Recent research suggests that over half of young people between the ages of 25 and 35 are going through a self-described “quarter-life crisis” and that over half of those people identified financial difficulties as the “single biggest cause.”
That’s a lot of young people in crisis mode over money.
A number of startling statistics help paint the picture: nearly 25% of millennials worry about running out of money by week’s end, almost 80% are carrying some form of debt, and about 40% have no money saved at all.
Ouch, ouch, ouch.
Worse, these money woes aren’t just causing stress, they’re also a major reason why fewer young people are buying homes, getting married, and starting families, and perhaps it explains why so many are hanging on to jobs they don’t really like, leaving them feeling uninspired and unfulfilled, and why so many would break up with their partner for a raise.
It’s also probably why Benjamin Franklin added frugality to his list of virtues worth actively cultivating – it’s not just because drowning in debt and spending more than one makes is bad for one’s wallet, it’s because often, whether consciously or unconsciously, financial instability lends itself to emotional, mental, and psychological instability, too.
This is also the premise of Maslow’s famous hierarchy – having one’s basic physiological needs met, including resources and employment, precede things like self-esteem, sense of connection, freedom, and self-actualization.
Those who’ve experienced it know that money trouble has a way of consuming one’s psyche. Understandably, today’s twenty-something, worried about running out of cash, isn’t likely spending much mental energy in pursuit of moral improvement and the cultivation of higher virtues.
Franklin understood this in the context of his own life too, writing that “Frugality and Industry freeing me from my remaining debt, and producing affluence and independence, would make more easy the practice of Sincerity and Justice.”
That makes sense, because frugality isn’t a standalone virtue – to cultivate it requires simultaneously practicing habits like restraint and patience, and avoiding the frequently corrupting consequences of pursuing instant gratification.
These are areas that millennials aren’t exactly known for being very good at – on top of being notoriously bad at managing money, millennials are most commonly criticized for being “entitled,” two character traits that, when combined, don’t form the strongest foundation for financial health.
But all that makes some sense too – millennials are experiencing an America where it is perhaps harder than ever to be good with money. They inherited a sluggish economy, a ballooning student debt crisis, a culture of consumerism, and didn’t exactly have the best financial role models in their parents.
Furthermore, companies like Amazon have made buying things easier than ever, and Facebook, Instagram, and social media platforms of comparison have probably made the desire to buy things more intense than ever. Add low interest rates and easy access to credit and suddenly the surprising news is that only half of millennials are experiencing a “financial crisis.”
Millennials stand to benefit in more than obvious ways simply from cultivating this one virtue. Consider the ripple effect of frugality on the other virtues on Franklin’s list: it might improve temperance and moderation for some, while increasing industry and order in others. For everyone, frugality necessitates resolution, and surely the process improves humility. And as the recent research proves, the virtue of tranquility can be inextricably linked to that of frugality.
But in our culture, there’s nothing sexy or cool about frugality – many associate it with manic coupon-clipping, depriving oneself, becoming stingy, dwelling on what must be given up. But Franklin focused on things gained, the goodness obtained. As he wrote, “Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself.”
The process of determining what is good for oneself and others demands the prioritization of one’s values, and that requires both greater consciousness and greater conscientiousness. And what greater way to become a better, happier person that deciding on and pursuing what is most important?
Money may not be able to buy happiness, but practicing frugality might lead to it. So for today’s millennials stressed about money, focusing on Franklin’s fifth virtue may be the most rewarding and profitable way to not just become wealthier, but richer too.