Self-help finance books are becoming more and more popular, as broke millennials frantically look for ways to stay afloat in a turbulent, unexpected economy. But do these resources really help, or do they give a false identity by peddling self-improvement when it’s actually the economy that’s at fault?
Mark Zuckerberg famously wears the same outfit every day, so that, with the time he saves deciding on what to wear, he can make crucial decisions for Facebook. Not to be outdone, Apple CEO Tim Cook let the world know that he wakes up at 3:45 a.m. every day. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, subtly slipped up in an interview that she has worked 130-hours work-weeks to get where she is. Normal people read these anecdotes like they’re a roadmap to success because we live in a world that constantly tells us that anyone can be rich and famous if they work hard enough.
In this narrative, the only person stopping you from reaching your goals is you. If you don’t ever taste success, it probably means you didn’t want it enough. The market is filled with self-help finance books spinning inspirational stories of other young people who decided enough was enough. They saved money, made some smart investments and are now living debt-free in a house that is Insta-worthy. Evidently, all it takes is a little self-examination and determination to self-optimize yourself. According to a survey, per Forbes, 94 percent of millennials said they’re in the process of making self-improvements and that they’d be willing to spend up to $300 per month to achieve it. This is what makes self-help a $10 billion strong industry in the United States alone. Think about that, the self-help business is booming.
These self-help finance books are millennial fairy-tales, giving each reader hope that they, too, can have this deliciously perfect ending. Like Millennial Money Man aka Bobby Hoyt — who paid off his student loans in 1.5 years — and now gives “anti-entitlement advice” on his website full-time. Or, Meet the Frugalwoods, a memoir of a couple who were able to retire in their 30s by being frugal and spending money on only the essential things. Last year, a successful young property tycoon made headlines when he said the reason millennials are not able to afford houses is because they fritter away their money on things like expensive avocado toast and coffee. But will ditching extra monthly expenses like coffee really fix the economy? Certainly not.
Despite the media’s portrayal of millennials as entitled brats who are living off their parents’ money and spend their entire day taking selfies with their pets, the 2008 recession adversely affected the wages and employment opportunities to such an extent that, almost a decade later, the American economy still hasn’t fully recovered. Millennials find themselves in the most unreliable financial climate since the Great Depression, with 300 percent more college debt than their parents. According to a recent study, millennials are half as likely to own a house than their counterparts were in 1975, and, given current trends, they won’t be able to retire till they’re 75 years old. But it’s much easier to tell young people to stop whining about the economy and other things that they can’t control, and to focus on improving themselves or habits.
During the California Gold Rush in the mid-19th century, few diggers actually struck gold. The people who made the most money were those selling the shovels and other supplies like tents. We seem to be in a similar situation yet again. As millennials fumble around, looking for the solution to their financial predicament, the self-help industry is merely providing the shovels — and laughing all the way to the bank.
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