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August 17, 2013

DODD: Living takes a lot of 20s

“Being broke is a temporary situation. Being poor is a state of mine.” — Mike Todd

I am around a lot of twenty-somethings on a regular basis. One thing I hear as a common theme is that they are always broke.

First of all, let me say this. Young people are supposed to be broke. Young people have almost always been broke. One thing I notice that has certainly changed from the time when I was a twenty-something is the cost of being broke.

When I was young, most of the summer entertainment for my friends and I involved outdoor activity and for the most part was free or quite often very cheap. Many hours were spent on athletic fields during the summer and at friend’s houses during the cold winter months playing cards or board games.

Even dating seemed to be a pretty cheap night out. Heck, with the right person just sitting alone in a dark room and making out on the couch as I remember seemed like a pretty entertaining night. I guess we were pretty simple-minded and easily entertained in my day.

Oh, and television was free back then. You got all four channels for nothing and you had to turn it off around 1 a.m. By that time, we figured we needed to sleep for a few hours.

My basic expenses as a young adult were pretty much rent or house payment and utilities. Throw in a tank of gas — which admittedly was once dirt cheap and just driving around was inexpensive entertainment — and you had a pretty cheap lifestyle.

Most importantly, I always had a budget and kept to it because I was usually broke.

Let’s consider what people who are always broke spend their money on today. And to remind anyone reading, this there is a difference between a necessity and a luxury. What people deem necessities now would have been considered an extravagant luxury in my youth.

Let’s take the absolute can’t-do-without cell phone. I have one myself. It used to be a Trac phone until I inherited a touch phone from my son. Either way, I buy minutes and pay for every minute I use on a cell phone.

And, I don’t chit-chat on a phone, download Internet games or text constantly. I really don’t have any idea what I would text about nonstop all day to anyone. Even Kim and I like to take a few hours break from each other during the work day. My home phone is a $20 per year Magic Jack computer phone.

I was researching and found that the average cell phone bill today is between $63 and $77 per month. If I didn’t have a phone in my apartment or house, I stopped at a telephone booth.

Seriously, these were places where you could use a public phone and pay per each individual call. There were stretches where I didn’t even communicate with other people for periods of time often up to overnight.

I heard a story about a 26-year-old couple this past week that pays someone to cut their yard. They are a young couple in their 20s who pay another person to mow their lawn! What kind of twenty-something person can’t cut their own grass?

Seriously, I am afraid at the current rate evolution is going to completely eliminate the need for legs. Let’s assume $20 per week for outsourcing your personal lawn care duties.

And not only do I hear about expensive salon visits, but young people get manicures on a regular basis. Manicures! I have never paid to have my nails done. I have always done them myself — mostly with my teeth. And some people pay to lay in a tanning bed instead of actually just going out into the sun.

Then there’s the monthly cable television bill. According to one study done by a website called Multi Channel, the average monthly cable bill is $71. It predicts that by the year 2020, that monthly cable bill will be $200. And today’s average young person has a computer, and almost anything on cable can be downloaded to your television by a computer.

And by the way, the average Internet fee runs from $33 to $52 per month. Let’s split the difference and say $40 per month.

And if you work with the average twenty-something, there is a good chance they eat out every day for lunch. Even at fast food prices, you can take $6 per day times 20 days per month and spend $120 month.

So let’s add it all up if you have these necessities in your monthly life. The total for the expenses comes to around $431 per month, give or take $50 for your own personal expenses on the list. That means before taxes, you have to gross $643 just to cover these basic necessities.

Oh, and as you are making out that monthly budget, don’t forget you have to make enough extra money to pay for luxuries like rent or a house payment, gas for your car, insurance and some groceries at your living quarters.

It sure takes a lot more money to be broke today than it did when I was in my 20s.

— Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer who can be reached at lindon.dodd@hotmail.com

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