When I left college, I was so depressed. I was depressed that I was working two jobs and I was still barely getting anywhere thanks to San Francisco’s astronomical cost of living.
I told my boyfriend at the time:
“My 22nd birthday just passed and I’ve decided it’s not cute to be broke anymore.”
“Haha well dear, that’s good…but you’re still young.”
“No. Young is like…teen, 16 or 19 with the word ‘teen‘ in it.”
“Noooooo silly. –Chuckles– Hmm, I think it’s 28 if you have to put a number on it. By then, life should be in order.”
(Just to clarify there’s no golden rule in personal finance. Although generally speaking, let’s face it, social stigmas work differently. There’s an undertone that seeps through when life and finances go differently than people expect it to go.)
So What do I mean by broke?
Inappropriately broke to me means being 2 months late on a car payment but still going out to Chevy’s for their taquito plate with jalapeño jelly dipping sauce. The other obvious one is carrying an auspicious amount of debt and not having the income potential to reduce it (or even a desire to pay it back.) Broke means having to live with mom and dad until they’re old and gray. Being broke means a lack of career stability as well as a lack of monetary savings. Broke means a cost of living that is higher than income. Being broke is not fun and never encouraged but there are times in life when it is more acceptable to be broke.
There is no shame in being broke when you’re young. For the first 18 years, there are hard legal sanctions that prevent you from working full-time. There are also legal sanctions that believe you must be attending school not building wealth. You’re supposed to be broke.
It is a cause for celebration if you’re one of those rare teenagers who somehow started a successful business in your parent’s garage. But that’s rare. No one expects a regular teenager to have any money. If you are a teenage heir and came from a family with money – that’s probably less accepting because, at 18, you’re supposed to be broke.
Cute to Broke factor: Naturally Cute.
These days this is the prime time for being cute and broke. There are loads of movies and sitcoms about it. Our culture glorifies it because this is the big era of self-discovery. Having nothing means there not much to lose so risking it all is seen as ‘cool.’
Being broke in your 20s is the norm.
I’ve seen a 20-something-year-olds joke about lagging behind on Sallie Mae etc. We’ve all seen those memes right? We have heard those commentaries about the struggles of youth and being penniless. That’s how (how I feel as a 20-something) we fit in, build camaraderie and feel accepted with our pals.
Splitting a cheap appetizer at happy hour makes a broke brotherhood/sisterhood official.
Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) you can stay on your parent’s health care plan until you’re 26. The age jump uses to be for those under 19 years of age but it left a lot of young people scrambling for health care so the range was extended. If our bipartisan government can pass that part and agree to it then it definitely seems socially acceptable to be broke and to be supported by mom and dad.
Cute to Broke factor: Socially Cute.
The early 30s
The big 3-0 is a doozy of a number. I’m not 30 yet but Hubby is getting close to that threshold. He has been gainfully employed for 7 years and reason enough anywhere from 5 to 7 years should be enough time to learn the basics of personal finance and have established a 3-month emergency fund.
Between the late 20s to the early the 30s, you see an influx of intentional sexual conduct. That’s very different from >18. Now everyone expects you to be getting it on, buying a house and starting a family. I imagine when I cross that 30 line my mother will be wearing a catcher’s baseball mitt for all the rounds of babies I should be firing out.
The moment you hit 3-0 things change. It’s not Earth shattering but more of a silent psychological shift. Oh but you can’t cry because you’re way past that age to really cry about it (according to my husband who has dreaded the 3-0.)
Most Americans are not expecting debt free in the early 30s but there is an expectation that finances should be manageable. Some debt is normal – but it’s under control and being paid back. Now sharing appetizers at happy hour becomes more of a responsible/frugal behavior rather than a desperate plug for a bite of food on the cheap.
Your overall net worth should be in the positive and assets building rapidly enough.
Cute to Broke factor: Not Cute.
The Late 30s
No one advertises their financial failures past the mid-30s point. It’s just not done. Social expectations dominate. It’s not funny anymore. If you’re in your 30s and still broke, behaving like a financial moron, it might be time to stop.
The good news is that the late 30s still gives enough time for those with diligence to catch up and be just fine. If you have 30 years to rock it, it’ll be easy enough to be just fine even if all your 20s were spent in graduate school, napping, or traveling the world.
Cute to Broke factor: Not cute.
This is the last train out of broke-ville ladies and gentleman. There’s no cute left, cute has been beaten and dead for half a decade now. The worst thing is that health-wise, more problems start surfacing around this time but it will be a while until Medicare/Medicaid kicks in. Being 40+ and having no savings (retirement or otherwise) is not ideal.
Cute to Broke factor: Very Not cute.
