“Jobs weren’t hard to get when I finished school," says Bobbi Miller-Rosenow, who graduated from college in the 1970s. "We also didn’t have a lot of student loans." Even so, money hardly grew on trees. "Mortgage rates were up to 20% and gasoline was selling for more than $1.00 per gallon." What did she and her friends do for fun? "We would go out to the hotel bars off of 494, ‘the strip,’ with two or three friends for dancing.“
Compared to the world their parents graduated into, the new economic reality for 20-somethings often includes considerable student loan debt, high rent prices, and more than one job. One thing the new economic reality hasn’t made 20-somethings sacrifice, however, is a social life; some are even eating oatmeal for meals just so they can afford to go out.
$250K in debt, with no job in sight
“I have almost $250,000 in student loan debt right now,” says recent University of Minnesota veterinary graduate Evan Van Beusekom. Van Beusekom graduated this past spring and has yet to find work in his field. While he continues to interview for veterinarian positions, he collects about $600 per week in income by doing independent veterinary work and putting in hours on a dairy farm doing chores and management functions. He is also searching for a part-time job as a server.
“When the economy went south in 2008 and 2009, I was going on to vet school from undergrad and it wasn’t a big concern for me," he says. "I was hoping that when I came to the workforce things would have started to turn around and people would have started to hire again. Now, I have to compete with so many people being out of work and things being so unstable. I spent my entire school career building a résumé to be competitive and not be in this position without a job. It’s depressing, frustrating, and un-motivating. It’s hard.”
However, despite facing a tough economy, substantial student loan debt, and no full-time veterinary job, Van Beusekom still admits to going out to the bars on a frequent basis to maintain a social life. On average, he says, he spends about $40 per night. “I take about 10 percent of my income I make and part of that goes into the ‘fun’ fund. It goes pretty quickly.”
$400 per month in loan payments, but "I feel rich"
Like Van Beusekom, Katherine Harris—a 2009 graduate of the University of Minnesota—struggled to find lucrative employment after graduating. She began working at a child care center, and today she is employed as a photographer for Mpls.St.Paul magazine. She gets paid twice per month and her rent takes up half of her paychecks; equivalent to 30-40% of her total income. In addition to rent, she has over $400 per month in student loan payments, a $300 monthly car payment, and $100 or more in grocery expenses. She also pays for her own dental insurance, renters insurance, and health insurance.
“At 22 or 23 I thought, how am I going to survive? Now, I am out of school three years and used to this life. I’m used to working and not being with friends all day. I don’t have a ton of spending money, but I feel rich.”
Harris goes out in moderation. “The first year [after graduation] I went out quite a bit; I was socializing and spending a ton of money. I now have a rule for myself: eat out and get drinks once per week.” She describes Uptown as the hot spot for going out. “It’s the hub for people who are 20-something. It's like Dinkytown Chapter 2.”
A new dream: Financially secure by age 35
A third University of Minnesota graduate, Tom Kelsey, describes the time he graduated as “right when the economy was falling apart.” Kelsey wasn’t able to get a job he actually wanted upon graduating in December of 2008, as it was the peak of the economic meltdown; he took a fallback job at the University of Minnesota.
He stayed at that job for two years until he decided that wasn’t on track to be where he wanted to be in his 30s and instead decided to quit to pursue a dream of becoming a Major League Baseball umpire. When that didn’t work out he moved back to the Twin Cities to take a job as a Democratic campaign manager for $2,000 per month.
In terms of his social life, Kelsey says that "Being back in the Cities is a relief." He allows himself to go out once per week or once every other week. He usually frequents the Nook and the Muddy Pig in St. Paul and spends $5-$15 on beer. When asked about his money-saving strategies, Kelsey said, “I eat oatmeal once or twice per day. It’s cheap and filling.”
Kelsey’s future goals include going to graduate school for business, paying off over $25,000 in debt, and becoming financially secure by the age of 35. “People always said you can be whatever you want to be and everything is there for the taking," he says. "It’s not exactly as easy as it seems sometimes."