“Millennials. Endless hustle. Harder for our generation?” I scrawl in my notepad. I’m about to chat to three young Kiwibank customers about their attempts to get ahead, and I’m feeling confident.

Sure, they’re fresh out of high school and I, at 31, am what the media callously calls an Old Millennial, but I remember the struggle! I imagine we’ll laugh over some of our shared experiences: long winters in frigid flats, walking for an hour in the rain rather than taking a bus to the party, believing that guy who said you could meet all your nutritional needs by drinking a pint of stout a day.

Then we’ll have a good moan about baby boomers, house prices and the fact a soy flat white now costs $5, and we’ll all be on our way. Easy.

Ollie: the apprentice

“I save about $300 from every pay,” Ollie Dawson tells me. “Is that monthly?” I ask. “Nah, weekly.”

At 19, Ollie is two years into his building apprenticeship, something he pursued because of the money and because he didn’t want a desk job. The Wellingtonian loves building, but he’s already dreaming of the next step – ideally “something where I can make money while I sleep”.

For now, buying a house is his focus, and he’s already well on his way. He lives at home rent-free, hence the epic savings. He’s cautious with his spending: “Don’t get me wrong, I do go out, but not Friday and Saturday every week.”

“I do go out, but not Friday and Saturday every week.”

He hasn’t always been so disciplined. His weakness, charmingly, was shoes. “I used to buy a pair a week. There are 50 pairs in my room right now.”

But he’s now kicked that habit and has his eyes firmly on his goals. “It’s probably just a maturity thing, knowing what I want to have.”

Ashlee: the student

Think millennials are lazy? Meet Ashlee Metcalfe, 19.

Every day, she makes the three-hour round trip (two buses and one train each way) between Wainuiomata and Wellington CBD. She’s a full-time design student at Massey University and works 20 hours a week as a web update coordinator.

“It’s hard balancing my social life with work and uni, but it’ll be worth it in the end,” she says. “It’s just a bit of sacrifice.”

Back in high school, this same work ethic earned Ashlee a coveted First Foundation scholarship. The scholarship, which is awarded to students who have a proven academic record and demonstrate resilience, included work experience and a mentor, as well as money towards tuition fees.

“Times have changed. A lot of my friends still live at home.”

Loving her career is Ashlee’s ultimate goal, but financial security is still important. She saves hard and loves bargain-hunting: “I sign up for loyalty cards, apps and store emails, because sometimes places give out free coffee or two-for-one deals.”

Her friends make fun of her thriftiness, she admits. “Even my dad calls me cheap. He’s like, ‘Just buy it!’”

Speaking of which, “Is it embarrassing living at home?” I ask rudely, remembering my own determination to fly the coop at 17.

“Times have changed,” Ashlee points out. “Parents and grandparents will be like, ‘Back in my day, I had moved out by your age.’ But a lot of my friends from high school still live at home. It’s so much cheaper and more convenient.”

Alma: the creative

“The number you have against your name sort of determines your worth in today’s society,” Alma Proença muses. “It’s bizarre.”

No, she doesn’t mean your bank balance. She means your followers on Instagram, where her number is 22.3k and growing. This is distressing for me, sitting as I am on 212 followers, but there’s no denying social media has played a massive part in Alma’s story.

Three years ago, she started getting inked at Auckland’s Two Hands Tattoo. She and owner Stefan Sinclair followed each other on Instagram, and he eventually offered her a job as shop manager.

“There’s room for improvement, but I’m figuring stuff out all the time.”

Most days after work, the 21-year-old spends a few hours on her side hustle, producing stunning hand-painted ceramics. She initially got interested in ceramics through Instagram; now, followers scramble to buy her new pieces as soon as she posts photos of them.

Her finances, she admits, are “not ideal”, largely due to the $300 a week she pays in rent. She’s proudly debt-free but would like to have more emergency savings.

Still, she adores working at Two Hands and developing her art, and the future looks bright.

“There’s room for improvement, but I’m figuring stuff out all the time.”

The kids are all right

After farewelling Ollie, Ashlee and Alma, I return to my notepad and sadly cross out the words “our generation”. Millennials we may be, but these three (ambitious, hard-working, savvy) bear little resemblance to me (probable life-long renter, overdraft-dweller, social-media imbecile).

There is one consolation, though. On the interview tape, I – audibly shaken – ask Ollie how he got so disciplined. “Could it be because you grew up seeing how hard it was for us, um, slightly older people to buy houses?”

“Oh yeah, one hundred per cent,” he says.

So there. We slacked off so you guys didn’t have to. On behalf of Old Millennials everywhere, you’re welcome.

- By India Lopez

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