Esquire Magazine was actually able to track down 4 millennials not currently living at home with mom to quiz them on their current financial situation as well as their outlook for the future. Interviewees were chosen at varying income levels ranging from $11,000 per year up to $1.5 million to see how annual income impacted their outlook on life. To our complete "surprise," the one unifying theme in the responses was that millennials seem to be fairly self-assured and optimistic about their future despite the overwhelming mountain of economic evidence that suggests they're totally screwed. Seems as though even the millennials that have grown up and gotten jobs have found a way to maintain the "safe space" bubble they created in college and have managed to completely block out reality…fascinating stuff. That said, we would note this can't really be considered a "scientific" poll given the small sample size of 4, but the results do seem to be remarkably consistent with our past observations of this particular generation.
Our key takeaways from the survey were the following:
- Millennials are extremely HAPPY – 3 out of 4 millennials ranked their "happiness" as 8 or 9 out of 10. The lowest-income millennial ranked his happiness at a 4 but we assume it has more to do with that fact that he lives in Washington D.C. than his income level…this nuance pretty much disqualifies his response to this particular question.
- Millennials have an inflated sense of their self-worth – 3 out of 4 millennials seem to think their earnings will grow at an annual rate of 17% which is just "slightly" higher than overall wage growth which has been running around "flattish." So good luck with that.
- Millennials feel over-taxed – 3 out of 4 millennials thought they were over-taxed…though we have a sneaking suspicion many of them vote for politicians that would like to raise their taxes…go figure.
It's unclear if millennials are happy because of their inflated sense of self-worth or the other way around…we'll let you decide.
The full results for the survey are below:
Ed Zitron (30) – $1,500,000 per year
Location: Oakland, California
Occupation: Founder & CEO of a PR Firm
Salary: $1.5 million
Family status: Getting married next year.
Homeowner? Renter? Homeowner. It's an $800,000 house in the Oakland Hills.
Monthly Mortgage: $3,200, but I choose to pay more than the minimum.
Do you keep a budget? Yes, we try to keep our expenses below $2,000 or $3,000 per month.
What's a weekly grocery bill for you? We sometimes get away with $200, sometimes $500. It depends on what I'm making, because I sous-vide a lot, and my fiancée is an amazing chef. We cook at home most nights.
One thing your family needs but can't afford: I can't think of anything.
One thing you want but can't afford: It's trite to say, but I'd like to bring my family—who are in England, where I'm from—out to America. And as silly as it sounds, I wish I could afford a second home in London. Also, one in Hawaii.
The last thing you bought that required serious planning: The wedding.
Do you have credit cards? We have three, and we pay them off in full every month.
How much debt are you carrying now? Just the mortgage.
Saving for retirement? We are. I would say I have a decent sum in retirement, and a rainy day fund. I put a sizable amount away each month in an IRA.
At what age would you like to retire? Tomorrow? [Laughs] As soon as possible would be great. But truthfully, I'll probably be aiming for around 45. That would be the dream.
College plans for your kids? Yes. I've already set aside $15,000 to go into a 529 Plan—it's tax-free, and our child will have to use the money toward higher education.
Looking at your current career prospects, how much money do you think you'll be earning in ten years' time? At least $2 million a year. But I'm just happy to be making what I make right now. I feel so lucky. I have a Tesla, so I realize I'm kind of a douche. But I don't live ostentatiously. I don't take drugs, I don't do crazy parties, I don't rent private jets, I don't do any of the things I've always associated with classical richness.
How happy are you on any given day, on a scale of one to ten? I'd say an 8.5 or a 9. I look at people who make more money than I do, like crazy rich CEOs, and they seem so overworked and so sad and so angry at everything. They want more, they feel they should have as much Mark Zuckerberg. I'm really happy—I live in this wonderful home. I have a big television. When I need to de-stress, I can take a drive through Napa. Not everyone gets to do these things.
How often do you worry about money? That's the funny thing: I've never stopped worrying. That doesn't mean that I'm sitting there every second of the day saying, "Oh God, that was a $4 latte." But I'm immensely conscious of what things cost. I don't just have a budget, I have—how do I describe it—a running total in my head of what everything I'm doing costs, and I know what expenditures I can make. It's an awareness, not an anxiety.
How much money do you think you'd need to have the life you want? I have it now. I'm happy. Sure, I wish I could pay off the mortgage right now. That would be awesome. But I'm really lucky for the life I have, and for the love I have, and being able to provide for my fiancée and my friends. One thing my mother always taught me was that if you can't share money with other people, it's not worth having.
Do you think you have more or less financial opportunity than your parents did? I think I have more. My job would not have existed in their time, and if it did, I don't think I'd do so well. I suffer from a learning disability, so if I was required to write, I don't think I'd be able to do it. Without the Internet, I would not be able to make any money.
Do you think being exposed to the lives of your friends via Facebook and Instagram affects your spending habits? No. You should never not spend on yourself, but you should also not be bloody stupid.
