How to survive the recession as a millennial

If you are between 18 and 35, chances are good you are living with debt.

And if you’re not, it’s likely inevitable. Even if you’ve managed to avoid getting into debt in your early 20s, it’s not as if the future offers the prospect of debt-free bliss. Try buying a house without it.

While my debt load has allowed me my education, which is of immeasurable value, I have sometimes viewed it as a sinking boat. As I have started to make payments on student loans and as I consider grad school, I suddenly wonder if I am going to be able to weather this storm.

Was my investment worth it?

Surviving through five years of mostly private post-secondary education, it was difficult enough to make ends meet. Now I have been thrust into adulthood, given a captain’s hat, and am expected to know how to navigate these seas. And as you may have already discovered, that degree I acquired is not exactly a life preserver.

According to the CBC, “[t]he average post-secondary graduate is now carrying $28,000 in student loan debt, but many millennials aren’t able to find a way to start the careers they’ve invested so much to prepare themselves for.

So we not only have swelling budgets, we have difficulty finding work that matches our level of experience. Most of us didn’t spend four or more years studying at university to pursue our dream of becoming a barista.

So now what? Take up latte art, or swim with the fish? Perhaps that paints a more dire illustration than necessary. While the reality often is that in order to pay the bills, we must swallow our pride and do what it takes (whether it means scrubbing toilets or taking up coffee art) I believe there are more creative ways to float this boat.

First, those of you out there who constantly anticipate capsizing need to recognize you are not alone. There are plenty of people around you who are experiencing the same waves. You’re not the first one there, and you won’t be the last.

While this might seem discouraging at first, it also means there are people who can offer advice or encouragement from a place of experience. So don’t be afraid to ask for help from the community around you. There is a reason God put us on this earth with other people.

And speaking of community, expand yours. In my experience, my time job searching was most well spent by making connections in the field I wanted to work in. It wasn’t always with the intention of wanting to work for or with that person. But the reality is often employers are more likely to hire someone they know or have a personal connection to. And most professionals are more than willing to sit down and share their experience and insight.

But it isn’t just who you know in your field. How often do we forget that we are connected with the God who created the universe? “Oh right, I forgot I know the Creator of the universe. No big deal.” And He’s pretty clear we should trust Him with these things.

If you don’t believe me, read Matthew 6. There have been times where lost cheques have appeared miraculously, my bank account has had more money in it than I put in, and people in my life have graciously offered a helping hand. I’ve had cars break down, computers crash, and had no idea how I’m going to get to where I’m going. God has stepped in time and time again.

He provides. Not always in the way we might think is best or expect, but in the midst of financial struggle, we must continue to trust Him.

Yet the reality of God’s faithful provision doesn’t exempt our responsibility as stewards of what he has given us. An article in the Huffington Post says young millennials not only “face daunting student loan debts and employment challenges post graduation, many still prioritize having the latest iPhone, tablet, or tech ‘necessity.’ Our western culture has skewed the concept of a ‘need’ versus a ‘want’.”

It’s important to recognize the difference between an investment and a waste of money. While the pursuit of higher education or the purchase of a home might seem daunting, by no means am I saying avoid them at all costs. (Pun intended.) These are things that will likely have a positive return in the long run. But do you really need an iPad? Or those new boots? Probably not.

If we are to overcome our debt and be wise stewards with what we’ve been given, we have to be honest with ourselves about our perspective; chances are high this is going to involve some countercultural sacrificing.

While any survival guide to the recession is incomplete as every individual has a different story, if I’ve learned anything from being in my own boat, it’s this: find a balance. Rest in the knowledge that God is in control. He has proven Himself to be a trustworthy provider. As my friend and fellow writer Greg Harris points out, we have a tendency to forget that God actually wants to meet our needs.

But this doesn’t forego our responsibility to be aware. Perhaps this means choosing a graduate school that isn’t going to force you to take out more student loans. Or maybe it’s taking that job at Starbucks, or taking a budgeting class. Either way, if we’re going to survive at all, we have to admit that we cannot do this on our own. We need each other and our Creator. If you want to weather the storm of financial instability, trust God and don’t sail alone.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Olin Viydo.

Originally published in the March/April issue of Converge Magazine.