Are You Better Off Than Your Parents Were at This Age?


Parents, matchmaker
My cousin has a running quip that gets funnier as we get older: back in the day, elders — especially ladies in our church — believed in playing matchmaker for the younger set, and since we come from a family of big-hat wearin’, hallelujah-shoutin’ sisters of the sanctuary, it seems like that tradition would still be alive and kickin’. “I wouldn’t be 37 and single,” my cousin insists, “if our moms had stuck with the script and found me a nice young man to marry when I was like 21.” Well, she does have a point there. They are kinda slippin’.
Even among my married friends, though those are few and far between, there seems to be a distinction between the yesteryear and the here and now. Most of them make more money individually than their parents did together, but they don’t have as much material stuff to show for it. And boy, do some of their moms and dads give them the blues about it. 

It usually starts off a little something like this: “By the time I was your age, I had three houses and a boat” or “by the time I was your age, I paid for a car for me and your mother — in cash.” That inability to recreate a similar financial wow factor is cause for their parents to point out their kids’ bad habits, from jumping too much from job to job to spending ass-crazy amounts of money (as my uncle would say) on fancy coffees and dinners out. “This is why you don’t have a house!” he hollers at my bewildered cousin, dangling a pair of designer shoes in front of her. “Might be why you don’t have a man, too! This stuff is cute in the beginning, but don’t no man want to see his money being blown through at Macy’s.”

I stick up for her in my mind: Ha! Shows what you know. She’d rather be caught in a stampede of sweaty zoo animals than shop at Macy’s. Hmph.
True, she’s making good money at her job but still living in an apartment. As a matter of fact, almost everybody in my circle is still in apartments, a fact they’re far from content about, because they want that same sense of accomplishment, because they want to have a piece of property to call their own, and particularly because back when they were in their 20s and 30s, their parents were well settled into homes already. Some even had vacation spots on top of the regular, everyday houses. And isn’t each generation supposed to be doing at least a little better than the one before?

Now, I will say this on my generation’s behalf: many of our parents weren’t weighted down with the same hefty amount of student loans or financial baggage and they were more content to have less. Not us. On average, we’re now coming out of college owing 81 percent more in credit card debt than they were back in the 80s. It’s almost like, even though we were pushed to do better, no one made it clear that we would be paying so dearly for it.

So they might have been living out the little American dream with a little nuclear family and a little piece of land deeded to them, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they were happier. I mean, there are surveys and polls and questionnaires, but even those aren’t capable of tacking down hard and fast figures about who’s more content, especially when you weigh it against history. There’s no Marty McFly, Back to the Future-ish method of figuring out how satisfied our parents were when they were in their 20s, 30s, 40s, even with all of the accouterments of success.

Sure, many of us planned to be married before now, whatever age your now is. We may have aspired to have houses and plump 401(k) accounts and an enviable net worth to make our moms and dads feel like they’d raised savvy offspring. My mom was well into her 40s when she bought her first home — the one she’s still in now, as a matter of fact — so between that and me being the first person in our family to go to college, I never felt the pressure some of my friends feel to recreate their parent’s success. Not to say my mama isn’t successful because she sure enough is, but ostensibly, I’m on track to do better than she did at my age. It’s the standards that I’ve set for myself that are the beast.

So what do you think? Are you in a better position in life than your parents were when they were your age? What does that mean to you?


Image via Neeta Lind/Flickr

dating, living together, marriage, love


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Rhond... RhondaVeggie

At my age my parents were renting and driving crappy old cars. We own our home and have two cars, both bought new. I never felt any pressure to do better, my mother thinks we are yuppy snobs because we have two cars for example, but I did anyway because I didn't want to be stuck in a rental all my life.

sunny... sunnytxmom

My family and I are much better off financially than my parents were growing up. But I'm finding there is a trade off for that financial gain. I may make more money but I have less time with my kids. Sometime I wonder if it is really worth it....

