In a tumultuous time, many adults under the age of 35 have stopped playing it safe. Instead of saving as much of their pay as they used to, they save less, spend more, and pursue passion projects or risky careers.
Nimarta Narang, 27, said she was careful about almost everything until late last year when she got a revelation: “I don’t want to spend my life so careful and careful.”
During most of the coronavirus pandemic, she was unable to travel to Bangkok to see her family. When she finally made the visit, she noticed how much she’d missed: her mother’s fiftieth birthday, her grandmother’s funeral, her sister’s engagement, her father’s gray beard.
“When I returned to the US, I realized I had to do things differently,” said Ms. Narang, literary editor at Brown Girl Magazine.
One thing she’d always wanted to do was live in New York. She packed everything in her Los Angeles apartment and made the move in March. She also took a new approach to her finances. Before the pandemic, she said, she put about $2,000 in her savings account every month. Now it is half that amount. The rest goes to a more expensive apartment ($600 more in monthly rent), nights out with friends, and little treats she would have denied herself before.
“I wanted to use my savings to gain a life experience,” she said. “Visiting my house showed me how much life I had missed.”
She’s not alone. A recent Fidelity Investments survey found that 45 percent of people ages 18 to 35 “don’t see the point in saving until things get back to normal.” In that same age group, 55 percent said they have suspended retirement planning.
For some, like Ms. Narang, the isolation of pandemic life led to the decision to enjoy the moment, the financial ramifications be damned. For others, the motivation came from concerns about climate change, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, domestic political instability, soaring inflation, skyrocketing housing costs and a volatile stock market.
Hannah Jones, a stand-up comedy in Denver, said she saved almost all of her leisure income. She was a regular thrift store who refused to pay for a Netflix subscription. Now she’s become what she calls a “financial nihilist,” meaning she puts significantly less in her savings account.
The precarious state of the world was on her mind. “I’m not going to deprive myself of some of the comforts of life right now for a future that feels like it could be taken away from me at any moment,” she said.
In her stand-up act, Mrs. Jones, 27, has a reliable joke: “No, I’m not saving for retirement. I’m going to spend my money now, while we still have a supply chain.” It’s a joke that changes with the headlines. Some evenings instead of ‘supply chain’ she just plugs in the catastrophe du jour.
The anti-thrifty mood is ubiquitous. Hannah Fuller, 25, said she was once excited about saving for the future. After receiving financial aid while attending private high school and college, she was diligent in managing her money and making sure to max out her Roth IRA every year. But now, she said, her mindset has changed. It started when she lived in Portland, Oregon, where she grew up, during the 2020 wildfires.
“Surrounded by the smoke, you could really feel the doom and gloom,” said Ms. Fuller, who works for the Farmers Market Coalition, a Washington nonprofit. “It felt like we were living in ‘The Martian,’ like living in an airlock, trying to keep the smoke out of our apartment.”
“When you go to these places that you used to visit as a kid and see them burned to the ground, it makes it really hard to want to build new things,” she continued.
Now Mrs. Fuller has broken her old habit of ordering the cheapest item on a menu. She even booked tickets for a summer music festival in Barcelona. And given the explosion in the housing market, she’s decided that saving to buy a house isn’t something she’s going to worry about right now.
“Houses are just so priceless,” she says. “I don’t even know if that’s worth my time and energy.”
Some experts say the attitude to spend it now isn’t specific to the youth of 2022. “Every generation has had an apocalyptic outlook on their lives,” said Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist in Boulder, Colorado. During the Great Depression, he noted that many people lost their faith in banks. At the height of the Cold War, the fear of nuclear war influenced the way many young people planned for the future. And during the financial crisis of 2008, saving for a house felt pointless to many.
“We’re not tied to save,” Mr. Klontz said. “We are wired to consume. If you have an exciting vision of the future, it’s the people who are aggressively saving for retirement. If you have an apocalyptic vision of the future, why save for it? Of course you wouldn’t.”
That vague picture of what’s to come can be exacerbated by things like climate change. Danilo Jiménez, who plans to enter graduate school in the fall to study environmental policy, said he has suspended saving for retirement and spent money on weekend trips and leaves his parents’ house to live with roommates. Brooklyn.
“The idea that I’m going to put money in an account that I can’t access until I’m 60 – that’s 2056!” said mr. Jiménez, 25, who has worked as a youth football coach and carpenter. “By then, a lot will change in terms of climate change.”
Rather than put his wages into a traditional savings account, Schulyer Wagner, 25, has invested his time and money in a quirky investment: coral farming. for mr. Wagner, a financial analyst in Tempe, Arizona, aquaculture was a childhood hobby he gave up in college — big tanks don’t exactly fit in dorm rooms.
After graduating, he continued. Now it’s leaning towards Goniopora (aka flowerpot coral), Euphylia (which can be very expensive, Mr. Wagner said), and Acanthophyllia (“a massive single polyp coral that can be the size of a pizza”), among other types of coral. Mr. Wagner has seven tanks in his condo, with a total volume of over 450 gallons. He buys and trades the kibble with other hobbyists in Arizona, as well as reef specialty and aquatic pet stores.
Mr. Wagner said he spends $750 to $1,500 each month on materials and equipment. He hopes that one day his expensive hobby will pay off and that he can take up aquaculture as a full-time job.
“Rather than just trying to save to compete with inflation or buy a house in five years, which makes no sense right now, I want to pursue this passion,” he said. “There is so much uncertainty in the world and Covid has pushed passions to the forefront.”