Chances are when you first read the post topic (posed as a question) you already mentally answer it. My answer is it really depends. A lot of successes can come later in life especially if you spent a lifetime building it.
We all move at our own pace but I don’t want to give a cop-out answer…
As a younger millennial who (most of the time) live on this planet, I think the time it stops being cute to be broke is in your early 30s. The humor and relatability about having $37.50 in your savings account stop as you roll further into your 30s. Graduate school can tack on another 2-3 years (and PhDs about 5 years) after undergrad but traditional students should be out of school by age 30. By the time the 30s rolls around, any student loans left should be in good standing and retirement plans should be fat and happy. Your 20s and 30s should have allotted ample time to cover your tail before the 40s hit.
As this is more of a social observance than a personal finance one, I’ve made a poll so everyone can give an answer. It takes 2 seconds and I just wanted to know what you guys think and why?
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Budget on a Stick says
Haha I’ve never heard of being broke as cute.
There is no time like the present to get your finances in order. It just is further proof that having lots of debt isn’t just socially acceptable but expected.
There are lots of things people can do to get out/stay out of debt no matter their age. Just takes a good head on their shoulders.
Wish we had better heads when we were younger and I’m 30.
30 is young! Do you think you’re old BoaS?!
Budget on a Stick says
When I throw out my back lifting my son or get heartburn from my special taco seasoning….yes ?
Mrs. Picky Pincher says
Oooh, this is a toughie. I don’t think it’s ever “cute” to be broke; I think we all need to be getting our butts into high gear, no matter our age. But yeah, when you’re just out of college and starting out, it’s natural that you’re gonna be eating off the dollar menu for a while. 😛 I never like the “help me I’m poor” games people played in college and right after college.
Ouuuuu I hate that too! I get guests like that on AirBnB who ask for discounts and honestly…renting out to college kids…they don’t have the best non-party throwing reputation.
Working Optional says
I arrived here in my mid-late twenties, and was broke but never cute 🙂
Yes America doesn’t save enough, but it seems that mindset is beginning to change somewhat with 20-something-year olds. They are getting responsible sooner. But I’d agree with BOAS and Mrs PP – never cute to be broke.
Lol I’m so surprised this is the winning answer. I was so broke at 22 I was downright adorable!
Ms. Frugal Asian Finance says
Interesting article on cuteness and brokeness (is it even a word?)! I was super broke up until I started working my FT time. Things were tough back then, and some people did also joke about being broke like me. I think deep down everyone was hoping to get rich one day but had to make light of the situation to be optimistic.
But I don’t want to be broke no matter how old I am. >_<
I was wondering if brokeness was a word too. Darn confusing English. Making light of the situation is a good point – maybe it’s never cute and we’re all just masking.
Being broke stopped being cute for me at age 8 – I got focused, kept a journal tracking my balance, and started some serious saving 🙂
Talk about early! I was thinking about the next snack break.
The One In Debt says
I am so past cute it hurts. And as much as I’d like to think I am pounding down my debt, sh*t keeps happening that I am not prepared for. I will admit I am getting better at preparing. Maybe I will throw in the towel and live in a van to get rid of this stuff. LOL. My child would Love that… Not.
Life happen at the worst times! I’m not against the van idea hehe. If Airbnb becomes outlawed, I’m selling my house and getting myself a van/RV. My husband isn’t on board but I’ll sell him with the house hahaha.
“Now sharing appetizers at happy hour becomes more of a responsible/frugal behavior rather than a desperate plug for a bite of food on the cheap.” SO TRUE. I felt I shouldn’t be broke when I was out of college…but I was broke. Though I guess I was “broke”, the idea of not being financially responsible pretty much went out the door the day I graduated college! That’s why I was hustlin~~
I was broke when I got out of school. If I had higher student debt I would have been broke until I was in my late 20s. Cut a millennial some slack haha ?
Jane @ Cash Fasting says
I think you’ve outlined the perfect timeline for broke cuteness, haha. Personally, I think social cuteness only last for a couple years after one finishes their education/starts working. That obviously depends on a person’s situation, and I know I’m biased because I care so much about my finances >.<
To your point though, I have friends who legit think it's "cute to be broke". They buy luxury goods and pay minimum amounts on credit card and student loan bills. It's so painful to watch! (I think anyone who carries a balance on a card that accrues interest is automatically broke).
This was a super fun post to read 🙂
“I think anyone who carries a balance on a card that accrues interest is automatically broke”
AHH that’s so true! I should add that as criteria!!
Dave @ Married with Money says
Late 20’s (poll didn’t work for me at work, so I’ll try when I get home) gets my vote. There’s a lot that can change in your life in your early 20’s, but hopefully by your late 20’s you at least know what you want to do(ish) in your life and have taken some good steps to set yourself up for a good future. I think people who continue to have bad habits and keep up with the joneses in their 30’s are shooting themselves in the foot. That’s not very cute.
