Three Generations…Common Ground?

The Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, and the Millennials—three generations with very little in common—and yet with everything in common.  When boomers were young, we perceived we could change the world—and did. 

So did The Greatest Generation.  So have Millennials. 

Baby Boomers have changed the world in positive ways.

We’ve also managed to screw it up. 

We have problems Millennials have inherited from us that will have to be addressed if these issues can be solved at all.  Because we tend to be a self-involved generation, we haven’t seriously considered the consequences of our lifestyles.  We’re living with these consequences now.  The news isn’t all bad.  Each generation has brought forth its share of success—and adversity.  Baby Boomers had an idealistic view of what we thought the world should be. 

One half century ago, we had utter contempt for the people who raised us who made it all possible—The Greatest Generation.  Their values just weren’t shared by us when we were young and clueless, frolicking in the tulips, hangin’ out with our friends, toking on a joint around a campfire, cruising for chicks, making love (and babies) instead of war, and just doing our thing (whatever that was). 

I suppose it can be considered ironic baby boomers were big on peace, yet we’ve started more wars than The Greatest Generation.  When we were so very young, we were minimalists.  Didn’t need all those “possessions” our parents had.  We didn’t see the point in luxury cars, large homes, and expensive vacations. 

Yet, baby boomers have been greater consumers than our parents were. Baby Boomers had all these beliefs when we were young because we had nothing—so we invested nothing.  When the masses were cruising to Woodstock in 1969, we did it in old torn up clothing in beat up automobiles and were clad in long hair with painted faces.  Trends would swiftly change and the 1980s would surely arrive—with boomers setting the tone for prosperity in the Reagan years.  All that minimalist chatter went right out the window. 

We just had to have it all.

We were going to have what we wanted when we wanted regardless of how much consumer debt was involved. We landed in big expensive McMansions, bought high dollar SUVs, purchased boats, opted for vacation and retirement properties, put our kids (Millennials) in new cars, covered their college educations, and been obsessed with them and our grandkids ever since.  That foolish excessive logic would come home to roost in the crash of 2008 when boomers lost their homes in great numbers.  Millennials were watching—and wound up along for the miserable ride from a nice comfortable home to an apartment, or worse…the street.     

Watch “The Graduate” from 1967 and the differences between us and The Greatest Generation becomes clear.  Our parents cut their teeth in Great Depression and a world war—something of a baptism by fire.  In “The Graduate,” a very young Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), just home from college floating in a pool to soak up sun, was asked by his father what he intended to do with his life.  Like most of us at that age, Ben was decompressing in the wake of four years of college and just wanted to be left alone.

His father just didn’t see things the same way.        

When you study The Greatest Generation closely, it becomes apparent who grew up in the Great Depression and who managed to dodge the worst of it who had jobs.  Those who lived in the bowels of the Great Depression have furniture and kitchen appliances they purchased after the war.  They still have those faded drapes from 1965 and haven’t seen any point in replacing them. They’ve protected furniture from the period with clear plastic slip covers.  They’ve always been skeptical of investment “opportunities” and tend to be very conservative. They haven’t taken big risks.  They’ve been big savers, which enabled them to retire comfortably. 

A few remain in our childhood homes. 

More tragic yet has been boomers who inherited their childhood homes free and clear who’ve mortgaged them to the limit and managed to lose them to foreclosure after the parents worked hard to pay them off decades ago. It makes you wonder why they trusted us with their greatest lifetime investment.

Those dated Kenmore kitchen appliances have been around since they were new and we were snot-nosed kids. Our parents bought them to last a lifetime.  These possessions went out of style when we were clad in bell bottoms.  Boomers who’ve laid their parents to rest are wondering what to do with all that old stuff.  You see a lot of it on eBay and other online auctions.  We pitch this stuff as “classic” or “antique” to profit from their valuable possessions.

Millennials are wondering what to do with our “stuff” when we reach our expiration dates.  Your grown kids just don’t want your old stuff except for perhaps items of sentimental value.  What’s more, they look at us with utter contempt—just like we did our parents a half century ago.  They see our thinking as dated just like we did our parents. 

What makes us different from both our parents and our kids is we’ve been the credit and second mortgage generation. We like to spend, yet have become more conservative with age.  There are those who mortgaged and lost their homes in the crash of 2008.  We just couldn’t spend enough and it has manifested itself in empty nest eggs. There are those who don’t have enough to retire and survive.

Millennials are more common sense about debt.  That makes them smarter and more conservative with credit.  Many are not interested in even owning an automobile or a house because they understand the consequences of overextending one’s debt load.

They learned that one from us…

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