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Millennials Aren’t Rejecting Traditions Because We’re Lazy, It’s Because We’re Overworked And Broke

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Alicia Zinn
Alicia Zinn

The Atlantic recently posted an article titled “Why Do Millennials Hate Groceries?

At first it made me laugh, then it made me scratch my head, and then it made me mad.

Here’s why.

Picture this:

You’re up at 6 am. Your heart is already racing with the tasks set ahead for the day. The dog needs to be walked. Your phone is going off with texts and emails from your boss and colleagues. You’ve got a yoga class at 7 that you’re praying you’ll get off work in time for. You’ve got multiple emails about late student loan payments. You’ve got a notice in the mail advising that your landlord is raising rent (again) but you’ve been at the same salary at your 50-hour a week job (if you’re lucky enough to only work one job to afford to survive) in three years. The person you’ve been seeing for the last month has unexpectedly vanished into thin air, leaving calls and texts unanswered and completely gas lighting your self-esteem. You have just enough time to throw down a protein shake and a cup of coffee before work. You sneak off to the bathroom at work and check your Instagram, where it’s flooded with perfectly made smoothies, dewy-skinned people in a somehow sweat-less and effortless yoga inversion.

You resolve, then and there, amongst your already overbooked, overworked, underpaid life to start grocery shopping more, meal-prepping, and living more ‘mindfully’, as if adding more exercise, more shopping, and more cooking into a life that probably has, at best, 3 hours of free time at night on any given weeknight, is going to magically destress your life.

Picture then, at about 4:30, your phone pings with a text from your best friend/boyfriend/girlfriend/coworker:

“Happy hour and snacks at 6:30 at [insert the name of any non-chain restaurant here]?”

It’s perfect. It’s one of the simplest pleasures: cheap drinks and bar food at half-price with people you love. Suddenly, the day is a little brighter, because you’re going to be hanging out with friends, laughing, bitching, gossiping, catching a buzz and enjoying food you did not have to prepare. Sure maybe you’ll drink a little too much and eat one too many fried things, but at least you’re laughing, not thinking about how you’ll ever pay off $45,000 in student loan debt on a $40,000 a year job. At least you’re not over-analyzing old texts from Mr-or-Ms-Disappearing-Act, wondering if it was the double-text you sent last week that made you come off as ‘desperate and clingy’ and you weren’t respecting their need for ‘space.’ Even though your rent is being raised and your job has had a sudden halt in funding, resulting in cost-of-living raises being suspended indefinitely, at least over drinks and mozzarella sticks with friends you can entertain the idea of taking off to Belgium for a couple years, or make plans to all get a house together next year, even though, once the wine wears off, all of you know this will never happen, because who wants roommates at this stage in the game?

Or picture this.

It’s 4:30, and an email pops up from your boss. The deadline you thought wasn’t until last week has been moved up to tomorrow afternoon. She’s not forcing you to stay late, the company having graciously provided you with a laptop, but this is something that needs “urgent addressing” i.e., work from home, but get to work. Remember that trip to the grocery store and that yoga class? Kiss that goodbye. You get home, start working, and maybe have a couple glasses of wine. Around 7 pm the grumbling in your belly starts. Depending on how close you are to payday, this scene will play out one of two ways. You’ll either run down to the convince store or drugstore and pick up something quick and easy, like a can of soup, chips, or a TV dinner, or you’ll open up the Seamless app and order the usual pad se ew and spring rolls from your local Thai restaurant. If you’re already at home, already working, it’s probably going to be option two, since you don’t want to break your focus. Besides, it’s only $15 with a 3.99 delivery charge, and it’s your favorite! Treat yo’self!

These are just a couple scenarios I find myself if fairly regularly. I start the day with the best of intentions, and then, at some point throw my hands up and say “Fuck it! I’m tired. I worked all day, it’s now looking like I’m going to work all night too. I’m not going to drag myself through a grocery store, come home, put everything away, cook a meal that only I will eat, and then get started on another 3 hours of work. I’m ordering a pizza instead.”

Let’s also address the rising cost of food. As a divorced, older-generation millennial (I was born in 1981), I have seen the cost of groceries rise drastically over the last ten years. From 2004-2013 I was an engaged-then-married lady, separating and divorcing in late 2013. The cost of food to feed myself and my ex-husband literally tripled in less than 10 years. When he and I met and moved in together, in 2004, I was making roughly $1200 a month. My household contribution was our power bill and the cost of food. These bills rarely exceeded $350 per month total, combined.

Fast forward almost 10 years. Our incomes have increased significantly, but so has the cost of living. I spent anywhere from $150-$200 per week at the grocery store, being that I was trying to be cost-conscientious and knew that the cost of eating out, even at a casual dining place, could easily run us $30 per outing in the blink of an eye. The power bill, for a 1200-square foot house (versus the 700 square-foot apartment we lived in before we were married), was usually around $120-150, depending on the time of year, versus the $50 it was nine years prior. And in case you were wondering, we never had kids, so you can’t blame increased costs of food and heating on children.
And our incomes? We went from making a combined $50,000 a year to a combined $80,000 a year. The income increase was significant, but it did not double, like our rent did, or triple, like our food and power costs did. Our debt increased too, mainly from student loans, mine totaling somewhere around $38,000 and my ex-husband, who received a graduate degree from a private university, sitting somewhere in the ballpark of $80,000.

Everywhere I look costs are rising, while incomes stay the same.

I love to shop and cook. I look forward to the holidays every year because I can make my sage-sausage-cornbread stuffing, salted caramel-apple pie and homemade pralines. One of the best parts of having a boyfriend (not that I have one, but that’s a whole different article) is getting to dazzle him with my kitchen prowess. Work potlucks and dinner parties are a ball because I can make some specialty dish or appetizer and enjoy with friends and family. That said, cooking has now become something I do for a special occasion, and eating out has become the norm, whereas in years prior it was the opposite.

Oh well.

When all is said and done there’s still Lean Cuisine; inexpensive, quick, and wholly unsatisfying.

Bon Appetit, I guess. TC mark

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