So, let me just get this out of the way:OH MY GOD YOU GUYS I’M ON THE COVER OF USA TODAY.
No, really. My picture (taken by Brett Roseman) is just below the USA Today logo, front and center, above the fold. I am writer Hadley Malcolm’s lead source in a story called “The cost of financial illiteracy.”
The story is about my generation — the Millennials — struggling with money. You know, basically.
First: For reasons that are beyond me, I’ve been on USA Today’s “shopper panel” e-mail list for years. (Jayne O’Donnell, one of the paper's other reporters, and I are besties.) When I got an e-mail seeking sources for this story, I actually contacted the writer and suggested they interview my sister. In part because she’s more responsible and has her shit approximately 472 percent more together than me. But unable to leave things well enough alone, I signed off and added, “For what it's worth, I am 28 and still have no idea how to manage my money.”
So she interviewed both of us.
And I’m the only one who ended up in the story, probably because I was desperate to entertain her and gave her everything she was looking for to illustrate her point that my generation is a bunch of spoiled, entitled idiots with irresponsible spending habits and no capacity for fiscal responsibility.
I spent almost an hour on the phone with her from my hotel in San Antonio, just after my second week back in a full-time job, talking about my upbringing, my work history, my moves from city to city, my hopes, my dreams, my desire to have better financial security, my efforts to learn more about budgeting and personal finance.
And in the end, we get this: Paige Worthy is a stupid yuppie. Look at her in that handmade scarf, on her iPad, looking up a recipe while she shops at a hip European grocery store. Check out this flake! She’s had six jobs in as many years, and now this idiot’s about to go off on her own again as a freelancer! Now…let’s go to our experts to find out what a disaster everyone else in her generation is.
I mean, I’m paraphrasing. I’m a journalist. I GET IT. Ultimately, many reporters use their sources to illustrate the point they always knew they wanted to arrive at. I’m not mad at you, Hadley! My picture’s on the front page of one of the most widely read newspapers in the country. Thousands of people are waking up in hotels everywhere with me juuuuust outside their doors.
But damn. As a personal blogger, I’m even more cognizant today of the luxury that comes with telling my own story day to day.
I won’t argue with most of Hadley’s story.
Yes, I do believe we’re mostly screwed as a generation. We’re inheriting a country that’s positively gone to shit in almost every way. It’s hard to find work, and when we do find work, many of us are being paid so much less than we deserve that it’s practically laughable.
And despite this, many of us continue to rack up debt by spending beyond our means, taking trips, going to restaurants, and so on and so on.
But there’s a lot more going on than just some irresponsible kids that would rather play Angry Birds than learn about being fiscally responsible. A LOT.
I like to live well. I buy my cat’s food at Whole Foods. (It's $3.99 per bag.) I enjoy a good meal from time to time. And — DEAR GOD — I have an iPad. (It was a Christmas gift, for the record.)
But really, I’m one of the lucky ones. My family taught me, from a very young age, not to take things for granted. I’ve had a savings account from the moment I was born; I have an IRA now that I contribute to regularly; I pay my taxes on time; I can count the number of times I’ve overdrawn my bank account on one hand. I went to a state college and majored in a subject that, at the time, I knew would translate into a career after graduating. I’ve been employed constantly, if not consistently, since I left school. I never fell for the credit card scams in the student union. Who wants one of those oversized, crappy T-shirts anyway? I’m not in debt, from student loans or otherwise. I never have been and, barring any catastrophic future life events, I don’t intend to be.
Why yes, I am patting myself on the back. Everyone who can claim as much should pat themselves on the back, because it’s hard to do these things in a financial climate like this. And yes, I’m defending myself. Because I’m pretty offended to see my generation constantly carpet-bombed with blanket criticisms about our attention spans, our work ethic, our financial shortcomings.
My problem is, as always, with the hayseed commenters who think they have all the answers. Blaming “me” for the ills of society. Calling “me” worthless and stupid. Thinking a single photograph of a girl on a staged photo shoot in Chicago really says something compelling about an entire generation of young people still trying to figure things out in a pretty messed-up world. Sorry, guys. It’s not that easy, and it’s not that simple.
I, personally, am in a pretty good place — and I’m getting better. I gave my two weeks’ notice yesterday at a job that wasn’t fulfilling me, and I’m not sorry for that. I’m going back to freelancing and all the good and bad that comes with that.
Financially, I’m keeping track of my business expenses, paying my quarterly self-employment tax estimates, establishing a budget for the first time in my 29 years on this Earth. (Whether I stick to it is another thing, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, right?)
My efforts to improve are the part of my story that she left out. And really, that’s completely fine. Because the story wasn’t about me — it just started with me. What’s your story?