J.D. Moyer

beat maker, sci-fi writer, self-experimenter

Advice For Broke Young People

Congratulations, young person! You’ve picked a terrible time to enter the job market. You have so many factors stacked against you that your earning potentially will be negatively effected for decades. Here are a few of the conditions you’re up against:

  • We’re in an age of “disruptive technologies” — in plain English this means that corporations are finally figuring out how make money while employing ever fewer numbers of human beings. Twitter, one of the most famous companies in the world, only has four hundred employees. Digital production and replication transforms industries and helps consumers, but it also destroys jobs.
  • Old people aren’t retiring. They can’t afford to. Sorry, no job openings there.
  • You may be rich in student loans, but not job experience. Even though it always pays off to hire a quick learner, HR departments usually fail to factor this into their job requirements.
  • Depending on your cultural heritage, you may have been damaged by the bizarre child-rearing gestalt of the past few decades. If you’re thin-skinned, unable to handle criticism, have a weak work ethic, and find yourself constantly seeking approval, you were probably coddled, sheltered, and over-praised as a child (don’t worry, you’ll adapt in time).
  • Global income inequality is at a cyclical high. This sucks for the economy, the middle class, and people starting their careers. If you don’t already have money, it’s hard to make any.

So What Can You Do About It?

You’ve picked the short straw, but you might be able to turn your fate around. There are concrete actions you can take to improve your economic condition. Here are the top 5:

1) Get married, or live collectively.

When I got married, I was shocked at how much of my brain was no longer occupied by the black hole called “dating.” I don’t think I really began to think about my career ambitions in earnest until I tied the knot. After a few years, this shift of attention translated into increased income.

Shared living expenses makes a huge difference as well. If you haven’t found anybody you’re interested in making a long-term commitment to, various collective living arrangements can save enormous amounts of money. Cooperative living (shared meals, shopping, gardening, household organization, etc.) has its own kind of overhead (long meetings, lots of talking about feelings) but the financial payoff is huge. You can live well for very little if you can find ten or so people who share most of your values and lifestyle preferences.

2) Develop at least one specialized skill for which there is strong demand, then consistently over-deliver to build loyal clients. Don’t worry about “following your passion.”

For the moment, forget about “following your passion,” and think strategically. What kinds of things are people willing to pay large sums of money to get done? Which of these things might you be capable of doing? Connect the dots.

Some careers require a decade or more to “train up.” In others, you can become qualified in just a few. Use databases available at the Bureau of Labor Statistics to get a bead on which occupations are growing, and how much they might pay.

If you possess an “in-demand” skill, and you develop a habit of consistently over-delivering (sometimes this means under-promising, aka “managing expectations”), then your financial worries are over. You will find it impossible to maintain unemployment for any meaningful length of time. If you’re organized and self-directed enough to work for yourself (freelance), then go for it. You’ll actually have more job security that way, and you can set your own rates.

I’ll tell you a secret. There’s no difference in work satisfaction from “following your passion” and doing a job for which you are well suited. I know this because I do both, and I really like both. I produce music and run a record label as my “passion.” This makes some money, but not enough to pay all my bills. I also develop customized database applications. This isn’t a “passion,” but over the years I’ve discovered I get just as much work satisfaction from solving problems for clients as I do from making and publishing music. Both areas have their frustrations, and both have their payoffs.

There are a few things that make work not fun. One is trying to put a square peg in a round hole (doing work you’re not temperamentally suited to do). Another is poor working conditions (psycho boss, long commute, low pay, whatever). The third thing is too much work (burnout). If you can avoid these conditions, you’ll probably enjoy your work, even if you’re not exactly “following your passion.”

You should still follow your passion. Following your passion is its own payoff. It might even result in a financial windfall someday. But it’s wrongheaded to insist that your primary means of making money fill you with blissful rapture every Monday morning.

3) Save automatically (default option), aka Pay Yourself First.

Establish a savings account of some sort. Then set up an automatic transfer of 10% or more of your monthly income into this account.

Occasionally you’ll need to manually stop one of these transfers, or even dip into your savings for an emergency. But over the long run, you’ll find that you can get by just fine on 90% of your income. You’ll amass savings much more quickly than people with much larger incomes who don’t follow this simple method.