Do you think your taxes are too high? No. Don't get me wrong, it sucks. But if you make a bunch of money, you should pay a bunch of tax. It's not garnishing your wages; it's being a part of society. And if you can't accept that, I don't know what kind of human being you are.
Josh Cohen (33) – $250,000 per year
Location: Stamford, Connecticut
Occupation: Founder & CEO, Junkluggers. We go to people's homes or businesses and haul away stuff that they no longer want or need. What we're all about is separating stuff for reuse, donations, and recycling, with the goal of keeping as much out of landfills as possible.
Family Status: Married with two-year-old twins—a boy and a girl—and a dog named Otis.
Homeowner? Renter? Homeowner.
Monthly mortgage: Around $3,500 per month.
Do you keep a budget? We don't. We typically spend the same amount every month and we've been able to afford it.
What's a weekly grocery bill for you? We spend close to $600 a week on food. We mostly eat in.
One thing your family needs but can't afford: I don't think we need anything we don't have.
One thing you want but you can't afford? A nicer house, nicer cars, a boat—we live by the water, so that would be awesome. And we would love to travel more.
The last thing you bought that required serious planning and budgeting for? Our house. We bought it three years ago. We had to start saving money and liquidating some of our stock accounts. And I needed to start making more money.
Do you have credit cards? We've got one—we use that for everything.
How much debt are you carrying right now? Just the mortgage.
Saving for retirement? We put away around $5,000 to $10,000 a year into a retirement account. But I also consider my business to be our retirement savings plan.
At what age would you like to retire? I don't think I will. Maybe I'll do things differently when I'm older—grow the business so that we have more support staff and a larger executive team.
College plans for your kids? We put aside some money every month for them. We have a tax-free 529 Plan.
Looking at your current career prospects, how much money do you think you'll be earning in ten years' time? $1 million a year. That's based on how I expect my business to grow. We're franchising right now and expanding throughout the country.
How happy are you on any given day, on a scale of 1 to 10? I go through tremendous highs and lows as a business owner. So I would say there is no average. I woke up yesterday feeling like a 2. I got my shit together, worked out, and got busy at work. Then I woke up today and I'm probably closer to an 8 or a 9. I'm glad you and I talked today.
How often do you worry about money? Sometimes. I started the business from scratch when I was 21, so I'm used to bootstrapping.
How much money do you think you'd need to have the life you want? In some ways I feel like I am living the life I want. I've got a beautiful family, a growing business, and I'm making decent money. But I guess many people—including me—want more. I would love to have another house somewhere else, cooler cars. So I would probably say double what I'm earning now. Or triple.
Do you think you have more or less financial opportunity than your parents did? More. My Dad is a business owner—he owns an accounting firm. But I know my house is more valuable than his is, for instance. And I believe I earn more.
Do you think being exposed to the lives of your friends via Facebook and Instagram affects your spending habits? I try not to spend too much time on those sites, because a lot of times when you see what other people are posting it makes you feel inferior. Like you're not doing enough. There's always someone more who's successful. Or living a life that seems better.
Do you think your taxes are too high? Yes, always. Of course. I think they're too high personally, and I think they're too high for business. From a business perspective, we're not incentivized to grow. And the government doesn't spend the money wisely. I believe if we had more people with business experience in power—not necessarily Donald Trump—then it would be really good for the economy, and the country would be better-run.
Kelby Green (33) – $55,000 per year
Location: Houston, TX
Occupation: Business owner, CEO of Common Cents Content & Marketing, a digital-marketing agency that works with financial advisors. I also have a personal-finance blog for millennials called The Frugalennial.
Family status: Married with two daughters—one and two years old.
Homeowner? Renter? Homeowner.
Monthly Mortgage: $1100
Do you keep a budget? Absolutely! My wife and I are frugal by nature, but having two kids and running a small business requires that we know where every penny of our budget is going. Our largest expenses are mortgage and daycare.
What's a weekly grocery bill for you? $75 per week. We eat at home ninety percent of the time. We figure out—well, my wife figures out—when certain items go on sale. And we have a system of using coupons. I'm looking at the dollars and cents, so as long as we can stay within our budget,we may spend the extra time going to three stores instead of one.
One thing your family needs but can't afford: A vacation! Our last one was a year and a half ago, before my youngest was born.
One thing you want but can't afford: Updated kitchen appliances. I wouldn't say 'can't afford'—it's more like the purchase is not a priority. Like I mentioned, we spend a good amount of time cooking at home, and most of our appliances are probably original to the house, which was built in 1971. With a gentle nudge here and there they work just fine. Though we did update the dishwasher for my wife's birthday—she asked her family to contribute to our dishwasher fund, and we paid the $150 difference.
The last thing you bought that required serious planning: We budget our money all of the time, so we've already been planning for everything—I could tell you exactly where all my money is going over the next five years.
Do you have credit cards? I have a few but I don't use them anymore. We're hyper-focused on paying down debt.
How much debt are you carrying now? With student loans and credit cards, I would say around $30,000 to $35,000.
