The financial pressures of 'adulting' are leaving some millennials in the UAE with such high expectations that they feel like they are already burning out in their twenties.
More than half (55 per cent) of young millennials (with the whole cohort now aged 23-38) expect they will be more financially successful than their parents, according to a US survey – despite the shadow of a world recession.
But 48 per cent of millennials in the survey by The Harris Poll, on behalf of stockbrokers TD Ameritrade, said they were either going to fail that goal or were off to a slow start – leading to them experiencing a 'quarter-life crisis' as a result of financial pressures and expectations. More than 3,000 young Americans were polled for the survey, released in July.
Gaurav Maitreya, 27, who has been working in Dubai for the past four years and is now a copywriter at advertising agency Ogilvy, says the quarter-life crisis happens to a lot of people. "If someone doesn’t have savings or is living pay cheque to pay cheque they could get into big trouble – it’s going to catch you," he says.
He says he got close to a crisis a couple of years ago, when he quit a job he was not happy with and it took three months to find another. "The only reason I was OK was because of my savings," he says. "For someone else who didn’t have savings to fall back on, the choices are limited: stay in a job you hate or take out a loan to cover you then go into debt quickly... It’s a hole you don’t want to get yourself into."
He adds that he indeed wants to be more successful than his parents, but that "success is relative".
"Our goals are different," says Mr Maitreya, who graduated from Indiana University in the US with a double major in political science and communications. "My parents’ goals were to provide for their kids, to live in a villa and send us to the best schools. I don’t mind living a more frugal life, to become financially independent then to do what I choose – to travel a lot and continue my hobbies, like golf, sailing and scuba diving."
He argues that drive to achieve is in-built and generational. "Even baby boomers [born between 1946 and 1964] would have wanted to do better than their parents."
Mr Maitreya, an Indian who moved to Dubai when he was four and who lives with flatmates in Satwa, has saved an impressive $150,000 (Dh551,000) already.
"I started saving the second I got my first pay cheque,” he says, although now he no longer lives at home he can only save about 15 per cent of his salary. He wants to be financially independent within six years, "if things go according to plan".
Meanwhile, Lavanya Malhotra, 24, a Dubai-born Indian who used to write a column for The National on teen life, says her parents are also successful, she says she can expect to earn more "purely because of inflation and because salaries are higher than they were for them in India".
But she says she does have high expectations of herself and feels a "very strong privilege guilt" while she is still living at her parents’ villa in the Springs. "I’m very aware of the fact that I’m living in their house and using their electricity, water and food," she says.
Ms Malhotra, who studied medicine at the University of Cambridge in the UK before shifting to finance, and now works as a marketing associate at KPMG while she finishes her studies, says she knows she’s lucky.
"I’ve grown up in a middle-class family with access to good schools. And it’s not just even if you compare yourself to third-world countries," she says. "Elsewhere, people have high student loans when they graduate. I’m quite privileged, especially growing up in a place like Dubai."
However, her main concern right now is to be independent.
"It’s very important to me to get my own place and fund my lifestyle completely on my own," she says. "I would really like to move out after finishing my degree. But it’s getting so expensive; property prices are ridiculous compared to 10 or 20 years ago, so there is a cost-of-living bottleneck."
Saving 50 per cent of her income towards a rent deposit, Ms Malhotra also says her generation struggles because jobs need more qualifications today and degrees take longer. "In my grandparents’ time, you could be independent at 20," she adds.
According to the TD Ameritrade survey, millennials believe it is embarrassing to receive parental support past the age of 30 – yet a quarter saved nothing at all in a typical month and only 28 per cent were saving for retirement. The average age to buy a first home is 32 in the US, five years older than the age to which those surveyed aspired.
"Even though wage growth has started to improve and the job market is better than it has been in years, what may have been realistic for their parents or even older siblings still may not be now," says Chris Bohlsen, director of investor services at TD Ameritrade.
Steve Cronin, of UAE-based financial community DeadSimpleSaving.com, says that the late twenties and early thirties have "always been a time of change, confusion and introspection" for many, after the "conveyor belt" of school, university and first jobs.
"Trying to outdo your parents, or anyone else, is going to load pressure on you," he warns. The result is "a full-blown crisis – or what feels like one, because you’ve never had a real crisis before."
Vijay Valecha, chief investment officer at Dubai-based broker Century Financial, agrees. "Life is not a race that one must win as soon as possible," he says.
The inability to save is not a problem only among low wage-earners, he adds, but also among the highest paid. "For both, the problem stems primarily from a lack of financial discipline. With credit easily available, people tend to overindulge in expenses and save less."
Stick to living expenses of 60-70 per cent of your income, Mr Valecha advises, and live within your means.
"Vacations might have to be postponed and millennials who are still not aware of harsh financial realities must be educated about money management," he says. "That’s not to say that you shouldn’t enjoy life but spend within your limits and make thoughtful choices about where you want your money to go."
One of the "least exciting but responsible choices" you can make with money is to budget it, he adds. "Budgeting helps you take control of your finances and is essential for long-term financial health. The earlier you learn this in life, the more financially successful you’ll be."
Millennials "do have it tougher" when it comes to earning and buying property, Mr Cronin acknowledges. There are few ‘jobs for life’ remaining, and house prices have risen much faster than average salaries.
Don’t try to develop a plan for life, he cautions, and stop comparing yourself to others. But be prepared for "everything to turn out completely differently".