Spaxy Spaxy

There has been crazy differences in economic times between generations though. Between inflation, a troubled economy/bailouts, wars in Iraq/Afghanistan affecting the economy, etc., younger generations today don't quite have the same playing field as the parents did in their hey-day. Also, I think it's just a parent/older generation thing to say "Back in my day, we did this already!" or something to that effect. 

femal... femaleMIKE

we do make more money.  i own a multi family, if the economy was better i would sell it and get a single family.   

at my age my mother had 6 kids and was living in a 2 room house (bathroom was outside/whole family slept in one bedroom).  My dad owned a store.  this was in Africa.

fast forward 10 years, my parents owned a mulit family...all payed off. 

linzemae linzemae

My mom was divorced with 2 kids at my age. She didn't own her first house till she was 41. I bought my first house and got married at 23. No kids yet for me, I wanted a home and all the furnishings and to enjoy being married first.

Redsilas Redsilas

Yes, we are.  My parents were horrid at saving and spending.  My dad was military, so we got extra $$$ to live off the base, a housing supplement, but they still were not wise with their money.  My dad is long gone, but my mom is just horrible! We worry that we'll have to bail her out one day because she's super gullible when it comes to contractors and her house. 

We have enough to max out our retirement funds for the year, invest in mutual funds, and invest in the stock market.  We also have savings as a 'just in case'. 

BUT - we chose a life of serving overseas and the good and the bad that comes with it.  It has allowed us to save up our money, not have to worry about housing payments (yet), travel the world, and just save right now.  Depending on where we get assigned, we can either save money, or sometimes BARELY get by for the tour.  It's 50/50. 

My end point though - my parents were stupid with money.  They didn't even bother teaching me how to use a checkbook, or how to invest, or save for retirement.  When my dad died, my mom got a HUGE payout from his life insurance, his retirement funds, etc, and she blew through most of it in 1 year on 'home improvements' when she could have honestly bought a bigger house, new, with the money she spent on she has to continue working well past her retirement date to make ends meet. 

corri... corrinacs

My situation is so from different, but I will include my general scope.

My situation, my parents were POOR.  I mean, dirt poor.  They didn't have a dime to thier name, ever, and still don't.  So, compared to them, I am significantly better off than they were.

But, generally, there's a reason why we are struggling to meet the same "successes" our parents have, although our paychecks are "higher".  But that's the fallacy....our paychecks are higher, but not by much.  Not only that, the things we need to survive (housing, vehicles, childcare, etc) have skyrocketed in price since then.  My inlaws would tell us how they bought houses when they were in thier 20's and they made $80,000 together.  But thier house was maybe $100,000 total on the upper end.  Together, my hubby and I make like $160,000, but the same house they bought around here is more like $400,000....see the difference?


corri... corrinacs FIL bragged about how he bought his pride Mustang in the 70's for $4000 cash.  How much does the same Mustang cost now?  $45,000.  I don't think you can buy a brand new car anywhere for $4000.....the cheapest runs you at least $10,000.

And do not get me started on childcare.  I don't know how we are going to survive as a community when childcare costs so much.  I have two children in daycare (so I can work) and we are laying down over $2000/month.

So, guys, those are just a few reasons why it seems that we are making more money, when in fact we also have to spend at least 1000% more on the same necessities our parents did.

douxm... douxmusique

My parents never went to college. Never owned a home. Never had steadyvwell paying jobs. I wasn't raised to value "stuff", and in terms of material possessions we are well provided for today... But I think my parents were better parents than I am. I have a hard time comparing my success to my parents... Their lack of financial success is not something I want to rub in their faces.

count... countrygirl670

I have more money, but less time.  I have less "things" but that's because I am not a particularly acquisitive individual.  As a single parent, my mom was always good at managing her money.  I look back on my childhood days and cannot believe we lived as well as we did- complete with vacations (!) - on her modest salary alone.   Now she's remarried, and she and her husband are both retired and comfortable.  I laughingly tell her that they're the last of the prosperous.

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