“Paying yourself first” literally means that put money aside every month for your long-term savings. Psychologically, it means you prioritize your own financial well-being. The concept, as far as I know, comes from this book. “A part of all you earn is yours to keep.”

4) Vote for more income equality, corporate responsibility and accountability, and public wealth.

Demographically, the United States is trending liberal. If you, young person, show up and vote for investment in education, infrastructure, healthcare, and other forms of public wealth, we might once again become a great country.

There’s a new corporate elite in town, the robber barons of Silicon Alley. The new power structure is systematically dismantling the old economy, using buzzwords and catch phrases like “disruptive innovation” and “information wants to be free” to disguise their not-so-new corporate strategies of monopolistic control, theft (from intellectual property creators like musicians), worker exploitation, and customer abuse (via privacy violations). Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.

Meanwhile, the old corporate elite (gas & oil, finance, and mining) continues business as usual (blowing the tops off of mountains, robbing from the poor and giving to the rich, heating up our atmosphere and triggering a new mass extinction that could last hundreds of millions of years).

Fight the good fight, in the voting booth. In the U.S., we’ve come back from eras of even worse corporate malfeasance without armed revolution. This coming election is especially important in terms of Supreme Court appointments. A less nakedly conservative court might reverse Citizens United, which would loosen the corporate death-grip on our nation’s political process.

Real wealth is not record corporate profits that never trickle down into your pockets. Real wealth is clean air, healthy oceans, reliable infrastructure, an educated populace, quality public schools, and high quality national healthcare.

5) Deprogram your mind and empower yourself.

Instead of seeking approval, permission, and praise from others, look around and see what needs to be changed. Then change it.

There are so few people operating with this mentality that committing to this way of thinking will instantly bump your power.

Ever generation is raised badly in one way or another. My own generation grew up breathing cigarette smoke. Your generation grew up over-praised and over-coddled.

Do you think you’re intelligent and talented? Look at  your life. Does your life reflect intelligent choices? Are you reaping the rewards of your intelligence and talents? If not, why not?

I too was told I was “gifted” as a child. Sometime in my college years it occurred to me that if I was smart, why did my life suck so much? Psychologically, I hit a pivot point. From that point on I began to use my gifts strategically, not to seek praise and to validate my self-image, but rather to make art, find love, get money, and improve the world. Life has gotten much better.

Last Word

I like your generation. You’re liberal, open-minded, and big-hearted. Some of you are easily distracted and have trouble working independently and without constant praise, but that will sort itself out in a few years as you deprogram your childhood conditioning.

You’re entering the workforce at a time of peak corporate and political corruption. Establishing yourself in a career will be an uphill battle. Getting affordable healthcare will be challenging, as will saving money and building any kind of wealth portfolio (property, equities, collectibles, etc.).

You also have a real opportunity to ride a demographic wave that could positively transform our nation. As global corporate capitalism fails, you’ll be on the front lines developing an alternative economy based on open-source principles and a broader social safety net. Good luck to you!

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8 Comments

  1. Brilliant! 5/5

    – Kuze

  2. Any advice for middle aged and broke?

    • Get new skills, pretty much. Those of us north of 40 have conceptual knowledge maps that can be transferred to new tool sets and contexts. Much easier to learn your 2nd or 3rd foreign language, programming language, musical instrument, business environment, etc. In other words it’s easy to teach an old dog new tricks (when it’s really the same trick in a new style).

  3. Very good article.
    Good point about the energy sink that “dating” is. I spent my unmarried years either in long committed monogamous relationships, or altogether out of the game. Not completely smart, not completely satisfying, and not recommended for everyone, but boy was I ahead in the career game.
    Somehow short-sighted to assume that “most” kids are being coddled, sheltered, and over-praised. Also, I think that entire trend is waning fast.

  4. i really enjoyed this article, because you offer practical approaches! As a 20 something postgraduate, i thought finding a job would be easier, despite the scary statistics you read about in the news. so far its taking longer than i’d thought and i’d read many articles on this topic, i really enjoyed your concrete advice! will start honing in on skills now 🙂

  5. Great article! As a mid-20’s person trying to work my way up in the world, I am now going to scour your blog for further insight on how to build (/begin to have a) net worth.

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