I Came of Age During the Financial Crisis — Here’s How It Affects Me 10 Years Later
September 14, 2018
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The day after Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy on September 15, 2008, I strolled out of my dorm room in Boston’s Kenmore Square and bumped into an old high school classmate. After catching up about our lives in the 15 months since we’d last seen each other, he brought up the news of the day.
“It’s terrifying,” he said. “This is going to change everything.”
I — like many college students — was naive about global finance. Growing up poor, Wall Street seemed worlds away, something that would never affect me. My classmate, however, came from a family of C-suite executives who ran companies that were household names. I realized from the look on his face that I should probably pay attention to what was happening.
Over the next few months and years, as the global markets tanked, I tried to learn more about how the financial crisis would affect me. I had significant debt for the first time thanks to student loans, and on campus my classmates were panicking about their job prospects post-graduation.
In many ways, I was lucky: At 19, I was too young to have real estate that would soon be underwater, or to have a family to support. However, a decade later, the crisis still affects how I approach financial and career decisions. Here’s how:
I Embrace the Gig Economy
I graduated from one of the most well-respected communications schools in the country. Yet, only one of my fellow journalism grads (out of hundreds) landed a full-time newsroom job post-graduation. Some turned to alternative careers like teaching, while many, myself included, turned to the gig economy. In fact, as this continues to rise, over half the U.S. population is expected to be freelance in the next 10 years.
I started freelancing immediately after graduation. Now, freelancing has grown into a business that makes more than I ever would in a full-time journalism job. The financial crisis showed me that no job was secure: We all heard the stories of long-term employees who lost everything. Freelancing means that no one person can ever lay me off and send me into a financial tailspin. Sure, I compromise on employee perks like health insurance and the ability to claim unemployment, but the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks for me.
I’m Not Putting All of My Eggs in 1 Basket
The financial powers that be (or, your parents) will tell you that there is a way things “should” be done. You get a job, invest in your retirement and buy a house: a simple recipe for financial success. My peers and I, however, saw how this recipe can go wrong, and we’re skeptical of basing our whole lives around it.
Take retirement, for example. My husband and I still invest in our retirement accounts, but we also consider alternatives. We’re currently saving to buy a rental property, which, ideally, will give us a diversified source of long-term wealth. Other peers have chosen to rent long-term rather than buying because they don’t trust the real estate market.
I'm Open to Opportunities
When you’ve seen what can go wrong — even for people who have done everything the “right way” — you learn to be a little more spontaneous. After all, we can’t predict what the future holds, so why not enjoy life as it’s happening now.
For me, this means being open to opportunities, even when there’s some risk involved. When my husband and I had the chance to relocate for his job, we took it. Yes, it was a big move for our family — and one that may not have panned out — but we decided to take the chance and find out. Making the “safe” choice is no guarantee for success, so I’m trying to make the best decisions for my family’s future, while still having some fun along the way.
I can’t say how my life would look now if the recession had never happened — according to one study, I may have been $70,000 richer in my lifetime — but I can say I made the best of the situation I was given, and I feel confident in my financial footing.