I did a thing. I bought a house.
There she is. A little 1300 square foot Cape on the edge of the woods in South Windsor. My own little slice of the American dream. How did I achieve this milestone of successful adulting when so many of my peers are still languishing in their parent’s basements, crushed under a mountainous burden of student loan debt, and broken dreams?
Naturally, I cheated.
The reasons I was able to afford this little piece of paradise are threefold:
- I don’t drink coffee. You can accept this statement at face value. I really don’t drink coffee, caffeine does nothing for me, and I think it tastes like a handful of beach sand scraped from the butt crack of a nudist hobo. You can also accept this statement as a clever metaphor for the fact that I just don’t buy stuff. I generally avoid all the little expenses that most people accumulate throughout the day, like snacks, drinks, cigarettes, chewing gum, herpes medicine, Plan B, you know, all the tiny impulse buys that most people indulge in on a near constant basis. This is partially because I’m not a wild beast and I have self discipline, and mostly because I don’t really like to eat or drink, I find both activities to be a boring and joyless chore, so by default my bank account isn’t hemorrhaging a constant trickle of small bills on little crap. At the end of the year, all those dollars and cents saved add up to a not-insignificant amount of extra money.
- I’ve always had cheap places to live. I’ve lived alone exactly once in my life, and that was briefly. Other than that short stint as a crazy desert hermit, I’ve always lived in a friendship-house, bro-house, pack-as-many-roommates-as-you-can-under-one-roof-to-share-rent-a-million-ways, type situation. The cheapest my rent has dropped in the past ten years was $280/month, and the highest was a lofty $400/month. So obviously, I’ve had dirt cheap housing for a long time. (Cheap, financially speaking. I’m sure the appalling lack of privacy during that entire time has had a significant impact on my overall psyche.) While this worked fine for me because I’m willing to undergo severe inconvenience for the sake of a humorous joke, not everyone is willing or able to live for over a decade with three or more roommates to keep living costs low. But I was, so during that time I was able to save a respectable amount of money.
- I don’t have student loans.
That third one. That’s the big one, isn’t it. I have friends with upwards of $200k in student loan debt, for an undergraduate degree. Bro. Come on. That’s the cost of a nice house. How can you be expected to pay a mortgage on a nice house, when you’re already paying a mortgage’s worth of payments every month on your financed education costs? Now, is that a stupid amount of debt, that the debtor should really have thought twice or three or four times about, before enrolling in that costly of a higher education? Yes. Obviously. But is it also wrong that education can even cost that much to begin with? Also yes. A thousand times yes.
Before you draw the wrong conclusions, don’t think too highly of me for not having crippling student loans. I was able to pay cash for school, not just, like I usually say, because I worked full time throughout, but really because my dad was killed at work, and I received a large amount of money in the settlement. So that’s all it takes to afford college in America these days. A conveniently timed horrifyingly violent tragedy.
Here is where it all went wrong. Our grandparents probably didn’t go to college. After World War II, The United States became a powerhouse of manufacturing, innovation, and financial prosperity. Our grandparents were able to buy a house, a car, raise children, go on periodic vacations, spend a little something on their mistresses, all on a single salary blue collar income. They were ALSO able to send their children to college, which they did, because they naturally wanted an even better life for their beloved offspring. Their children, our parents, were raised in a time when higher education was a beneficial, and attainable expense. As the economic landscape of America changed, they saw a real increase in pay scales depending on whether they had a degree or not. Added on top of this, all of their parents (our grandparents) began retiring right around the time they were graduating, because pensions were a thing back then, and retirement was possible, thus opening up a whole new slew of jobs for young professionals just beginning their own careers.
Then we came along. We were the first generation raised by parents who mostly all went to college. They didn’t know any other way. As far as they knew, college was as necessary as nutritious food to their children’s health and wellness. So that’s what we were taught. You go to elementary school. You go to middle school. You go to high school. You go to college. You study hard and obey your teachers throughout. Then when you graduate, you get a good job, buy a house, start a family, and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, that was just a pleasant fantasy.
