TV Millennials vs. Real-Life Millennials: Money Habits

by | Jul 2, 2019

Anyone who knows me knows that I love a good show — like Insecure, You, and Dear White People. Nothing is more satisfying than binge-watching a series that features the latest up-and-coming talent and highlights some of the daily struggles millennials face.

With that said, I must admit these same shows sometimes miss the mark in depicting what life is truly like for millennials, especially when it comes to money. While the story lines often feature characters experiencing financial struggles, these same plots are contradicted when the characters live in a way that most millennials only dream of. Here are a few luxuries TV millennials indulge in, versus the reality for the average millennial.

On TV: A Nice, Well-Furnished Apartment (in an Expensive City)

Most popular sitcoms feature millennials who live in major cities like Atlanta, New York, and Los Angeles. While exciting and fast-paced, these major cities come with a hefty price tag, as they have some of the highest costs of living in the country.

This seems to be a minor issue for TV millennials. In the Netflix series, She’s Gotta Have It, the main character Nola is a struggling artist in Brooklyn, and there are several references throughout the show about her being behind on rent. However, she somehow still manages to stay afloat living in a spacious brownstone – without roommates or a significant other. Not only that, her pad is complete with a large comfy bed and lots of stylish and artsy décor.

In Reality: City Life Struggle is Real

Living in an expensive city isn’t nearly as glamorous for millennials as it’s depicted on TV. If we’re able to swing it, it’s usually because we live with roommates or partners, work multiple jobs to cover rent or all of the above.

On top of that, fancy furniture is usually out of the question as it costs way too much in addition to rent. Sofas, kitchen tables, and other large items usually come courtesy of thrift stores or secondhand items from friends and family.

Or we just rough it. I vividly remember my college days in Atlanta, when some friends had just moved into a new apartment. While they relished in the independence of having their own place, the only items in the apartment were a TV, clothes, and mattress. This is a far cry from the fully-furnished digs occupied by your favorite TV millennial.

On TV: Unlimited Clothing Budget

Another commonality in millennial TV shows is the characters’ impeccable sense of style. Whether at home, work, or socializing with friends, TV millennials can always be seen in the most stylish, trendy fashion – and rarely wear the same outfit twice. In Season 3 of Insecure, the main characters could be found wearing threads by some of the fashion industry’s top designers, including Helmut Lang and Oscar de la Renta.

In Reality: What Clothing Budget?

Depending on their interest in fashion (or lack thereof), some millennials may not be too concerned with wearing the latest clothes. Even for self-described shopaholics, after rent, student loans, car payments, and more, it’s hard to come by discretionary income for clothes shopping.

To satisfy the craving, a lot of millennials shop at thrift stores – whether online with shopping apps like Poshmark, or locally. And if you’re like me, you definitely wear the same outfit on multiple occasions to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.

On TV: Pricey Life Experiences

It’s always fun to live vicariously through the amazing adventures of TV millennials, whether it’s Issa Rae and her crew’s hilarious shenanigans at “Beychella” on Insecure or Nola Darling’s vibrantly colored trip to Puerto Rico in She’s Gotta Have It.

As fun as it is, there’s also the fact that Issa currently lives with a friend because she could no longer afford rent at her old place, and Nola has a habit of using multiple credit cards for items she essentially can’t afford. When airfare and lodging to any vacation spot can cost hundreds of dollars, and a weekend at Coachella can be more than $2,000, this begs the question: where is the money coming from?

In Reality: Fun is Priceless

Millennials like to have a good time, and there are moments when we make the decision to shell out cash for a once-in-a-lifetime experience like Coachella. Still, most of us are equally happy hanging out with a small group of friends or going to a local concert. It’s just as much fun – and way more bank account-friendly.

What Is Media Telling Us?

While TV shows about millennials are mainly for entertainment, there seems to be an underlying message that depicts millennials as entitled, slightly flaky, and mostly unconcerned about the future. I think I speak for most of us when I say this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Like any generation, there are millennials who blow the rent money on a last-minute vacation, but there are more of us who manage our money responsibly while still enjoying life. In fact, many of us are hyper-aware of our financial choices and how we are allocating every dollar.  

Recent studies show millennials take their finances seriously, whether it’s using budgeting and savings apps or taking on side hustles to earn extra income. It’s not easy to juggle so many financial responsibilities, especially when many of us are dealing with student loans and stagnant wages, but we do the best we can.

As much as I love shows like Insecure, it would be great to see them depict the subtle realities that truly affect the average millennial. It may not be the most exciting TV, but it could definitely help alleviate some of the pressure millennials feel to “live their best lives” in a way that mirrors what they see in the media. 

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