Cole, you are THE UBER-FRUGAL Millennial as judged by me and my millennial daughter, Hannah, with whom you began www.abc-provisions.com, an online Colorado farmer's market. We've watched you volunteer at a CO goat farm, give voice to issues of importance, serve in small ways, and quietly demonstrate that you are a MASTER in frugal living. So as a FRUGAL MILLENNIAL or someone born between 1981-1996 (think between 1980 and 2000), I want you to share with my Frugal Catholic readers how they can become even more thrifty and generous than they already are, because "if you can save it over here; you can give it over there." And you know thrifty living firsthand! So here are eight questions for you to answer:
1. TFC--Cole, you grew up in Virginia and graduated from The University of Virginia with a degree in Environmental Science. Now you are in CO getting your master's in Sustainable Food Systems. I first met you when you were working with my daughter to create Littleton Market, which after Covid--19, became abc-provisions.com. Why and when did you become so frugal, and how has this trait helped you so far?
Cole--First off, I'll say I have two great parents who understand the importance of exploration and adventure as a childhood experience. They supported my interest in the outdoors and got me some equipment to take full advantage of youth freedom. I was really fortunate that they gave me the agency to discover my interests on my own and realize my privilege here. Eventually, I found that I didn't need much to have fun--just some shoes, a fishing rod, friends, and food in the fridge (purchased by my parents, lucky for this as well). When I became responsible for my own expenses, I knew what I needed and what I didn't, but the extra motivation to reduce purchases because of my dwindling bank account was pretty huge. I would be lying if I didn't mention that my frugality has emerged naturally and by force. 2. TFC-- As you know, millennials lived through the economic downturn in 2007-2008. Many millennials also have higher levels of student loan debt. Have you been saddled with this debt? And if so, how have you handled it? Cole--I didn't feel the effects of the Great Recession that I can remember. I would hear about bailouts, job rates, etc. but wasn't personally affected. I'm sure many people in my generation were affected by this, though, which is a good reminder that a national/world generation comprises so many different people, and generalizing them has its limitations. I do believe student debt is a crisis that needs to be addressed. There is no reasonable explanation for the cost of modern education, which is making something that I believe to be a human right more of a privilege. I also find that though education is supposed to diversify your career opportunities, student debt oftentimes limits your post-grad choices to higher-paying jobs, even if your dream is to work at non-profit solving problems you are passionate about. Some government debt reduction programs address this, but they are insufficient and complex. 3. TFC-- I've read that many millennials, about 25%, live with their parents. In what ways have you frugally handled housing? Cole--Living with Housemates! After three years of roommates in college, I finally had my own room senior year; I vowed never to go back. All I really need for housing is a room to myself. 4. TFC--Cole, I have five millennial children--ages 24 to 38, and they don't want all the stuff I did at their ages. Do you think millennials, on the whole, want to live with less? Why or why not? What has been the result of this desire for less in your life?
Cole--I do think the younger generations want to live with less. People living in vans, getting into relationships later in life, DIYing... I think this has to do with so many things. First, at least for the younger folks from more privileged backgrounds, we haven't been asked to sacrifice much in our lives, giving us a greater sense of freedom to go out and spend money on travel and social events rather than material things. Second is the interconnectedness of everything right now. Consider social media and the influence that it has. We are exposed to diverse and authentic voices now more than ever -- many of which are saying we shouldn't focus on getting a desk job, a husband/wife at 30, house in the suburbs, but rather explore and find your niche before we settle. I support this idea but know plenty of people who see it differently. That's the beauty of it! The final thing, which I think is the most important, is that we realize planetary boundaries, which will eventually prevent us from enjoying constant economic and material growth. Everyone needs to change their lifestyle not to transgress these boundaries, which I think is easier for those younger. It's our future; we're learning about these issues academically, and we're still forming our identity and routine. 5. TFC--On just a few practical questions, what about eating frugally? Having frugal insurance, a frugal transportation mode, frugal entertainment, and a good work/life balance? How are you handling these? Cole--Spending more money on food than I would for other things is a no-brainer. Food provides your body with nutrition. We have one body. One Body!! I want to treat it right because I love what I can do with it. I explore outside, think critically, and more because of my body, and increasing healthy and local foods has done wonders for these actions. Cooking has also connected me more to our environment, which is something I've felt a strong connection to since I can remember. If I didn't cook, then I wouldn't dance in the kitchen, and my life wouldn't be as interesting. Dancing in the kitchen is something everyone should do.
Insurance is also something I don't think anyone should skimp on. I agree that the current healthcare and general insurance industry is exploitative and scary, so being covered is necessary. I don't want to make an honest mistake and pay for it for the rest of my life. 6. TFC-- One of the millennials' great traits is that they have proven to be the most curious generation in the workforce today. They are also heavy on volunteerism. What millennial traits have you noticed in others you find yourself doing in your own life and work? Cole--It's hard for me to generalize traits of specific generations since everyone is different. In my circle of friends and acquaintances, I've noticed curiosity, inclusivity, and an acknowledgment of different perspectives. I still notice selfishness in people, but that characteristic is on the downward trend? 7. TFC-- It is known that millennials generally grew up with constant praise from their Baby Boomer parents. As a parent of that period, we gave way too many trophies to participate in something. Thus, do you think Millenials have a different outlook on life and work because of Boomer parents' upbringing? What are your opinions on this? Cole--I can't accurately say. Again, everyone's different. I've noticed that our generation appreciates the inclusion of different backgrounds and perspectives, as I've mentioned above. This is due to more than just our upbringing, though, I'm sure. 8. TFC--One final thought is because you have experience living at the poverty level, what do you think should be done about the homeless situation in major cities? Cole--Though I've lived at the poverty level briefly, I really don't know what it's like for the majority of Americans in a similar financial situation. I am fortunate to have only to care for myself and have great friends who care about my well-being. With that said, I have felt unreal stress in paying bills and shielding my financial situation from others. It's not something anyone should have to do. On homelessness. It shouldn't be treated as a crime because it isn't illegal, although it often seems to be handled that way. Of course, some people have made poor decisions unnecessarily and wound up homeless; however, for most, a lack of mental healthcare access and capitalism's general traits have influenced their being left behind. If we work hard to give our homeless populations the proper resources, then we'll see their potential as individuals realized.
"But I trust in your mercy. Grant my heart joy in your salvation, I will sing to the LORD, for he has dealt bountifully with me!" Psalm 13:5-6
Martha Wild King, M.Ed., Author
The Frugal Catholic: Learn to live on less to give and save more.