Here’s how it actually worked out: You go to elementary school. You go to middle school. You go to high school. You go to college. You study hard and obey your teachers throughout. Then when you graduate, you don’t get a job at all, because your parents and grandparents have ruined the economy with their shortsighted greed. Also, you have a MASSIVE amount of debt, because the cost of college has skyrocketed by a billion percent, WAY beyond any reasonable or acceptable levels. In all honesty, most of us shouldn’t have gone to college at all because it’s so unforgivably expensive. But what did we know? We were just stupid kids who were told our entire lives that college was the only pathway to success and happiness. So we signed up gleefully, and applied for student loans ecstatically, and watched our future financial well-being crumble away to dust for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae with dumb, stupid, vacuous grins on our faces.
Then when we couldn’t find high paying jobs right out of school, our parents had the audacity, the cruelty, to point at us and go hey, this is your fault! Back when I was your age, I worked hard! I paid for college by working part time as a dishwasher, and then when I graduated, I got a good job! Forgetting of course that their own parents had all been retiring around that time, because retirement was a thing remember, thus opening up the job market to new employees. So now our parents, who refuse to retire, because they don’t have pensions, and they lost all of their savings when they got greedy during the sub-prime mortgage housing bubble, are wondering why we can’t seem to find jobs. It’s because you already have all the jobs you silly twats.
Additionally, College costs just ain’t what they used to be.
Let’s do some simple mathematical comparisons. Most of our parents were probably in college in 1981. Let’s use UConn, because that is where I went to school, and it’s a fairly prestigious State School, so it’s more expensive than some other State Schools, but way less expensive than most Private institutions.
In 1981, the cost of a year at UConn for In-State tuition and room and board was $3,346. In 2016 dollars, adjusted for inflation, that’s $8,807.12.
In 2016, the cost of a year at UConn for In-State tuition and room and board was $27,630. So College costs over three times as much money now.
That’s only part of the equation however. To really see the difference, we need to look at incomes between the two years as well. Let’s use minimum wage, because that’s what most high school and college students can be expected to be making. In 1981, the federal minimum wage was $3.35/hour. That seems low, but if you adjust for inflation and convert that to 2016 dollars, that’s actually $8.29/hour. Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25. So it’s actually effectively over a dollar LESS than what it was in 1981.
Hmm. A dollar less per hour, and college costs have tripled. Wait…that..that’s bad. That means that, while our parents could conceivably “work hard”, get a part time job, and pay for college, it’s literally impossible to do so now. Our parents would have to work 2.9 hours a day, every single day during the year to pay for their annual tuition. That’s doable. Working 365 days a year would suck, but 3 hours a day does leave time for, you know, sleep, and school, that thing you’re paying for.
A current 2016 student would have to work 10.4 hours a day, every single day during the year to pay for their annual tuition. Leaving, well, not nearly enough time to actually go to the school they’re paying for, and study, and sleep, and eat, and do all those other inconvenient time wasting things they’re always doing.
So what have we learned?
- College is fucking expensive now. It shouldn’t be. A lot of those extra costs go to administrator bonuses, not back into the actual education.
- I was able to buy this lovely home without being destroyed by student loan debt because of a devious mixture of low animal cunning, frugal and responsible living, and mind-boggling personal tragedy. This is not a life path I suggest for anybody else.
- Student loans suck mega horse dick. Most people are stuck with them, and it’s literally ruining their futures. To say those people shouldn’t have gone to college however, is wrong. While there are certainly thousands that should have gone to trade school, technical school, or gotten a job out of high school to better their financial situation, that should not be a necessity. College should be more affordable. It simply needs to be more attainable to a greater number of people for the good, and I don’t exaggerate here, of the entire fucking world . Don’t you see that while a philosophy major, or a drama major, or an art major, or any number of other liberal arts majors can’t realistically expect to have high paying jobs waiting for them upon graduation, we still need those people to study those things. Not everybody can be an engineer, or a doctor, or an accountant, or a financial analyst. But college can’t be just for those high earning career type courses of study. People need to be free to learn and study whatever they are passionate about. Life isn’t all about making money. Think about it like this. We don’t remember the ancient Greeks for their efficient accountants. We remember them for their beautiful sculptures, their philosophies, their..liberal arts.