[Update] – I saw what a nice intro Tyler gave to my post over at his site so I decided I should try to follow suit. As part of a cross-posting agreement, Tyler from over at the Portly Politico has kindly agreed to talk about what it’s like for the millennial generation to try to follow in the footsteps of their parents’ lifestyle. I think it will be valuable for Boomers, Xers and Millennials alike. Highly recommended.
By Tyler James Cook, The Portly Politico (https://www.theportlypolitico.com)
When photog proposed swapping blog posts in the comment section of The Fat Man’s “Cityscape at Night,” I was intrigued, and quite enthusiastic. That was before I succumbed to a gnarly head cold and worked a thirteen-hour day. But that sickly plight leads nicely into photog’s suggested topic: what are the major concerns of a young American today?
At thirty-five, I don’t know how “young,” I am, but it’s one of those ages where older people tut-tut when you suggest you’re aging. I suppose their advanced years have taught them otherwise, and that they’d much rather be a slightly creaky thirty-five than a croaky eighty-five.
Surprisingly, I am considered part of that great, reviled generation, the Millennials. I certainly don’t feel like one, what with my love of tradition, Christianity, and President Trump. I was born in a time when Internet usage was limited to college campuses and obscure Bulletin Board Systems, when we weren’t handed a Star Trek communicator with access to all the world’s knowledge—and it’s basest, filthiest indulgences—when we were five.
But we had Nintendo and cable TV, and all manner of luxuries and gadgets our parents could only dream of (although my parents apparently played Pong while dating). Suburbia was kind to my generation—too kind, as we grew up spoiled and allergic to hard work.
That said, not all Millennial whining is unjustified. Our parents—the latter Boomers and the early Gen-Xers—could support a family of four or five on blue-collar salaries. They also didn’t pay a fortune for college, and their college education taught them something useful, rather than Derridaean deconstruction of everything good and decent. That degree was also their ticket to the middle class.
We grew up being assured that if we followed the same path, we’d end up with similar outcomes; indeed, we’d be better off than our parents. For many Millennials, that was true: both of my brothers, for example, make very good livings in academia and the law. Access to the credentialed classes was greater than it had ever been in American history for my generation.
But one of the problems is that we could no long sustain a family on a working man’s family. Indeed, the girls we grew up claimed they didn’t want that. They wanted careers and academic accomplishments; the highest accolades of their chosen fields. Never mind that most of them finished out college with a useless B.A. in Psychology (the go-to degree for girls who don’t know what they want to study) and loads of debt; that just began their long 20s, that period in which they could explore and “find themselves.” Or they got married straight out of college after all.
The problem is that with excessive credentialing, degrees have become increasingly worthless. For example, I hold a B.A. and M.A. in History. That M.A. paid off in that it gained me a small initial boost in my teaching salary, and it made it possible for me to adjunct at a local technical college (never mind that I’m teaching the same material—often at a slower pace—to the college classes than to the high school students; the State wants to see that M.A.). Otherwise, it’s been largely an ornament, something my school can tout in its statistics about faculty qualifications.
I’ve managed to carve out a decent living for myself in rural South Carolina, but it’s required constant hustling and budgeting. To sustain myself (and sock away money for retirement), I work full-time at the high school; adjunct one or two classes online each semester; teach multiple private music lessons after school; organize and book my own shows to bring in revenue (mainly through merch sales); teach summer classes and camps; and, until this summer, work maintenance at school. For all of that effort, I scrape together around $50,000 to $55,000 a year (although I came close to $60,000 one year).
Self-employment taxes eat away at a good chunk of my private lessons business, which The Virus temporarily shattered (along with live gigs). I do fine for myself—I managed to buy a used car with earnings from music lessons in 2019—but if I had a stay-at-home wife and kids, there would be no way we could make it work.
For one, my health insurance would outrageous if I didn’t game the Affordable Care Act. In order to avoid paying $400 a month in premiums for a plan with a $6750 deductible (you read that right), I max out 403(b), traditional IRA, and HSA contributions, which gets deducted, for the purpose of ACA subsidies, from my gross income. That modified adjusted gross income, or MAGI, is low enough that the ACA considers me sufficiently destitute to pay out subsidies, so my $400 a month premium drops to around $1 a month.
Again, for a single man at thirty-five, it’s not a bad deal. I’m in relatively good health (and am dropping some extra fat) and have managed to squirrel away enough in my emergency fund to reach my deductible without touching my HSA contributions (I’m treating my HSA as an investment vehicle, with my contributions invested in various mutual funds). But if I were married with kids, it would be a whole different story.
I’m also blessed to have made it through college and graduate school debt free, and to have never had a car payment. That is a luxury—really, the result of extremely generous gifts from my parents and grandparents—that has enabled me to pursue a life of financial asceticism. If I had student loans and car payments, like many of my peers, it would be far more difficult to save and invest.
As it is, I feel like I work constantly just to provide a good life for Future Portly. The cost in the here and now, though, is palpable. Not only have I sacrificed energy, I’ve sacrificed some of the enjoyment of life. Those are necessary sacrifices to avoid becoming a ward of the State in my dotage, but the price seems very high—and one that it seems I must now bear alone.
To be clear, I don’t mean to complain. I am blessed to live a good life, and to own a house, free-and-clear. I enjoy a degree of financial autonomy that strikes awe in my peers.
But I don’t know if it’s sustainable with a family—what I want more than anything. The debased nature of modern dating—the topic for another guest post, perhaps?—puts a man with a traditional worldview and sound financial sense in a precarious situation. Having built my legacy, I don’t want to squander it on some Tinder harridan with a butterfly tattoo and blue hair. But the inflated nature of the modern dating marketplace makes even the greasiest of girls believe their beauty queens with only redeeming qualities.