Your answer remind me a lot of Mr. Executive’s because he threw out 28 so quick. I wonder if he thought about the same thing by himself. I think by the late 20s the ‘financial light switch’ should definitely be on.
Sorry about the poll, idk why it’s not working. There’s no options to format it wahh.
Brad - MaximizeYourMoney.com says
The voting poll isn’t working for me, but I’d vote “never cute”. I think even at a young age this should be a serious consideration. Your money beliefs, habits, actions, etc are developed all through life. Being sloppy young is going to make “straightening out” harder later in life. Better to avoid the situation – at least thinking it’s “cute” – right from the start.
That’s an excellent point Brad! Habits are hard to break. And I don’t know why the poll isn’t working 🙁 I need tech support ?
I am being bias but it stops being cute when you hit your early 30s because that was when I really took my finances and life more seriously. For most people at that age you have to know that responsibilities grow and is expected. Buying a house, getting married and having kids like you mention becomes events you have to seriously look into. No one says it but its just a mental thing that their’s no fooling around anymore and it’s not cute.
I totally agree! I still vote early 30s because that’s when even bigger responsibilities start coming at ya from left and right.
Ms. Raggedly Rich says
When I was in high school I already had a couple thousand saved up in my bank account – but I do realize that’s because my parents were really good with providing me with homemade food / packed lunches, school supplies, and clothes. I didn’t spend it back then and I still don’t really…
I voted Early 20s, and I see broke the same way you do – unaffordable ‘bad’ debt, and a cultivated / maintained ignorance towards personal finance. My ex’s friends weren’t all exactly broke, but they were struggling, and that wasn’t at all cute.
Danggg ballin’ in highschool Ms. RR. I’m so surprised that a lot of the answers were 20s. I just thought with the amount of humor it would be more OK to be broke. This is super interesting!
The Luxe Strategist says
Legit question: I once went on a date with someone who was 34 and didn’t have a PayPal account. Thoughts on whether or not that was cute?
Cute! Unconventional but cute because PayPal can be a jerk sometimes.
Dylan | Trail to FI says
It’s interesting that you put this way. I hadn’t really realized it until you said it, but our culture romanticizes being broke. It’s like a rite of passage – everyone is broke when they’re young, but then the expectation is that you start making money and pull yourself together. I think from the traditional retirement viewpoint (majority of the population), being broke is considered ok into 30’s. The more financially knowledgeable might consider it more appropriate to get it figured out before then.
I couldn’t wrap my head around the “I’m broke” jokes but I don’t see any 30 year olds joking about brokeness. I assume that’s when it stops being cute but the poll shows late 20s as leading haha.
To anyone without access to my brokerage statements, I appear to be very broke (I’m 30, and the only gal in my office without an expensive handbag.) It’s kind of on purpose. I don’t care what others think, because I know they don’t share my values.
Being broke- as in not having money- doesn’t make you a lesser person, or any less cute at any age. Life isn’t a race, and lots of us have had setbacks and false starts. I went through a career change at 25 and started over from nothing. What truly matters is your attitude.
Oh, it does irk me when people are proud of being irresponsible, and expecting others to bail them out. We should always be making the most of whatever we’ve got, at any age. Willful ignorance and refusal to take responsibility for your life is never cute!!
I LOVE your answer Meow! No being broke doesn’t make you a lesser person. I was merely curious on what the social parameters were for when it stops being “acceptable” or “cute.”
My friends and I when we were working we were the only 2 out of 12 rotating ladies without a fancy LV/Coach handbag. We definitely did it on purpose. I’m not spending my hard earn money on handbags. I want food!!!
Kim | Thinking of Someday says
I would have to say early 30’s if not late 20’s. It seems to be acceptable in your early 20’s because you’re either in college or finishing up. And more than likely still trying to figure out life. However, by the time 30 rolls around it’s expected that you have your life together or you’re at least really really working on it.
You are right on Kim, the poll is leading late 20s and early 30s.
If you read PF blogs and you’re in your 30s, it’s not cute. I think there are too many people who are broke but they don’t do anything about it and don’t know what a PF blog is. They’re more focused on sports, TV shows, the President, etc…
Ohhhhhh yes! It’s crazy how people get about sports – I seriously don’t get it. The president thing is so overblown too. Excellent observation Darren.
