Call them Generation Y or Millennials, those born in the ’80s and ’90s inherited a difficult economy. College graduates are struggling to find jobs in their fields, often settling for employment in the service sector while juggling massive debts. Many 20-somethings are living with their parents, putting off marriage, child-rearing and home-ownership much later than past generations.
How are Saugerties’ Millennials coping? We wanted to find out if their stories matched the prevailing narratives about their generation. Interestingly, none of the individuals interviewed complained of college loan debt or credit card debt. Difficulty saving money, a desire for career advancement and lack of affordable housing were pervasive themes. All three apply a unique set of professional and personal skills at home to preserve their belongings, avoid purchasing new products and minimize spending on services.
Wants and needs
Stephanie Todd, 26, lives with her partner, Thom Hines, 19-month-old son and a vivacious chocolate Labrador retriever in a rented three-bedroom house in West Saugerties. She works part-time, about 30 hours a week, mostly on site but also at home. Hines is a full-time student, who picks up odd jobs on the side. The couple’s combined income is just barely enough to cover their expenses. They don’t have much savings. Hines’s financial aid helps, but it only comes in spurts.
“There are lean times and then there are very lean times,” said Todd. “Up until a few weeks ago, it was bare bones. Barest of bones.”
To help fill in gaps in their income, the couple sells unwanted belongings, especially old baby clothing, on eBay. Stephanie also makes and sells felt mobiles and Hines sells his original artwork.
The couple’s ingenuity and craftiness doesn’t end there. They plan to start home micro-brewing beer. Todd makes meals from scratch. “Buy a crock-pot,” she says. “Anyone can use it.”
Hines constructs much of the family’s furniture, including shelves and outdoor benches. He does most of the home’s repairs himself, like patching holes in the wall and painting. He also does all of the yard work, from gardening to general maintenance.
The furniture that Hines doesn’t make is purchased from local thrift stores, which is usually American-made, and often comparable in price to new furniture of lesser quality at other retailers. The couple also acquire much of their clothing, for themselves and for their son, second-hand. Todd estimates the use of disposable diapers saved the family upwards of $2,000, and breastfeeding rather than using baby formula saved around $80 a month.
The couple share one vehicle. They do not have a landline, but each has a cell phone on a family plan. When Todd recently got a new phone, it was the least expensive one available with her plan. “You don’t need an iPhone 5, no matter how many of your friends have one,” said Todd.
The couple don’t have cable, relying on the Internet and Netflix for home entertainment. They don’t often go out, mostly because of the demands of having a child, but partly to save money. Instead, they mostly dine at home. Todd takes her son for cost-free walks around her rural neighborhood. Hines occasionally goes camping with friends.
Todd says the trick is “deciding what you need versus what you want. You’ll realize how much you don’t need.”