by Gita Sitaramiah
St. Paul Pioneer Press
Monday January 28, 2008 Pg 1A
Justin Fox sat his girlfriend down recently and said he'd be cutting bak on their dinner and movie dates. It's not that he's just not that into her: He's worried about the future, even though the 26-year-old made a handsome six-figure income last year.
Blame recession fears. Although economists continue to debate whether we're headed for one - or perhaps already mired in one - many consumers are voting with their wallets.
For younger workers like Fox, the prospect of a second recession so early in their careers is particularly unsettling. Experts say it could affect them long after the economy kicks back into gear.
The tumult of the housing market and rising gas and food prices have prompted Fox, a real estate broker, to pay off his Chevy Tahoe, reduce his home equity debt and move the drnks and dinner outings with this girlfriend and buddies to his Cottage Grove home.
"I probably save $300 or more a month from before, paying for two people to eat and go out to movies," he said.
The financial stress for Gen X and Y is in some ways no different than any other group starting out. Wages often are lower in first and second jobs - Fox notwithstanding - and savings nonexistent.
What makes things different is that today's young adults are carrying more debt and facing higher housing costs in inflation-adjusted dollars than their parents did. Tack on higher expectations by many raised in solidly middle-class households with indulgent parents, and the stress level spikes.
"The first 10 years of your adult work life is when the fastest wage growth happens, so to expect back-to-back recessions during that first 10 years can have a fundamental effect on your whole working life," said Tamara Draut, author of "Strapped: Why America's 20- and 30-Somethings Can't Get Ahead."
"Add on to the mix that this is a generation that's just been walloped by student loan and credit card debt, so their long-term financial outlook could be bleaker than even I have predicted," Draut said.
Adult children of babyboomers are much more likely than their parents or grandparents to report feeling stress regarding finances, according to a new Ameriprise Fianancial "Money Across Generations" study. Young adults were much more reluctant to part witht heir money than older generations and expressed the lowest level of confidence that now is a good time to purchase, said a study of 301 adult children of baby boomers averaging 29-1/2 years old.
They may have reason to be more concerned if recession strikes. "They may be some of the first laid off because of lack of experience or tenure with a particular company," said Ginger Ewing, a senior financial adviser for Ameriprise Financial.
On the bright side, one of the great things about being young is the room to make changes to prepare for the future, said Clarky Davis, the Raleigh, N.C.-based author of the CareOne Credit Counseling Debt Diva blog. "If you're young, you can get a rommate, you don't mind getting a second job, you're more willing to take risks and extend yourself as far as work, and that's a good thing," she said.
Bree Halverson, 27, used to be a spender. The St. Paul resident reined in her shoe addiction, gives fewer Christmas presents and will no longer dine out with friends on weeknights, only on weekends, to pay down college and credit card debt and one day buy a house.
"I bought a Crockpot, and I'm going to be eating in more," said Halverson, a political organizer for St. Paul Trades and Labor Assembly who makes less than $50,000 and recently earned a graduate degree and some related debt.
Despite her savings plan, she's scared. The thought of retirement planning makes her anxious, despite having a union job with a pension plan. "I worry about Social Security," she said. "I don't know if I'll have to work until I'm 75."
Even big savers such as Yang Zhang Madsen, a 29-year-old city planner who lives in St. Paul, and her husband, who make a household income around the Twin Cities median of $62,223, are postponing starting a family. The decision is "a little bit about economics, because if I had a child, one of us wouldn't work full time," she said.
Kate Smith, 30, and her husband bought a house in St. Paul, started a business together and had a baby this past year. Their household income will be down to $30,000 from around $75,000 last year. She doesn't go to Kowalski's anymore. The "fancy cheeses" are too tempting; she sticks to co-op trips only. There are no more liquor store stops for beer, either.
For Smith, who grew up going on a family vacation every year, not having disposable income is tough, but she figures everybody struggles along the way. She's decided she and her friends need to do a better job at managing expectations.
"Our parents grew up with less and tried to provide us with more," she said. "And we take things for granted."