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Illustration by Ming Wong/The Globe and Mail

Brianna Bell is a Guelph-based freelance journalist.

I was born in 1989, right smack dab in the middle of the millennial generation. Like many other millennials, my childhood was filled with carefree pre-technology summers and an adolescence spent chatting on instant messenger with my friends. At the time, I had no idea that my own adulthood would look so different from that of the generation that raised me.

My mother was already on her own when she exited Etobicoke General’s maternity ward with me. Living in a single-income household meant that our budget was tight, but my mom still owned every home we lived in. I might have been the last kid in my class to have a desktop computer, but the mortgage was paid every month, I had an RESP account that allowed me to pursue a post-secondary education and we even took a few international trips over the years. I grew up believing that if I worked hard like my own mom did, I could do the same for my future family.

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The general consensus is that those born between 1981 and 1996 are part of the millennial generation. Since 2015, Canadian millennials have represented the largest generation in the Canadian work force – but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are faring well financially.

Statistics Canada data from 2019 paint a picture of Canadian millennials earning more than previous generations, but also spending significantly more on necessities, particularly housing. A 2020 poll conducted by global accounting firm KPMG found that 72 per cent of Canadian millennials want to buy a home, while 46 per cent feel like owning a home is more of a pipe dream than a reality. For millennials who are lucky enough to own a home, 46 per cent received some kind of financial support from their parents in order to do so.

My husband and I didn’t follow the typical trajectory of millennials when it comes to marriage, children or finances. We married at 21, had three children by 27 and lived on a single income for the first five years of our marriage. A decade after tying the knot, we’re finally finding our footing financially – we both have mid-career jobs, we bring in more than six figures together and we recently purchased a detached house on a quiet cul-de-sac in Guelph, Ont. According to Statistics Canada, the average gross household income for a family in Guelph in 2016, was $100,175. While we gross quite a bit more than this figure, we don’t feel like we have an excessive amount of disposable income.

Our family presents an early picture of what many Canadian millennials will experience as they start finding long-term partners and having children, if they choose to do so. A non-exhaustive glimpse of our regular expenses includes our monthly mortgage and housing costs, ever increasing grocery bills, daycare and summer camp fees, retirement savings and our eldest daughter’s expensive orthodontist bills. We are lucky enough to own our car, have a small line of credit and no postsecondary education debt. Still, when I compare myself to my own baby boomer mother, it feels like we’re failing when it comes to financially providing for our children and future. Most days I have a gnawing fear that we aren’t saving enough for emergency expenses. I worry that we’ll never be able to afford a trip to Disney World or Europe, and that our kids won’t have enough financial support to pursue their postsecondary education.

A survey conducted by TD Bank in 2016 revealed that 32 per cent of millennials are concerned about their lack of pension owing to the ever-booming gig economy. My grandparents both retired in their 50s with full pensions, and my mom will retire in her early 60s. Meanwhile, although my husband and I both work full-time and contribute to our RRSP monthly, we have no pension plans and mounting monthly expenses and will be lucky to retire in our 70s. Still, we are privileged to both have secure jobs – particularly during a global pandemic that has seen 20 per cent of Canadians reporting trouble paying household expenses in early 2021.

As a millennial couple, we’ve learned that we have to prioritize certain things at the expense of others. For us, our priorities have been owning a home, having a well stocked fridge, providing supportive services such as occupational therapy and braces for our kids and charitable giving. RESP funds, expensive family vacations and financing cars have all been items we haven’t had the budget for. We’ve had to adjust our expectations over the years, particularly after witnessing our boomer relatives afford a much different lifestyle at a lower cost.

Millennial couples and their children won’t be living the boomer life, but that doesn’t mean we should feel ashamed or guilty because of it. We need to adjust to a new reality and remove the archaic expectations from previous generations about home ownership, investing and saving. The reality is millennial families just can’t do it all, and it’s time we admit that’s okay.

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