What Was Life Like For 20-Somethings in the 80s?

I'd be shocked if we ever got to a point where wages were equal to how much it truly costs to live in Canada

Back in the 1980s when neon was life, cabbage patch dolls reigned supreme, and "E.T. phone home" was a necessary catchphrase — life for 20-somethings was pretty gnarly, dude. In fact, let's try to paint a picture of life back in the 80s for those of us who have no idea where to start. Imagine you're a super cute and bubbly 25-year old. You have been married for five years, live and love the DINK life and spend a modest 7.5% of your income on your rent while living in the most popular area of the city that overlooks a beautiful river and a booming downtown.

Your outlook on life is carefree, you love to take road trips on the weekends, and you don't have a clue what you're doing with your money — but at 25-years old you think "what does it matter?"

You see, my mom doesn't have to imagine — because this was her life just 35 short years ago.

*picks up jaw off the floor and reminds self this isn't possible*

oh my god mind blown GIF by Kyle Sauer

Have you ever sat down with your parents and discussed money? Have you ever asked them for advice or wondered what they would do if they were in your financial situation? If not, you probably should.

Before having a lovely chat with my mom about her life around my age, my perspective about generational gaps was pretty misguided. Generally speaking, I knew that the cost of living was a lot lower and that the housing market was much easier to get into. However, I had no idea that we literally experienced the same confusion and lack of education when it came to money. Only now — we can find that information within seconds, whereas our parents actually had to seek guidance from the people in their network.

Wages in the 80s compared to now

When I asked my mom about her salary, wage or working life during her 20s — she joked about how she was likely making more back then than she does now. Within five minutes we both felt sick to our stomachs upon realizing that stagnant wages are real and that some people are still trying to get by making what my 25-year old mom was making over 35 years ago.

At her first job, my mom made $15/hr (the current minimum wage in Canada) — and at her first career she was bringing in around $1700/month. My first job working in the food-service industry was $9/hour — and my first career I was bringing in $2900/month. Although it certainly looks like an increase, salary wise — that $1200 bump doesn't amount to much when you consider how much it costs to live in Calgary, AB back in 1980 and how much it costs to live in Calgary, AB in 2015.

Armine Yalnizyan

Cost of living: then & now

According to a simple Alberta Inflation Calculator, something that cost $100 in 1980 would cost $303 in 2015. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) which calculates how much individuals pay for basically, like, everything from food to clothing was also a shock. You see, in 1980 the annual CPI was 44.1% — and in 2015 it was 133.7%. So, unless my salary in 2015 was increased by 90% compared to my mom's salary in the 80s — it's basically — how do I put this nicely? THE MOST DEPRESSING THING I'VE EVER WRITTEN ON MY BLOG. Tbh, I'm still not making over $5000 a month in 2018, and I'd be shocked if we ever got to a point where wages were equal to how much it truly costs to live in Canada.

In the 80s, my mom and dad paid $250/month to rent a duplex on Memorial Drive across from downtown Calgary. Which, for those of you who don't know much about my city is basically the most beautiful community ever. For example — check out this apartment for sale and be equally as confused as I am on a daily basis about the current real estate market. In 2015, my husband and I were paying $1400/month to rent a townhouse in a less desirable but equally as adorable neighbourhood in Calgary. A few years later (still in the 80s), my parents bought their first home for $68,000. I'll be lucky to buy my first home for anything under $500,000.

Facing the same challenges 35 years later

Although the differences in money are significantly different from one decade to another decade, some things still ring true. In the 1980s, my mom and dad had received little to no education about how to invest their money or how to save for retirement. While they did have pensions through work, had opened an RRSP, and invested in one company — they still ended up spending more than they saved. My mom's one regret during our conversation was that they didn't start saving for retirement sooner — making their later years in life more challenging and more restricting as far as income goes.

On the flip side, however. The one thing that my mom did not regret was choosing to stay at home and raise her children. Although she had to leave one of her most promising careers and then switch jobs several more times throughout her life — she felt that those days with her kids were memories and moments she could never get back if she were working full time. When I asked her whether or not she thought females taking years away from their career could be a detriment to their future working life, she agreed that it makes things much more difficult.

The ongoing battle for many females to decide whether you want to own your career or raise a family is still something to debate. However, the three months of maternity leave my mom was offered did not quite compete with our 12 or 18-month options (unless you have your own business). 

An eye-opening conversation for both generations

Both of my parents are baby boomers — so, you can imagine the fun we have debating life now versus life then and also (of course) who did it better. However, conversations just like the one my mom and I decided to tackle regarding finances are what helps us to understand one another on a different level. Without reflection on what our lives used to be and comparison based on our lives now, we'll never really respect one another's challenges or successes as human beings.

So for those of you who have yet to approach your boomer folks or your millennial bots — maybe it's time you did.

What was your first wage or your first salary? Let me know in the comments! 

***don't forget to check out my interview with my mom. and also be nice because she is the most sweetest angel buttercup in the world and I love her***