Thursday, March 12, 2009

Proud to be a "poor" Gen Xer

Read an article yesterday about Generation X (my generation) taking a double whammy by being hit hard first during the dot com bubble burst and now the recession. Gen X is seeing the highest rate of unemployment right now when compared to the Boomers, Gen Y and the Millennials, and it's hitting us worse than the others because we're too old to move back in with mom and dad but not anywhere close to retirement. The article went on, however, to talk about the resiliency of Gen X, and the author interviewed some economists and social commentary pundits, one of whom said this:

In contrast to the younger Generation Y group with their overprotective parents and baby boomers still pining the loss of the gold watch days, Gen Xers never “trusted that the world or anyone was going to take care of them," he says.

No freakin' kidding. M and I have never, ever counted on anyone else taking care of us. We've been fortunate in so many ways and received countless gifts, but we've never once felt entitled to them or thought that we deserved them or were owed anything. We graduated from college secure in the certainty that Social Security wouldn't be around by the time we were ready to retire, and if it were, it'd just be gravy ("film money" I used to call it, before going to the Dark Side and converting to digital). We both began saving for our retirement immediately with our first jobs, investing in IRAs and Roth IRAs and 401(k) plans. Of course, we've watched the value of all that tank recently (well, we're not really watching, per say, as I quit opening the monthly statements sometime last year and now just have a bin full of still-sealed envelopes that would cause me to vomit should I ever actually open and read them), but still, we've at least attempted to create a base to provide for ourselves in our old age. We created a budget years ago and, to this day, check our expenses every single month.

Someone recently, in response to learning how much we're shelling out for graduate school, said, "Wow. You're rich." It got me to thinking about what M and I do and how we operate, because we are most definitely not rich (financially), at all. We're not even close. We are planners. We're budgeters. We're sacrificers. I drive a 10 year old car (happily, I might add) and haven't purchased clothes or shoes in years. My husband compares the price of toilet paper by calculating the cost per sheet (I kid you not). Sometimes that drives me crazy, like when I'm antsy and want to just get some freakin' toilet paper and go already, but I'm glad he does it because really, who wants to spend more on toilet paper than you absolutely have to? It's toilet paper, for Pete's sake.

I've been reading about the photographer Berenice Abbott the last couple nights, and her life story is remarkable. The woman was incredibly talented, but essentially unrecognized until she was in her 70s. She lived from one project to the next, sometimes barely scraping by, and many times forced to sell off her most prized possessions. However, through it all, she never, ever compromised on her ideals or what she thought was right. While it's a shame that it took her almost until the end of her life to receive the rewards she so richly deserved, she serves as an inspiration to just keep plugging away. She, like we Gen Xers, never thought that someone would swoop in and rescue her. She just did what she had to do, and she managed to survive and produce some of the most memorable work of her time.

What ol' Berenice did was set some priorities for her life, and then live by them. I admire that, and like to think that it's what M and I do. We know what is important to us - a secure retirement, a cushion in the bank account, a tuition savings plan for Zozer, a new camera now and then and more Christmas lights than the entire state of Nevada - and that's where we choose to spend our money. I don't buy clothes and shoes and jewelry and decorations for the house with every passing season, and he doesn't buy whatever silly stuff it is that guys buy. (What do they buy, anyway? Being married to an atypical guy, I wouldn't know. Power tools, maybe? Okay, he does have a thing for those, but he inherited so much from his grandfather that he's pretty well set, and he uses his Home Depot gift cards received for birthdays and Christmas for the rest.)

So, while we are rich in the aspect that we have a great family and lots of love and emotional support, we are just really good budgeters when it comes to money. Someone may look at my expensive camera or his million Christmas lights or our tuition bills and think that we have all the money in the world, but they're not seeing the whole picture. They're only seeing our priorities.

I'm not sure if our proclivities are indicative of our being members of Generation X or just a certain mindset (shared by Berenice Abbott and Edward Weston, which is way cool to me), but it's interesting to think about.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who says we're too old to move back in with mom and dad?!?!?!? LOL! Well-stated, Pooks - I strive to be at about 80% of where you guys are at. I will not calculate the price of freakin' toilet paper!!!!

10:39 PM  

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