“If it weren’t the long weekend…I’d suggest we pack up and hit the road,” Nature Boy said.
“If we didn’t have big expenses coming up, I’d agree,” I responded.
Our house is at a certain age. Appliances, components and fixtures that have soldiered on for years are no longer working.
So discretionary spending, including long-weekend travel, is on hold. The bank no doubt would prefer that we had our cake and ate it too by taking out a loan to take a vacation, but we prefer not to borrow money to finance getaways.
Other people have other priorities. One acquaintance routinely maxes out her credit cards to feed her travel bug. Another lives in his parents’ basement because he can’t afford both rent and groceries, but spends every cent this arrangement saves him on travel. Another calculates to the day how long she has to work to fund her next world tour, then quits, packs and takes off.
It seems a very in-the-moment approach.
According to a January survey by the accounting firm MNP, a quarter of British Columbians can’t pay their bills or make debt payments. The survey also found that nearly half of British Columbians expect to go deeper into debt to pay their bills this year, with 40 per cent of residents reporting their financial cushion is just $200.
A more recent Angus Reid Institute survey indicates that 27 per cent of Canadians are either “struggling” — experiencing ongoing difficulty in meeting at least one basic financial responsibility such as affording dental care, buying groceries or paying utility bills — or “on the edge” of facing serious financial difficulties. People ages 34 to 55 (millennials and Gen-Xers) make up the largest age cohort of those two at-risk categories.
Millennials — those born in the 1980s and early ’90s — take a lot of heat for their large debts and high expectations. But when it comes to balancing travel versus saving, the generation does seem to take a different approach compared to previous generations.
According to the Canadian Tourism Commission, millennials tend to see travel as an essential — not discretionary — aspect of their lives, placing the self-actualization that can come with travel on par with food, water, shelter and safety on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This helps explain why they travel more often, farther and for longer than other age groups, and why they often spend more on travelling than other tourists do.
That said, millennials grew up in unstable economies. Many of their parents were laid off in the 1990s and are delaying retirement because the late-2000s recession gutted their savings. Today, millennials bear the brunt of astronomical housing prices in southwestern B.C., a lack of available, stable jobs when they finished school and cost-of-living increases that outpace the wage increases they’ve received once they did land a job.
Given this, perhaps they’ve simply internalized the re-analyses of the marshmallow test.
In the iconic experiment, a child is left alone with a marshmallow, and is told that she can eat it immediately, but if she waits a few minutes until the researcher returns she’ll get a second marshmallow, too.
Once thought to predict the child’s later success in life, how long a child waits before eating the marshmallow is now known to be a reflection of how stable the kid’s home environment is and whether she trusts the researcher.
So, under the uncertainty and financial precariousness of living and working today, millennials might prefer to eat the marshmallow and hit the road while the opportunity presents itself rather than bank on a golden future that might or might not happen.
Older generations, for whom that golden future is closer, might prioritize more conservative choices — such as fixing the roof or helping their kids — in hopes that those choices will lead to freedom later.
As for us and this long weekend, without a working fridge, oven and hot-water heater, we’re practically camping already. And if we don’t get the roof fixed and windows replaced, we’ll still be under canvas come winter.