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Young, dumb… broke

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Those of us in our 20s got dealt a bad hand this year.

Or at least we got dealt a reality check where we were forced to understand that the economy is not our friend.

Sure, I know almost everyone around the world has felt the tremble of the economic decline, from the billionaire in Manhattan to the taxi diver in Bangalore. But those of us born between 1979 and 1989 have gotten a louder wake up call. This the first time in our lives we have had to really acknowledge that money might not always be there for us to spend.

Up until now, the economy has served us well. For starters, we learned to walk in the era of Madonna and Michael Jackson, a time in North America when neon was "in" and frugal spending was "out," and we sang blissfully along to lyrics like "we are living in a material world..."

That high-roller life didn't stop for us when the '90s hit.

True, the world's materialistic thirst had calmed down a bit, and we had alternative superstars like Kurt Cobain teaching us to tear our jeans. Yet throughout all that teen angst, the economy was still on our side. Some of our parents may have had trouble finding jobs, but as a group, our houses and cars and toys kept getting bigger.

In fact, I know the dot-com bubble crashed at some point during the millennium, but to be honest, I was way too busy trying to score a date to my high school's semi-formal dance to pay attention to what was happening with the men on Wall Street. And anyways, the world seemed to rebound quickly from that blip, right back into the spend-happy society I had always known.

Even when we stepped out of high school and university and started applying for real jobs, our luck with the economy didn't end. At least in British Columbia, jobs were plentiful and if you wanted more money, you could always find someone willing to pay you to do something. Whistler, in particular, was notorious for its wide-open job market.

In short: life has been pretty kick-ass until now for those of us in our 20s.

So what the hell happened to our joy ride?

When the economy started tanking last fall at levels equivalent to the 1930s, a new reality dawned: when things go bad, we are the demographic left grasping the shortest end of a short stick.

In other words, when the rest of Canada, and the world, becomes desperate for cash, we are the first ones on the chopping block. With almost no job experience, we are quickly out the door when employers take a hard look at their bottom line. Meanwhile, we are also the ones sifting through over-priced rental housing because landlords suddenly need to bring in more money to bolster their incomes.

On top of these two hard realities, we also have virtually no savings, equity, or credit to speak of.

Why would we?

Up until now, we have had no reason to save our pennies for a rainy day. Most of our parents didn't even teach us to "spend with caution" because times were too good to worry. We, as a generation, have gotten used to living from pay cheque to pay cheque, which is not working out so well in these new financial times (say hello, Mom and Dad's basement suite!)

And, while those of us in our 20s start examining real ways to make ends meet, I think it is vital we also recognize that we are a long way from crawling out of the economic jungle.

If what Paul Krugman from the New York Times said last week is right, another big stock market crash could be around the corner.

Krugman believes the high quarterly profits of some big investment companies on Wall Street, like Goldman Sachs, mean grim things for the stock market. He says the profits show that 1) Wall Street's bad habits have not gone away, and 2) Washington's actions to rescue the financial system without reforming it have done "nothing to protect us from a new crisis, and, in fact, has made another crisis more likely."

Krugman, unfortunately, is not alone in his morbid predictions, and many economists have warned over the past few months that a second round of intense crashes may be around the corner.

My point is that those of us trying to create a life for the first time are not going to get a big break any time soon. And we need to come to terms with the fact the economy is not on our side, so that if the financial world crumbles again, we won't be the ones left drowning in the rubble.

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