Saving for retirement? My wife is contributing to hers, mainly to get the employer match. But I've put mine on hold while I aggressively pay down debt and try to build my business.
At what age would you like to retire? I don't think I'll ever retire. Not that I won't be able to, I just don't see myself wanting to.
College plans for your kids? We've talked about it, but haven't pulled the trigger on actually setting up a plan. It's one of those things where it's so far down the line…but that's a terrible way to look at it. There's no valid excuse for it besides life being crazy.
Looking at your current career prospects, how much money do you think you'll be earning in ten years' time? I'd say three times what I'm earning now—so around $150,000—would be a reasonable expectation.
How happy are you on any given day, on a scale of one to ten? A solid 8. My business is new so I put in a ton of work there, but it's 100% worth it. My office is in my house, so I don't have to miss out on seeing my family due to working so much. I think that helps a lot.
How often do you worry about money? Fairly often. I was not always frugal—growing up, I was an impulsive shopper. I don't want to fall into those same mistakes.
How much money do you think you'd need to have the life you want? I live a simple life, so I'm perfectly happy with the amount I earn now. Sure, by earning more we could buy more stuff and travel more often, but I don't know that it would move the happiness needle much.
Do you think you have more or less financial opportunities now than your parents did? Yes and no. Being able to create a business around something I enjoy and doing it completely online is an opportunity that my parents didn't have. And the opportunity to make money is greater than in previous generations. But millennials are saddled with so much student-loan debt. We're not getting an even start. We're digging ourselves out of a hole.
Do you think being exposed to the lives of your friends via Facebook and Instagram affects your spending habits? Yes, no doubt about it. You flip through Instagram and see your friends in the same salary bracket as you, and they're traveling every other month and taking pictures on the beach. It makes you think, What am I doing wrong? I work hard. I deserve a trip.
Do you think your taxes are too high? No, I'm actually fine with my taxes. Of course, I wouldn't have a problem if they were lowered a little.
Tyron Harris (28) – $11,000 per year
Location: Washington, D.C.
Occupation: STRIVE DC helped prepare me to find work. I landed a job in early July as an overnight stocker for a grocery store. To get there, I take a bus, two trains, and then I walk almost a mile—it takes me an hour and a half. The work is part-time. I've been looking for full-time work. I've applied to a million and one different things. The job market is so small and there are so many people who are more qualified than me.
Family status: I have a six-year-old daughter. She stays with her mother.
Homeowner? Renter? I rent a room in a house owned by a friend of the family. She cuts me some slack. If it wasn't for her, I'd more than likely be homeless.
Monthly Rent: $250.
Do you keep a budget? At the beginning of the month I pay my cellphone bill—about $40 each month. The grocery store has a union, so they take their dues—around $10 or $12 each week. And then I pay the lady I live with—sometimes I pay her $50, sometimes $75, until I get to $250.
What's a weekly grocery bill for you? I can eat whatever's in the house. The woman I live with just asks me to not eat her out of house or home.
One thing your family needs but can't afford: A car. I'm trying to get a brickmason apprenticeship. Most of the work is in Virginia and Maryland, so they need me to have my own transportation before accepting me. I've saved $175, but I need around $1100.
One thing you want but can't afford: My own place to live in.
The last thing you bought that required serious planning. A pair of New Balance shoes. They were $160—I saved up for six months. I use them at work because they're comfortable.
Do you have credit cards? Yes, one credit card.
How much debt are you carrying now? Not much—about $480. I was raised to not spend money you don't have. I only use it in real pinches, or something for my daughter that her mother can't provide.
Saving for retirement? No. It's not a reality right now. I was taught at an early age to think about it. But it's one thing to know how to do it, and it's another to have the funds.
At what age would you like to retire? It would be nice to retire before I'm sixty. But that's unrealistic.
College plans for your kids? I would love to, but right now it's not an option.
Looking at your current career prospects, how much money do you think you'll be earning in ten years' time? If I become a brickmason, it's not farfetched to think I'll make $100,000.
How happy are you on any given day, on a scale of one to ten? I'd say a 4. Staying awake all night, lifting boxes, cutting your hands—it's so much labor. And at the end of the week, after I pay my bills, I've only got an extra $30 to my name.
How often do you worry about money? Every day, five or six times a day.
How much money do you think you'd need to have the life you want? I don't need much—$50,000 a year.
Do you think you have more or less financial opportunity than your parents did? We have more opportunity, but the price of living is unbearable.
Do you think being exposed to the lives of your friends via Facebook and Instagram affects your spending habits? I don't have Facebook—I figured that if I had time to look at Facebook, I had time to be applying to jobs. So I deactivated my account. But I have Instagram. When you look at your friends' pictures and see all the fun they're having, you don't become bitter, you want to become better. You shouldn't have to save for sixth months to go out with your friends.
Do you think your taxes are too high? In a sense I do. The middle and lower classes are taxed too much. The upper class isn't taxed enough. I respect businesses, and I respect when they're savvy enough to find legal loopholes that'll allow them to save money. Because more than likely, if I were in their shoes I'd do the same thing.