Kamil Zawadzki is 24, a multimedia journalist, and a web editor at The Garden City Telegram in southwest Kansas. He was born in Poland, raised in Chicago, and grew addicted to the news biz around puberty. If all else fails, he hopes to one day get out of debt by winning The Amazing Race. Read Kamil’s blog at http://kzawadzki88.word
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A ‘Gen-Y’ SOS

Where Are Our Financial Gurus?


April 2013

I’m in my mid-20s. I graduated from college in 2010. I’m fortunate to be working in the field I’ve always wanted to pursue. But I’m also buried under college debt. And I wonder, and worry, if I’ll ever get out from under it.

I’m part of Generation-Y, or Gen-Y, and I could use some tips from some smart and savvy financial experts that I can actually, realistically, use in my life now to improve–even by a hair–my prospects.

Four months into 2013 and there seems to be no end to the articles and reports bemoaning the bleak financial reality that today’s rising professionals are facing. We Gen-Yers are going to be hard-pressed at best to maximize lifelong income on levels anywhere near those of generations that have come before us. It’s not just that we’re saddled with debt from college degrees that we continue to hope will open more doors and better pay grades one day. The other problem is that those pay grades are just not rising fast or often enough to compensate for experience or costs of living. And don’t forget we started our careers with lower paychecks.

We get it. We’re screwed. But it can’t be all bad, and it can’t all be hopeless, right? Reporting on the state of finances, the economy, and our depressed lifetime earning prospects is important, but it doesn’t offer us any way out of this mess.

It seems like the old assumptions–that if you hustle and keep your head up you’ll make it–no longer apply sometimes.

We could use some help in the form of tips, like those that come from financial gurus. But the supply-and-demand scale of these kinds of experts for Gen-Yers is horribly lopsided. Many would welcome relevant advice and tips that take into account factors like monthly student loan payments that weigh down on every college graduate’s real income. But for all the demand–passive or active–for such Gen-Y-friendly experts, there is almost no supply.

Famed gurus Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman may know what they’re talking about, but let’s face it, if you’re living paycheck to paycheck and have only a few dollars left after making loan payments, most of their lessons don’t apply. Their advice usually works only if you’re already in a relatively well-established family and have kids still in elementary school, and you’re trying to plan ahead for their tuition. None of their advice is relevant to me.

I mean, I watched a sample of a Ramsey video and couldn’t sit through more than ten minutes because none of his advice applied to my situation and none of it was realistic within the bounds of my resources. I was glad I never actually bought one of his seminar videos because it would’ve been a colossal waste of my (already limited) money.

And, yeah, there are many services out there you can find through Google. But when you’re on a budget, already, it’s hard to justify hiring a consultant’s services or buying books or videos. Even when I see a free article from Finaid.org’s Mark Kantrowitz, who specifically targets my age demographic, I find myself saying “well, duh, I do all this already and yet here I am, still seeking answers.” It seems unsatisfactory for me to think that I’m already “doing it right” yet can’t seem to get ahead. I can’t help but think, there’s gotta be more, something I’m missing.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret getting a college education and while my monthly payments are a pain, I still see the student debt I incurred as an investment. And statistics back me, as people with degrees on average make more money over their lifetimes than those without (unless you’re Mark Zuckerberg). But I still only make enough to just make ends meet.

I dedicate a lousy 1.5% of my paycheck to retirement savings. The rest is money spent because it must be spent. I look forward to the day I make my final loan payment—in about eight years. But then again, I only have a Bachelor’s Degree and would like to see a Master’s in my future. That’ll take more money.

But even without seeking higher education, I worry if I’ll ever be able to do more than just subsist. I worry if my week-and-a-half-long trip to Rome in 2011 will be my last real vacation for a long time. (I went because I had enough miles on American Airlines to basically fly for free). I worry if I’ll have the means to throw a big, beautiful wedding for the woman I love.

I worry. And I’m not the only one feeling this way.

I found a Bloomberg article discussing Gen-Y money woes through a friend’s Facebook post recently, and engaged in commenting on it with others who shared my anxieties and frustrations. Whenever money comes up in conversation with colleagues my age, nobody begrudges anyone else because even if one is a notch or two higher on the pay scale, we all know that we’re in the same miserable boat. We wish we had “mo’ money, mo’ problems.”

As 2013 progresses, still more financial reporters will undoubtedly remind us just how much the economy still sucks and how poor today’s rising professionals will be over our lifetimes, compared to previous generations. But again, we know all this. We’re already drowning in these facts in our day-to-day lives. We don’t need a handout or even a hand up.

Yet we could use some advice. I know there is no one-size-fits-all solution to these woes. It’d just be nice to have even an option of helpful, reliable, relatable and realistic advice that we could turn to.

We can buy Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman once we’re advanced enough in career and income levels. But that happy day won’t come for years. Maybe it’s just a matter of time before a Gen-Yer rises out of this mess and shows the rest of us the way.

All I know is I’m not the only one who could use a little more advice, and hope, now.

Kamil Zawadzki can be reached at kzawadzki88@gmail.com.

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