Sonya Sorich: 'Cheap' isn't always a bad thing

August 28, 2012 

I'll never forget a particular afternoon with Aunt Betty.

She was my grandma's sister, someone who joined us for afternoon excursions to chain restaurants. I think she was the one who encouraged me to lie about my age to take advantage of a discounted kids' menu.

On the aforementioned afternoon, we ended up discussing Aunt Betty's refrigerator. It was filled largely with restaurants' condiment packets.

Aunt Betty could likely afford any ketchup she wanted. But she took the condiment packets for a simple reason.

They were free.

Was Aunt Betty cheap? Thrifty? Somewhere in between? I didn't know the answer. I also didn't know that one day, someone would ask the same questions about me.

Enter a recent article from The Atlantic: "The cheapest generation." It suggests many Millennials -- my generation -- aren't buying cars or houses.

An excerpt: "Since the end of World War II, new cars and suburban houses have powered the world's largest economy and propelled our most impressive recoveries. Millennials may have lost interest in both."

The article suggests "smartphones compete against cars for young people's big-ticket dollars" -- depending on the availability of public transportation, presumably. Smartphones connect us to car-sharing services and social outlets that don't require face-to-face interaction, it adds. And houses? Well, maybe grad school is a more tempting investment.

Sure, many Millennials are broke and scared. Even if we haven't experienced financial uncertainty, we've watched friends -- maybe even our parents -- endure pay cuts and layoffs without warning.

Plus, despite the shaky economy, we're still savoring remnants of being raised amid a cultural emphasis on self-esteem: "You are worthy and you deserve to have it all." We want to find The Perfect Job, The Perfect Spouse and The Perfect Friends.

Cars and houses can imply geographical permanence, which might not mesh with our transitory lifestyles.

Finally, Millennials are managing their budgets at a time when adjectives like "cheap" don't always carry a social stigma. Thanks to the rise of Groupon and "Extreme Couponing," we've awarded a badge of honor to behavior that was once universally categorized as stingy.

Which makes me wonder if Aunt Betty was simply ahead of her time.

Sonya Sorich, reporter, can be reached at ssorich@ledger-enquirer.com or 706-571-8516. Visit ledger-enquirer.com/sonya to read her columns.

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