It's Not About the Avocados

Some Australian millionaire pissed off a lot of my fellow millennials when he suggested that we can't afford houses because we buy too many avocado dinners and coffees. I'm going to take a wild guess and say that for each millennial he sees eating expensive avocados in a restaurant, there are ten more eating beans at home that he can't see. Unfortunately, in his myopia and his unfair bundling of a diverse generation, a point was lost. The point being, it's so easy to spend away your money on little stuff and miss out on saving up a big enough sum to do something substantial with. 

Let's be clear: we have a twofold problem. We have an income problem: wages have stagnated, living-wage jobs are scarce without having to go into debt for a degree, and starting out without some kind of a leg-up hasn't been harder since the great depression. As the saying goes: If you think I'm buying $4 coffees every day, you're already assuming my situation is better than it is!

But we also have an outflow problem, in which it is mindblowingly easy to experience financial death-by-1000-tiny-cuts. Lots of millennials understand this, and are careful, but the problem persists in the popular culture. To ignore it because some guy doesn't understand avocados would be doing ourselves a disservice.

Let's let Pitbull sing to us. Here's some lyrics from a song that's popular now:

I knew my rent was gon' be late about a week ago

I worked my ass off, but I still can't pay it though
But I just got just enough
To get up in this club
Have me a good time, before my time is up
Hey, let's get it now

Do these lyrics stop you in your tracks and make you say, "Holy shit, this dude is shooting himself in the foot over here!"?

Here's the next verse:

This is the last $20 I got

But I'mma have a good time ballin' or out
Tell the bartender line up some shots
Cause I'mma get loose tonight

No, hypothetical song dude! Don't do it! Put that $20 back in your wallet! You worked so hard for it and you're going to sentence yourself to all the anxiety that comes with being late on your rent? Is one night of feeling great worth it?

Then there's this gem of an ad I saw on the subway.

No, Seamless, paying someone to prepare and deliver my dinner might not be a well-thought-out choice if I just barely made rent. I'll pass.

While it's fun to critique hypothetical song dude, I want to be clear that I am not advocating judgments on individuals. On the cultural level, we have some changing to do, but on the personal level, the only person who can truly say whether the money was well-spent is YOU.

I don't know other people. Maybe that guy needs a smartphone to keep his job. Maybe that person works in a front-facing service position that tacitly requires her to maintain a polished manicure. Maybe that man saved up his spare change for years to buy that pair of sneakers. Maybe that lady's Michael Kors handbag is a gift from her grandkids. I don't know them, so I don't judge them. Personal purchases are just that- very personal- so I keep my nose out of their business unless they ask me for advice.

This toxic YOLO mentality is everywhere on a more macro level. "Treat your self!" is a catchphrase, but when you do, you are also the one who has to put in the extra work to make the money to pay for those treats- likely at a job that underpays you. We see everyone around us buying Instagram-pretty meals, purses, cars, shoes, trips, and concerts- usually on credit- and we are trained to feel bad about ourselves if we can't too. As Mr. Money Mustache says, "Ridiculousness is Ubiquitous". Social media is an endless scroll of ads, with your friends as the models. I even got a spam email from Ebay with the subject line, "FOMO alert!" - FOMO standing for "Fear of Missing Out"- not exactly an emotion I want to encourage.

I'm sure I'm missing out on a lot of things, like travelling the world or being the Queen of England. I'll never know what it's like to fly in a private jet, or be victorious in combat, and I'm pretty certain I'm going to miss out on a great career as an alligator wrangler. Why fear missing out? Why create unnecessary desires which are expensive to fulfill?

Take a minute right now and notice the roof over your head, if you have one. Go to the bathroom and turn on the water, if you have indoor plumbing. Press a hand on your mattress, if you have one, and feel its softness. Open your fridge- is there food in there to last you the day?

If you have these things, you are doing GREAT. You are already living better than the kings of bygone eras. Regardless of what Boomers and Mr. Avocados says, you don't need to own a house to not be a failure. Do you even want a house? I think most of us would rather do something else with that money if we had it, like travel, create social or political change, or invest. Toss out the boomers' success metrics. They are garbage. The only success metric that matters is your own, as long as you're honest with yourself about it.

Still, pressures come at us from every angle: all the things and experiences you need to buy in order to feel like you're not wasting your time on earth. Yet, the things we do to make ourselves feel rich are helping to keep us poor- and pop culture, advertisements, paid Instagram "influencers" and others who sell things are all too happy to encourage that.

Advertisers are so great at telling us what we want that it's surprisingly easy to forget to decide for ourselves. Couple that with student loan and healthcare costs that feel like drowning, and we wind up feeling desperate, saying "F*ck it," and buying whatever things we hope will make us feel dignified again.

Would you rather have the cash, perhaps earning interest or dividends, even if it meant not having the (lush bath bomb/new shoes/kitchen gadget/night out)? This is the question I want you to ask yourself. Any answer is fine, as long as you're totally honest with yourself.

If there's one thing I want you to take away from this, it's that making conscious decisions about budgeting and opportunity cost might not get you a house in Sydney, but it will give you the empowerment you need to steer your own financial ship. Where you choose to steer that ship is up to you: whether it's towards paying down student loans, saving for healthcare, investing, drinking at the bar with Pitbull, or stocking up at the Avocado Store.


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