An impending Millennials problem?


With the question of Millennials being in the news lately, I am reminded of a commercial that, quite frankly, makes me cringe every time I see it.

It is a commercial that is a part of an ad campaign for HGTV’s latest “House Hunter” series, “Tiny House Hunters.” It shows a cute 20-something couple taking selfies in exotic places with a voiceover stating, “We’d rather spend our money on experiences [than buying a big house].”

My immediate thought is, how short-sighted they are, for they appear to advocate putting their money towards traveling and living for today and not thinking about the future. This caused me to think back on how attitudes about money have evolved over the years.

For my grandmother, the conventional wisdom was not to spend too much money but save it for a “rainy day.” And when she approached the end of her life, she had enough money to cover all her bills and still had a little left for her children.

For my mother, the conventional wisdom was to invest her money in long-term investments, like real estate. Thankfully, when it came time for her to retire, she missed the housing meltdown, was able to sell her properties and walked away with a nice nest egg.

For my generation, some of my friends got caught up in more short-term investments like house flipping, stock market tips, etc. For some, these investments were very lucrative and afforded them a lifestyle better than their parents. Others were not as fortunate. Still, their motivations were not only to invest some for the future, but to enjoy some for today.

I think how we spend (or not spend) our money reflects our outlook on life. For my grandmother, coming out of the Depression, making sure you saved your money, and spend sparingly was important.

For my mother, it seemed she believed that one could not only have enough for one’s needs but also contribute to future generations.

For my generation, it seems the belief is that one does not have to wait to accumulate wealth for the future, but could earn and enjoy it for today as well. With Millennials, like those in the HGTV commercial, the outlook is not defined by the accumulation of money or things. Rather, the incentive is to accumulate unique experiences.

There are merits and deficits of each generation’s outlook. My grandmother never seemed comfortable spending money even when she needed to. Many of my mother’s generation were not so fortunate to escape the house market crash, for they lost a significant amount of their investments.

For my generation, I saw a friend go through a financial roller coaster as he won and lost big playing the stock market.

However, there is a unique danger posed by the millennial outlook. Because their focus is on experiences and their consumption habits are not towards things that increase in value, there is danger revolving around what will happen to them and future generations as they grow older.

If their focus remain on experiences, when they reach the age when they can no longer work, it is inevitable that they will need to depend on younger generations and the government for their livelihood.

I wish I could take that HGTV millennial couple and share with them that they err in their outlook of simply seeing inherent value in unique experiences.

Although having extreme or unique experiences may seem common in movies, or on television, this is not the case in real life. Living life from one unique experience to the next can act as a psychological drug with the effect of always needing external stimuli to feel alive.

However, as most of us can attest to, some of the most profound and richest moments in our lives often occur during some of the most “ordinary moments.”

For example, simply looking out a window at God’s creation, sitting around the dinner table and listening to family stories, or comforting a dear friend who has experienced a loss, may seem mundane, but these are moments many of us would not trade simply to see a foreign building.

While I know that the patterns of life will snap many Millennials out of their mindset (having children can do that to you), I fear that a significant portion of Millennials will retain their short-term perspective.

And unlike past generations, who, when they reached retirement age, became our nation’s wealthiest population segment, this will not be the case for such Millennials.

If this were to happen, it would produce an unprecedented economic and demographic shift in our country — the consequences of which I cannot fathom, but I can predict it will not be good.

[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville along with her husband and their five children.]