Changing the meaning of money

SC_charleston_houseTo my grandparents, born around 1900, money meant a kind of stability that allowed them to stay in one place and raise a family. Both of my grandparents had moved frequently as children. My grandfather wanted to buy a farm to provide a living that didn’t have depend on the whims of working for a boss in a company. Inauspiciously, he borrowed money to do this a few years before the crash of 1929. During the depression the farm provided food, but very little money as most people simply didn’t have the extra funds to buy fresh produce. Sometimes they would receive clothes or other goods for fresh truck crops. The person who loaned him the money was wise enough wait to for his money rather than take over a farm he probably could not sell to anyone else. My grandparent’s less fortunate relatives came to stay with them, so having the money was not as important as a place to call home.

My mother grew up and lived in one house until she left for college. My father did not have that luxury as his own father died when he was still young. He was not averse to leaving familiar places behind for opportunities. After serving 6 years in the military during World War II, he took advantage of the GI bill to pay for his degree. During the sixties and seventies we moved every few years because my father worked for company with the innovative idea of developing engineers by moving them to experience all facets of the company business. That might be great for developing people with a greater competency across the company, but it was tough on families to constantly face the challenges of adapting to a new community, new school, etc. It also made it nearly impossible for my mother to have her own career. However, for my father the importance of money was not to secure a single homestead, but as the sole provider for his family it was to give his family a life free from need and his children the opportunity to attend college.

My transient upbringing was not the same thing that occurred to most of my peers. They grew up in one place and moved into a larger nearby house as their family had more children and accumulated more possession. Money was a source not only of necessities but also “play things” which became a sign of status. After the sixtes, the United States economic growth met little bumps of recessions but kept recovering nicely until the economy started a steep decline that hit bottom in 2009. Being wealthy allowed some Baby Boomers to foot the bill for sky-rocketing education costs for their own children.

Meanwhile the idea crept in that one had to have money to make money, as a number of people had previously made money investing while  interest rate on savings had become laughably low. For Generation X and the Millennials that followed them, having money was a way to prevent the slide into a lower, struggling class. The lower class that they fear slipping into still has more in material possession than my parents did when growing up during the depression. That didn’t matter as they had no memory of life in the Great Depression. The chance to pull oneself up by the bootstraps seemed to have passed, so starting off with an advantage seemed to be a necessity to keep from losing ground.

The younger generation is really not imagining that they have something to fear:

“Millennials have benefited the least from the economic recovery following the Great Recession, as average incomes for this generation have fallen at twice the general adult population’s total drop and are likely to be on a path toward lower incomes for at least another decade.”[1]

So now you have a glimpse into why millennials have indicated that being wealthy is much more important to them than did the generations that came before them.

[1] Smith, Elliot Blair. “American Dream Fades for Generation Y Professionals.” Bloomberg L.P. 20 December 2012
This entry was posted in Baby boomers, Generation X, Generational differences, Millennials. Bookmark the permalink.

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