Our culture does romanticize cute. I think about all those Sophie Kinsella “Shopaholic” books–broke 20-year-olds spending all their money on cute purses and none on saving. Or the young guys in Atlanta who we’d call $40k millionaires. They made an entry-level income and blew all their money on clubbing and fancy cars. But broke. I say get your act together by your late 20s, unless you have a valid reason (like starting over or getting a divorce). Wish I had been like some bloggers and started saving at 22, but I was too busy living it up in South America.
Lol Laurie!!! I haven’t heard of the $40K millionaires, that’s totally silly!
Ember @ An Intentional Lifestyle says
I agree with quite a few other people. I don’t think it’s cute to be broke ever. I think it’s acceptable to be broke if you’re in college and working to pay for it. We were definitely broke in college. But we paid our bills and survived. But as soon as we were out and making a normal income, we kicked our debt’s butt and are now working to pay off our mortgage and we’re 28.
I do agree with you though, that society does make it okay to be broke and bum off your parents for way too long. But let’s be honest. That’s the parent’s fault for letting the kids do it. They need to set boundaries and enforce them or the kids will never figure it out.
This is a great topic! Not something talked about super often!
Oooh ’em fighting words! I didn’t even consider the parents in this equation, very true!
Chris @ Duke of Dollars says
I find it really challenging as a millennial to connect with others who truly don’t get it. Personal finance is such a touchy subject, so I of course always try to steer them to read about it or create a budget. It makes me sad to see someone spending more time on Netflix than on their own future.
I’m with you on the “it depends” opinion. Why? Well everyone has different situations, and even if you are trying to change it – things get tough. I’d like to think optimistically and believe in the upcoming generations to “figure it out” in their mid-twenties. By figure it out – I mean realize that in 5-10 years they will need to be responsible adults caring for others (if they have children), and starting to prepare for retirement. Once they realize that Friday / Saturday night 100+ bar tabs or shopping sprees don’t make sense when you don’t have the extra money to spend, then I think people do change that mindset. By all means for those who have the extra money, spend it how you choose. I’m just a firm believer in putting the responsibilities of your future first, then do what you want with your money – as you’re the one earning it :).
Great post to get my mind going, Lily!
Thanks Chris ? I am sooooooooooo surprised “early 30s” is not the leading poll answer. I thought I was going to get flap for my answer but it turns out people think it should be earlier.
I think it’s late 20’s and early 30’s. When you’re dating, looking for a potential life partner, and someone is broke, that’s not cute. Nor is it attractive lol. That dog picture is CUTE though! I love french bulldogs!
PS the 30’s are AWESOME. I was super anxious about turning 30 but so far, the 30’s have been the best. I’m sure a lot of people say that, but it’s true! You really know who you are and what you want out of life.
Oh man..I was editing old posts because of the traffic surge on the blog and missed a bunch of comments. I totally disagree, I have no idea what I’m doing haha.
When I was a teen, the goal was to be self-sufficient by 18. My children all lived with us until their middle 20’s. We covered their health care until they married or were able to get it at work. My question is, “If you live at home until you are 30, will your children ever move out?” It’s just something to think about. One hundred years ago, it was not uncommon for three generations to live together. The aging parents lived with their children until they died. Grandparents helped with the care of small children and grown children helped with the care of aging grandparents. They each had their own private spaces, but they were connected.
That’s so thoughtful Pamela. Our culture totally does dominate this question!
Joe @ Retire by 40 says
I think being broke stops being cute at 22. At that point, you should be making some income and be responsible with money.
Unless you’re pursuing art, acting, singing, or some other career that doesn’t make money, then it’s okay being broke until your early 30s. It depends on your chosen field.
Am I too harsh? Being broke sucks.
Savvy History says
I love this post and your internal flexibility about the answer. I appreciate how you included a survey at the end for us all to all weigh in on. I agree with the result in the fact that when I was in my early 20s as a musician, people around me would talk about being down to their last $5 or something like it was…..cute! Or something! I don’t know what they wanted my response to be. Anyhow, when we all hit our later 20s, it didn’t sound good anymore for those who were chatting like that. Their laughter at the issue seemed forced. I could tell they were genuinely nervous and it was impacting their confidence.
LOL. Great question! I think it stopped being cute for me by my mid 20s. Being clueless about my finances and having nothing to show for the 40 hours of work I was putting in per week was NOT a good look.
Hickson Smythe says
It is quite clear that not ever is it “cute” to have sparse monetary resources, my friend. What is being said with such a statement is that it is acceptable for a working person to be in receipt of such paltry reserves that they are severely limited in existence opportunities!
It is the duty of a healthful (as opposed to a sickly) society to provide those means which will offer a stable existence. It is commonly called “universal basic income”. Any society which fails in this, breaks its ABSOLUTE moral duty to its personage, and therefore can not be thought of as healthful.
Ex scientia victoria!