The Almighty Millennial
“Your total is $81.30.”
I groaned a little and jammed my credit card into the chip reader, bothered that my grocery bill for the next seven days figured above my $60 goal. Renee, the cashier, bagged my provisions while I scanned the belt for items I could leave out to lower next week’s total. SO Delicious dairy-free coffee creamer. The $5 frozen DiGiorno. A bag of Snyders pretzels. Who needs creamer and snacks?
I thanked Renee and wheeled my two paper grocery bags out of Harris Teeter and into the fermenting heat of the Lowcountry.
Grocery shopping used to be satisfying. I loved rolling through the aisles with my Post-It list of ingredients and a new recipe waiting at home. I probed every inch of the wine section, scanning labels for Malbecs and Cabs and Shiraz’s to pop open for the weekend or, sometimes, a regular Tuesday. Snacks and Keurig pods and a handful of Reese’s to stock my candy jar were unwritten essentials for my weekly trip.
Two years ago, that all changed. A failed engagement, unexpected mounting bills, and leftover debt from my 20’s muscled me into better planning and major budgeting. I watched as interest piled up on my credit card and my debt scaled higher than “healthy.” I was 31 with little savings, no health insurance, no retirement, and a less-than-average income. I had no idea where to start.
I texted a church friend who was living debt-free after she took control of her and her husband’s credit at the beginning of their marriage. We sat in the kitchen of her 80-year old home and tackled my credit card statement with a yellow Sharpie. The end result was mortifying, and I can’t say that I walked out of her home that night feeling altogether encouraged about the future of my finances, but it was the shock and shove I needed to herd me toward a life of more responsible pockets.
Welcome to 2017, where the dollar still dominates the millennial.
Now, a Chemex replaces my Keurig—because a bag of ground coffee lasts longer and is cheaper in the long run—and I rarely buy munchies or candy. My grocery cart holds mostly eggs and meat and vegetables and fresh fruit, and maybe a frozen pizza for the days when my energy level stops at pre-heating the oven. I spend three to four hours every Sunday prepping my meals for the week—boiling eggs, seasoning and baking chicken, roasting broccoli, mixing salads. I try not to drink alcohol Monday through Thursday, for the sake of my liver and my bank account. I say no to dinner and drink invites more often to avoid spending $20+ on a meal, and when I go to a bar I order Miller High Life in place of Stella Artois. Hashtag zero shame.
24 months later, I still drive an 11-year old Toyota with 140,000 miles, my rent is still half of my income, and I still have no health insurance.
I’ve been living debt-free for a year.
I don’t have a car payment.
My savings account saw a $3,000 increase.
I still meal-prep every Sunday.
I still buy a frozen pizza each week at Harris Teeter. (I mean, priorities)
In an era when a two-income household is almost a requirement to make ends meet and a city where affordable housing is practically nonexistent, I’m still learning to navigate this millennial age. I highlight new things every day about myself and my priorities and the role money plays in my life, for better or worse. My finances stand taller than they did two years ago and, with consistent mindfulness and daily adjustments, I expect them to look even more fruitful and freeing two years from now. My life may not be all tidy and Instagram-able, but I know at the end of this struggle bus lies a sturdier, more fulfilling life than dollars can buy.