Generation Y values living within means

Tuesday, May 29, 2012 | 9:21 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA —Living within your means seems to be a high priority for many in this generation, despite stories that young people were born into a sense of entitlement.

Several conversations I’ve had with people in their 20s about the American Dream in various parts of mid-Missouri mention that it’s important to avoid debt — earn the things you want.

They talk about things like going without cable and paying for cars with cash. They are saving up to buy a house in cash in order to avoid a mortgage, but when they can’t, it’s the only form of debt they carry. They choose to live at home instead of going to the school of their choice because it would mean having to accrue debt for housing and expenses.

As I’ve listened to them share their perspective on the future of the American Dream, it’s reminded me of the New York Times article “The Go-Nowhere Generation” which states that Generation Y has lost some of the pioneering spirit and “get-up-and-go” of previous generations. In letters to the editor received by the New York Times in response to the article, one reader in particular wrote that his generation is “realistic and disillusioned,” and that this current shift is “an opportunity to reimagine an American society where material possessions don’t define prosperity, and where success is determined not by one’s bank statement but by one’s contentedness.”

It’s a sentiment I’ve heard echoed in quite a few of the interviews I’ve conducted.

As this generation seeks to live within their means and not inherit the relationship with debt that they’ve seen modeled by their predecessors, I find myself wondering what the ripple effect will be in the future and how it will impact our world.

In particular, I find myself wondering what sacrifices are they making on a large scale? Is this based more in fear or a genuine desire for relationship and stability? How are young adults determining which risks are “acceptable”? How is this affecting the economy? How will these practices impact our world tomorrow? How are they managing the pressure that they receive from predecessors?

In these times of economic and political shifts, it seems there are more questions than answers.

This post is part of the American Next, a special project exploring the hopes, fears and changing expectations of Missouri's next generation in challenging times.

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