In the past two years, Sim Shyam has graduated from university, started a career, bought a car, tried crypto investing and opened a tax-free savings account.
Ms. Shyam is nailing it every which way in a financial sense, but she finds happiness elusive. “I just thought, okay, once I get a job, once I settle down and have my own money, all of my problems will be solved,” she said in an interview after reaching out to The Globe and Mail personal finance team. “And that just never happened.”
Early in the pandemic, young adults were hit particularly hard by job losses. But since then, we have seen a rise in prosperity for this cohort through a job market in which young workers are in demand, as well as their participation in the rise of stocks and cryptocurrencies.
Ms. Shyam, 24, has had her fair share of financial success, but it leaves her feeling unsatisfied. How many others are feeling like that as they view their new-found home equity, stock market gains and crypto wealth?
Ms. Shyam’s self-diagnosis is that she’s been too caught up in the idea of making money. She worked at part-time jobs starting at age 16, then worked 25 hours a week in retail for all four of the years she pursued an English literature degree at university.
“I come from a middle-class family, and my parents very much believe in independence and earning your money,” she said. “So from, like, a very young age, these values were always instilled in me. I’m grateful for that.”
In March, 2020, she graduated and landed a job in a sales-related field where she earns a respectable income based on salary and commission. Living at home in Mississauga, Ont., Ms. Shyam’s main expense upon entering the work force was paying off a student loan.
At first, she put the rest of her earnings to work with splurges that included a car – a used Volkswagen Golf – as well as clothes, jewellery and designer handbags. “I have developed an addiction to handbags,” she joked in an e-mail.
This spending sounds a lot like what’s happening in the economy today. Pent-up demand through the two years of the pandemic produced household spending that was recently 30 per cent above pre-pandemic days, according to RBC Economics.
In Ms. Shyam’s case, the spending produced a sense of emptiness that she tackled by throwing herself into her job. Working at home during the pandemic helped with this focus, but it also isolated her from friends, who reached out to see how she was doing. “My response is always, ‘I’m keeping my head down and focusing on work and making money and that’s all I’m doing right now,’” she said.
Ms. Shyam has been aggressive in replacing spending with building wealth. She bought into crypto and, via an investment adviser who has worked with her parents, started building investments in a TFSA and a registered retirement savings plan.
But personal finance today is more intense than ever. No matter what you’re doing, it can seem like not enough.
Ms. Shyam feels she was late to crypto, having started with it toward the end of last year. She got into investing out of a sense of FOMO – fear of missing out – after seeing the incredible rise of AMC Entertainment Holdings, one of the meme stocks that young investors drove higher last year.
All the while, she watched the cost of buying a house surge higher. “I really do want to get a house and I have extreme anxiety about that at the moment,” she said. “I think about it every day, and renting seems, like, insane to me because of the cost.”
These days, she is finding support in podcasts, YouTube channels and even books about money and other topics. One of the podcasts she listens to presented the idea that life gets depressing and boring when you don’t have any challenges.
“My new challenge right now is getting fit,” she said. “So I went from making money to working out, getting active. I feel like I put too much importance on money in the first place.”
Are you a young Canadian with money on your mind? To set yourself up for success and steer clear of costly mistakes, listen to our award-winning Stress Test podcast.