Last night, as I was leaving the gym, I saw one of the other members getting into a very nice, $30k Jeep.  I know the cost because I have looked at them a million times realizing not only can I never afford one myself but I couldn’t even afford the gas fill-ups.  So my dream jeep just isn’t in my deck of cards.

It got me thinking, though, how on earth does this young millennial afford it?  All I ever hear about is how expensive it is to be a millennial.  They have student loans to pay off.  They can’t even afford to move out of their parents’ houses because the debt is so stifling.  Employers talk about how to attract and retain their talent while recognizing they may need to entice them with student debt benefit programs.

I don’t want to be yet another clichéd Gen X adult piling on against the Millennials but I am going to do it anyway.  I will also do it with the disclaimer that I have several Millennial friends I deeply respect who don’t even come close to the generalizations I am about to make.  They are so hard working and responsible that I sometimes think my parents could have raised them.

Since when is student loan debt new?  I had it when I left college and I paid it off.  At one point I even defaulted and had to work through that and its impact to my credit alongside other bills I struggled to pay on time.  But I was doing it while living in an apartment with roommates where I paid rent and utility bills.  I worked full time because that was the only way to have health insurance.  Back then, we didn’t get to stay on our parents’ health insurance until age 26.  I used to think it was great when that changed but now I think it’s an enabler.  If you don’t have to get out and survive on your own, why would you?

We lived in crappy apartments on questionable streets at times.  We stole toilet paper from Dunkin Donuts on occasion.  We ate a lot of zucchini when my dad would grow it and give us a bunch because it was free.  Even when we drank, we bought super cheap Boone’s Farm wine – 1 bottle each because it worked the same as buying a much more expensive 6 pack of beer.  To vary up our wardrobes, we traded clothes rather than buying new stuff.  A couple of us worked at the same place in order to carpool and share gas cost rather than multiple bus fares.  We didn’t open up credit cards.  We paid for everything with earned cash.

Cell phones, I don’t have the latest iPhone.  I can’t afford it.  It’s not a priority, nor should it be for anyone living at home with their parents and paying off student loans.  Vacations – I paid for them.  My dad usually slipped me a $20 but the rest was on me and had to work within budget.  Oh yeah, and I was still paying off my student loans.

My first car – Rent-a-Wreck.  It cost $1300 and came from a lot of very poorly running cars.  I used bumper stickers to cover the rust spots.  It used to just shut off randomly when I would be on the highway.  Not a gradual slowing down but just a complete shut down and drift from whatever lane I was in to the breakdown lane.  I quickly became familiar with AAA and towing resources.  When it came time to trade up to something a little more reliable, I had to donate it because it had no trade in value.  It wouldn’t be until my 30s when I could buy my first brand new car and that was a Toyota Corolla  – one of the cheapest on the market.  I upgraded to a VW Jetta for a few years but when it became clear I wouldn’t be able to afford its upkeep, I traded it in and bought another responsible, cheap, Toyota Corolla.  And I have been student debt free for more than 15 years now.  Yet, a $30k car is not in my cards so I don’t have one.

When it came time to buy a house, I did get assistance from my parents in that I was able to live with them in order to save up for a mortgage.  I had also moved back from across the country with a dog who was heavily breed restricted from renting in New England so they really helped me out.  But they didn’t give me $.  My mortgage down payment came entirely out of my pocket.  One might argue living rent free was them giving me $.  Maybe so.  But there were other costs to me that far outweighed finances.  This time period was not the good one with my dad.  I absolutely “paid” for that time living with them & was in therapy once a week during that time.  I spent a lot of time commuting and working late to limit our exposure to one another and when I was home, spent most of my time in my bedroom.

I bought my house all by myself.  Major life goal.  I never wanted to be beholden to anyone else financially.  I wanted my debt to be my debt alone.  I wanted my cash to be my own.  I wanted to know I could take care of myself on my own.  And I went through student debt.

I don’t know why we want to cushion the millennials so much from the hard realities of what it costs to live.  Protecting them doesn’t change reality.  The only reason they are tolerated is that their power comes from volume – not any particularly stellar behavioral traits.  They get what they want because there are so many of them.  They do impact the work force and economy so we have to shrivel up our values and wipe their brows from the sweat of needing to pay their student loans as if they are the first people to ever encounter one.  And let’s face it, many of them have deferred the costs to their parents.

I don’t know why they haven’t been taught a tighter definition of what it should mean to “live.”  It means you get a job you may not like.  You work hours you may not like at first.  You start off at low pay.  You hate your boss and still go to work.  You pay your bills.  You settle for an older version of the iPhone.  You drive a used car.  You get your own health insurance. You move in with roommates – not your boyfriend at age 22.  You limit the credit cards or at least get one with a low range so the debt can’t be insurmountable.  You visit your folks for dinner on occasion and appreciate the free meal.  You hit the bars during Happy Hour.  You do road trips with friends when you want a long weekend trip.  You go to work when you don’t feel well.  You buy generic cereal.  You do your hair color from a box you buy at the supermarket and you trim your own bangs.  You go to the $10 a month gym with the meatheads.  You don’t quit your job when you stop liking it unless you have a new one to go to.

You don’t go to a gym with a $100+ a month membership and hop into your $30k jeep, check your iPhone 8 and drive home to your parents who are probably the ones paying your student loan, car payments and phone bill.  You eat ramen and pay your student loans like the rest of us did.  You question your career choices at some point.  You fantasize about what else you would do if you could just walk away….except for mortgage, car payment, cell phone bill, health insurance keeps you tethered.  You envy what others have sometimes as you drive your basic car.  You adult.