I’m not the target demographic for HBO’s “Insecure” series, but I watch to stay up on millennial trials and tribulations.
The comedy/drama has been a hit with young adults for its spot-on depictions of their struggles to succeed in relationships and careers. The most recent episode tackled how to deal with being broke.
The lead character, Issa (played by show creator Issa Rae), is 30 years old and living in California. She's pushed out of her apartment by rising rent and forced to crash on the couch of an ex, Daniel (Y'lan Noel).
In the real world, affordable housing in major metropolitan areas is a significant issue for young adults. The listing service RentCafe recently looked at the rent that millennials paid — adjusted to 2017 dollars — from the time they turned 22 until the age of 30. During this eight-year period, they spent a total of $92,600 in rent, taking up a whopping 45 percent of their income.
Many experts recommend limiting your housing costs to no more than 30 percent of your gross income. But 20.8 million renters in 2016 were paying more than that, which creates a "cost burden," according to Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies.
Eleven million renters paid more than half of their income on housing, according to the center. When you’re spending such a high percentage of your earnings on housing, it doesn’t leave much room for essentials. And most important, it hinders your ability to save.
Using Issa’s housing dilemma, “Insecure” has good money lessons for millennials.
Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help: Issa tucked her pride in her purse and moved in with her ex. It’s by no means an ideal situation — with him dating other women and all.
Without preaching, the show's writers also illustrate how Issa really should be staying elsewhere. But she's bad at making good choices.
A previous stay and minor controversy over a broken vase stands in the way of Issa agreeing to live with her wealthier single best friend. She's got a brother with a spare room. However, she didn't like his house rules. And at least her ex isn't charging her rent.
Generate multiple streams of income: In addition to working full time for a nonprofit education organization, Issa joins the gig economy by driving for Lyft. Drivers for this ride-hailing company have average earnings — before expenses — of about $17.37 per hour, according to a survey by the Rideshare Guy blog.
Get help from the right people: Issa again humbles herself and gets financial advice from her friend Kelli (Natasha Rothwell), who is an accountant.
On Kelli's computer screen, we see Issa's credit score. It's 425.
Issa: “My credit score can’t be that bad.”
Kelli: “Bad would be a step up. The basic credit tiers are excellent, good, poor, bad — this is Issa. It’s all the way at the bottom.”
Kelli tells Issa that there is no way to get around the credit issue and qualify for an apartment unless she puts down three or four months' rent "if she's been saving," or get a co-signer for the lease.
"Not me," Kelli quickly says before Issa can even ask. Here again, good advice. Never co-sign for anybody!
Issa says she’s doing everything she can to improve her financial situation, singing: “I’ve been savin'. I’ve been savin'.”
Let's go to her bank statement.
"Oh, girl," Kelli says disapprovingly.
Issa has most definitely not been saving enough. And she’s still eating out a lot.
"Lids?" Kelli asked, referring to a specialty headwear store.
“I like my caps fitted,” Issa says. Interesting, because we rarely see the character in any hats.
“Look, long term, I can set you up with a credit counselor here, and I can help you plan out a budget,” Kelli says. “But right now, you don’t have enough money to move out on your own.”
Live your financial truth: Issa finally gets it. Save or live on some dude’s sofa indefinitely.
I loved the scene of Issa having lunch with her co-workers at a health food restaurant. As her colleagues begin to eat their ordered meals, she pulls out a paper bag with a homemade sandwich and two granola bars. No one says anything about it.
The writers are right on the money: Don't be delusional about your finances when your credit is jacked up. Be open to a brutally honest reality check. Spending on nonessentials is not saving.
It’s okay to be insecure about your finances, but you have to make sure you do something about them.