THE ECONOMIC BLUEPRINT: Leave no trace v2.0: Millennials and money

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Sunshine filling the tent to start the day. Cool mountain air. The sounds of birds chirping and the running river. I’ve had the pleasure of taking backcountry hiking trips in some of the country’s most beautiful national parks: Rocky Mountain, Yose­mite, and Grand Teton. I still love hiking in the wilderness but I must admit, at this point I appreciate a hot shower, air conditioning, and a comfortable bed at day’s end.

When camping in the backcountry of a pristine natural environment, I was taught to “leave no trace.” LNT means to leave the campground just as you found it. It’s the philosophy for camping, but is there an analogous worldview on how to live?

Instead of LNT, how about LIB?

When I’m old and gray, I don’t want to reflect upon my life and think I’m leaving my environment just as I found it. No, I want to leave it better (“LIB”) than how I found it.
It’s going to be a tough act to follow. When my ancestors left the shtetls of Eastern Europe around the turn of the 20th century, the conditions must have been dire enough for them to board steerage class and cross the Atlantic to settle in a place they’d never before seen. My grandparents were then the first American-born of my forebearers. Three out of the four of them grew up in the tenements of Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Their lives were not far removed from Jacob Riis’s “How the Other Half Lives,” but somehow it was substantially better than the prior generation. My grandparents worked hard for better lives, and my baby boomer parents received the benefits of middle-class lifestyles. My parents continued the upward trajectory: my father is a retired physician and I am indescribably grateful for the opportunities my parents worked hard to provide.

Next in line is my generation. I timed law school perfectly with the Great Recession of 2008. There were half as many 2L summer law clerk jobs for my class compared to the prior year. Now, nearly ten years post-law school, it feels like we haven’t amassed the wealth the prior generation had at our age.

There is statistical evidence that the Millennial generation (those born between roughly 1981 and 2001) will be the first American generation to build less wealth than their parents.1 Between ballooning student loan debt, stagnating wages, and the older generation working longer, the deck is stacked against us.

Trying to LIB in 2019

It’s overwhelming to bear the burden of continual success with less economic opportunity. Our generation was raised with certain privileges that we may be unable to pass on to our children.

But there are other, even more important ways we can leave it better for those that follow. We can continue to build on progress made in areas such as human equality, environmentalism, and philanthropy. We can strengthen our personal relationships and community ties to grow deeper roots for our children’s sake.

And don’t forget that the grass is always greener on the other side. I spoke with a baby boomer friend while writing this and he reminded me that his generation’s parents were raised during the Great Depression, which framed their relationship to money. They then raised the baby boomers with the same scarcity mentality, which caused them to focus on accumulating and even hoarding wealth. My friend commented that I might wish for the economic opportunity he had, but that he yearns for the meaningful experiences that our generation prioritizes. It’s an important reminder to keep everything in perspective and to count our blessings.

As I consider how I can leave it better for my children and grand­children, I realize that developing human capital can be more meaningful than economic capital. We may not have the same economic opportunities as our parents, but if we can leave the world a better place, for more people, to have more opportunities and experiences, then we’ve done the right thing.
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1Dave Roos, Are millennials really the first generation to do worse than their parents?, https://money.howstuffworks.com/ personal-finance/financial-planning/millennials-first-worse-parents.htm, last visited Aug. 8, 2019.
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Attorney Kyle Zwiren works with Financial Architects Inc., an independently-owned company located in Farmington Hills. Zwiren and his team serve attorneys and other professionals to help them design financial plans in line with their goals and based on optimal efficiency. He practiced law prior to becoming a Financial Architect and left the practice to follow his passion. To talk to Zwiren about other topics featured in The Economic Blueprint, email him at kzwiren@financialarch.com or call him at 248-482-3622.

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