This Reader Story comes from Stevie Lutgen, a mortgage content editor for Lender411.com. She has a job now, but still writes for free, just for fun.
Some reader stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success or failure. These stories feature folks with all levels of financial maturity and income.
On June 15, 2011, I woke up slightly hung over and completely optimistic — college graduation day had arrived! It was an exciting day for my cronies and me. I would have said, with a swollen degree of confidence, that we had worked hard, aimed high, and felt well on our way to success even in the midst of what we'd been told was the bleakest job market since the Great Depression. You could have called us naïve and we wouldn't have cared. Our work ethic and merits would bring forth all manner of occupational security. Most importantly, in some deep-seeded and undeniable way, we felt we deserved it.
I've read on multiple occasions, to the point at which citation would be far overdone, that I'm a product of the “me, me, me” generation — one of the group known as Gen Y, or more recently, Millennials. We are in constant, almost fanatical contact with our friends via social media and texting, spend tons of money on techy toys, nurture an unhealthy penchant for posting our every thought as well as our amateur, Instagram-enhanced photography on Facebook, and have the reputation for being a little lazy in the work and finance department thanks to maturing in the Age of Convenience. This description has really bothered me, and I've considered it more of a media trope. After all, I haven't spent a second of my time on Instagram, and nothing vexes me more than someone purging their bank account for the sake of having the latest iWhatever. And I certainly did not consider myself lazy where personal finance and work ethic were concerned.
Still after college, for the life of me I could not land a proper job. It was my assertion that I didn't fit the mold. I was not too caught up in the alleged follies of my generation to become a responsible “grown up.” In fact, it was easy to blame the entire economy for my problems and, for good measure, I decided I also had a lot of bad luck. Money was not coming my way because the world is not fair, I thought. Then I spent half a year searching for a career writing position to no avail, had a (slight) meltdown, dug deep, and realized I was wrong.
That's when I began exploring how my ego was getting in the way of my future. I admitted that I might be a little obsessed with myself. Businesses implement social media branding into their marketing strategies because it's the easiest way to connect with consumers. A personal Facebook profile is not very different. Your friends (and enemies) have the power to respond to your comments, post photos of you, and generally talk about you with little consequence. It follows that the pressure required to maintain image is greater for people today than it was for, say, cavemen. Step 1 in my entitlement elimination journey was acknowledging this reality.
Whether you're 16 and love posting filtered pictures of yourself in the bathroom mirror, 22 and anxious about seeing photos from a party show up in your news feed, or 28 and obsessed with tweeting pictures of your baby — you are caught up in broadcasting a certain appeal. I stopped comparing my money struggles to those of others. In college, I had to pay for my rent, food, gas, oil, utilities and textbooks. Needless to say, I got a job.
While the experience of financially struggling on a weekly basis made me smarter and stronger, it also made me smug. I felt like I had struggled more than my roommates who had had access to mom and dad's credit card. But it's not uncommon to hear the wealthy and the broke gripe about their money struggles, and that's because most people struggle in one way or another.
Step 2 has been ceasing this habit, and it's still in progress. Focusing on comparing finances and congratulating myself for experiencing difficulty was not only presumptuous, it was unproductive. I realized that if I spent less time comparing my financial situation to that of my peers, I could devote my energy to something that could make me more money: me. I changed my routine, and re-hatched a plan for my future.
In the Age of Convenience, it's easy for young people to spend gratuitous amounts of time online and shirk responsibility. Around final exam time in college, it was de rigeur for students to announce that they were deactivating their social accounts for more efficient studying. I was one of those people.
Step 3 has been exploring my definition of personal integrity, and integrating it with my financial planning. For me, this meant spending far less time on social media and prioritizing job searching by deleting some of my social profiles. My career search then became a full-time pursuit. This pursuit was no longer just searching for writing and marketing jobs on Craigslist and Indeed, but spending hours a day building up my skills. Every day I went online and learned an Adobe program, read about new SEO tactics, and contacted bloggers with exceptional experience for advice. In order to build up a portfolio, I got a staff writer position on an entertainment news blog despite a lack of pay. Over time, I was able to add these abilities to my resume and cover letters.
Impact on finances
My entitlement epiphany had one immediate result: an increase in work ethic. Once I stopped thinking I deserved more financial stability and realized I needed to create financial stability, it's amazing how much more effort you devote to your goals. I sold old clothing, took trustworthy Craigslist gigs, stopped buying lunch, added to a high-interest mutual fund, and switched banks accounts. My new checking account releases a dollar into savings each time I swipe my debit card (Way 2 Save checking through Wells Fargo).
One day at a time
Not long after my epiphany, I got a proper job. And unlike the me of 2011, I do not chalk it up to luck. Maybe the entitlement mindset had come from growing up in a world where social media was making me feel like I was so very important, or maybe it's because I see 23-year-old starlets crash their Bentleys on TMZ and thought I should have that kind of capital by age 24. Now none of that matters. After starting my job, I continued to focus less on my social persona and concentrated on building a nest egg and enhancing my skill suite. My observation is that, when you've convinced yourself that you're worth a great deal of money without the experience to back it up, consciously or not, you spend more money. My commitment to building up savings consistently has come from adopting a rainy day mindset and digesting some humble pie, not banking on my phantom ability to generate the big bucks. And in fact, that's all entitlement was — assigning myself value, without having learned to become valuable.