You can read all over the internet that millennials are killing the American Dream™, when really, the American dream was killed for us. We were raised to strive for the same goals the generations before us were: college, marriage, home ownership, career success. But what happened to us is college tuition skyrocketed for our generation, and the economy tanked just as we began to enter adulthood.
Now, those of us who weren’t privileged enough to have our parents pay for school are buried in student debt, existing in an economy where the cost of living keeps rising but wages aren’t. We’ve had to take jobs — sometimes multiple jobs — that underpay us just to make sure our bills can get paid. With this heavy weight of debt on us, we are physically and emotionally exhausted, often afraid and, frankly, financially unable to take those traditional “next steps” in our lives due to their costs and potential to get into even more debt.
Many millennials still want to achieve those classic American dream goals, but the question that is always pending is: Am I ready? Here are some ways you can assess if you are ready to start pursuing your goals:
You’ve found that person you love so much that you want to spend the rest of your life with them and declare that love in front of all your friends and family. You might want to leap to that next step into holy matrimony, but are really ready for the long-haul? There are several things to consider.
Some really important things to discuss are what each other’s long-term goals are. What are your priorities? Does one (or both) of you want to pursue your career, ready to move in the name of career advancement at the drop of a hat? Does one of you want to stay settled and build a life in one place? How do you feel about starting a family? The topic of children is one that is often a deal breaker — and should be — for deciding on marriage. It’s not fair to guilt one partner into having children if they don’t want to, or to deny one who wants nothing more than to be a parent that chance to have a child. Creating and raising a human is not something you just get to try out and see if you like it; it’s a life-long decision, and if one of you feels very strongly either way, it could mean it wasn’t meant to be.
Another thing that is extremely important to talk about before tying the knot is financials. Even if you are already living together, you may still be keeping personal finances separate. But once you get married, everything is shared — including debts. You need to sit down and have a long and serious talk about each of your current debts, including student loans, credit card balances, and car payments. You also should talk about savings, what some financial life goals might be (buying a house, traveling, retirement, etc), spending habits, current salaries, and just about every other topic that touches money. Money matters can be a great source of contention in a marriage, so it’s important to know what your getting into debt-wise and be on the same page on how financial matters will be handled going forward.
As mentioned in the previous section, the decision to have a child is not one that should ever be taken lightly. If both your and your partner are on board for kids, then that’s great! But there are still some other things you should take into consideration before you start makin’ babies.
Once again, we visit the topic of financials. Unfortunately, in this capitalist dystopia, love isn’t going to concur all — you’ve got to be in good financial standing before adding to your family. Having and raising a child costs a lot, and you need to be prepared to take on those costs. You should take a look at your household income and bills, and then assess if there is a good amount of wiggle room to cover your increased expenses. Having a good amount of money in your emergency savings is also important, as is ensuring that you have a stellar health insurance to cover both routine appointments and potential serious medical care. You should also discuss if both of you will work or if one will stay home, who that will be, and how it will affect your overall budget.
You also might consider discussing how you want to add to your family. Is it important to you to pass on your genes? Or would you be just as happy adopting a child in need? With the Earth currently housing 7.5 billion people and counting, having fewer children might be the responsible thing to do for the environment. There are so many children in need of homes, and while there is something special about seeing how you and your partner’s genes mix, there is also joy in adding to your family with adoption. If you want a big family, you might even consider both.
The white-picket fences of homeownership have been a prominent visual in the American dream. But that dream has never been further from reach than it is right now for millennials. Housing prices are skyrocketing while wages stay stagnant. In addition to low wages, millennials who are already in significant student loan debt are wary to take on even more debt, especially one as big as mortgage.
If buying a house is one of your goals, it’s definitely important to take a look at — here’s that topic again — your finances. Use a mortgage calculator to see what is in your price range. Usually when buying a house, you are expected to put at least 20 percent down on your loan — whether that be $15,000 or $50,000 (and more) is going to depend on where you live and what the average house cost is in the area. Before you die laughing at those ludicrous numbers, being that you’ve probably never seen that amount of money in your life, there are many states that offer first-time homeowner programs that make it possible to buy a house with a significantly lower down payment — sometimes even zero down.
Of course, the cost of homeownership isn’t just the price of the house; when you own a home, you also take on all financial responsibility for everything about the house. Any repairs needed are yours to take on — there is no calling a landlord when your pipes start making funny noises. You either have to figure out how to fix things yourself, or have the money on hand to hire professionals. Also, you will have all utilities to pay for, along with homeowners insurance, and this is all in addition to your mortgage payment. Make sure that if you are going to buy a house, you factor in all of these bills so you can choose a house and mortgage that is truly in your price range.
Advancing Your Education
When already saddled with undergrad student loan debt, it’s hard to think about adding to that debt by going back to school and getting a master’s degree. For many, though, the dream of an advanced and thorough education is one that is still very important to them. For others, it seems more like a necessity, as well-paying jobs become more scarce, and therefore more competitive; having that advanced degree is bound to make your resume stand out.
Financials are, of course, going to be a factor here as well — but the good news is that if you play your cards right, you can make those financials work in your favor this time. Not enough people who get their masters look into how they can get paid to go to graduate school. You can apply for research and teaching assistantships, and if you are chosen, some programs will not only cut the cost of your tuition, but also give you a monthly living stipend. You won’t be rolling in the dough, but you’ll be able to take fewer loans to pay any remaining tuition costs. You can also apply for scholarships, and maybe even ask the company you currently work for if they have any programs that help pay for employee schooling.
When looking at graduate programs, you may also want to look to see if you can find schools that waive the GMAT requirement. While typically the GMAT is a test to assess a student’s potential, some programs are willing to waive the GMAT in favor of work experience and academic accomplishments. The GMAT is a beast of a test, and you may need to take it several times to get a “passing” score; at $250 per try, if you can find a program that allows you to avoid the GMAT, by all means, do it!
The American dream may be a bit farther off for millennials than past generations, but if any aspect is an important goal for you, do everything you can to achieve it. Talk with your partner and discuss your desired futures. Carefully assess your current situation and make wise decisions when you choose to pursue your dreams to make sure you’re not putting yourself into an even more stressful situation. You can do it, but there’s no rush — take your time and do these things when you’re ready.
Mila Sanchez is a writer with a BA in English Linguistics living in beautiful Boise, ID. Her ambitions include traveling the world, studying languages, and taking pictures of her dog, Baymax. Connect with her on Twitter and Baymax on Instagram!