps at all, but I’m sure someone more financially-savvy than me will also chime in!

  • Hayls

    I knew this article was from elite daily before I even clicked on it. You can add it to their long list of terrible advice articles written by millennial morons. Thank you for keeping it real, as always.

  • jdub

    I am absolutely loving the scathing ire in this piece.

    Fuck the idea that we can’t enjoy our lives and also be responsible and take care of our own futures. That’s such a cop-out attitude and an excuse to behave like an overgrown baby who thinks someone will swoop in to save the day.

  • Cecily

    Eh. I agree with what you’re saying, but I kind of think you’re missing her larger point—likely because her title is so idiotic and she spends most of the article discussing fluff. I think the advice her friend gave her—“Don’t save money. Make more money.”–is actually pretty good and I wish she had focused on that a bit more to write a more compelling article. My favorite personal finance blogs are the ones that discuss making more money through side hustles/getting promotions/asking for raises/starting businesses/etc, rather than the ones obsessed with combing through your budget to save every last penny. Yes you should have an emergency fund and she’s insane for stating otherwise, but I think in general people focus more of their energy on saving rather earning. IMO it should be the other way around.

    Her point that your 20s is a time for taking risks is true. The vast majority of my retirement savings are in stocks; since I have decades before I retire, I have time to make up for any market upheavals. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately because I’m considering going back to school full time to get my MBA. Yes it’s a huge risk–lost wages for 2 years plus potentially taking on hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt if I don’t get a scholarship–but it’s also potentially a huge rewards–accelerated career, millions more earned over the course of a lifetime. Would I consider this if I were in my 40s with a family, probably not. But since I’m young and have decades left in my career, it’s something that I’m leaning towards doing. Not being afraid of making decisions like this is what I read as her larger point.

  • Winterlight

    I think the other article does raise a good point, in that a mole-like existence where you do nothing fun isn’t healthy. However, she’s taken it to the other unhealthy extreme. You can save money in a sensible fashion without living like a monk, and have fun without being broke.

    I like shopping at renfaires and fun little shops in out of the way places and SF cons. I budget for these. A couple of weeks eating at home means that an afternoon shopping feels really, really fun instead of having a nagging feeling in the back of my head saying, “Can I afford to do this and still make rent?”

  • pamb

    I am starting a new job, and the three other women in my department are all in their early 20s. One graduated from college in May, one graduated a year ago, and I’m not sure when the third graduated. I’m 50. This is a retail job, and it’s literally the first out of college job for the one who just graduated. The company ha a great benefits plan, and a dollar match for up to 4% of your 401K. I’ve encouraged all the girls to enroll at 4%, and see how their paychecks pan out (we are commission based) and add as much as they can afford.

    I enrolled in a 401K in my early 20s, but wish someone had told me to raise my investments faster/sooner than I did. I think I stayed at 5% for about 5 years, until my husband was like “let’s raise that up”.

  • “the human Anthropologie throw pillows that write these articles” – hahaha that line is perfectly scornful. I hope for the sake of everyone and their future happiness that the Elite Daily (ew) “article” was indeed trolling in an effort to show people how not to think. Yes, I think people should enjoy their lives and do fun things, but no, you aren’t fucking giving up or “settling” if you save some money or have a 401K. Ugh. Gross! Lol

  • k-dub

    You are such a voice of reason! I have two friends who turned 30 recently and had horrible birthdays of self doubt, anxiety, and regret — over their money/career issues. You hit the nail with an anvil. I wanna join the “Looking Back With Gratitude At My 20s; Still Having a Baller Day & Lookin’ Forward” 30th Birthday Club when the time comes :] Hope to see some TFD’ers there haha

  • Rose

    Reading the comments on the original article pretty much made my day, though. Also, the author’s bio makes me a little sad for her.

  • Preach!

  • Abby S

    THANK YOU for writing this article. Right when my best friend read the original article, she texted me it along with “are you kidding me???”. I have seen way too many people adopt this attitude and lifestyle and it really is worrisome for our generation. Thank you for being a voice of reason and showing that being responsible in your 20s pays off, and you can still have a lot of fun along the way!

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