Here’s Why You’re Broke: A Sense of Entitlement

Here's Why You're Broke - picture of piggy bank on its side with a few pennies spilled out

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Growing up in “Middle America,” my parents were able to provide our family with a really nice life. Like their parents before them, my mom and dad worked hard to provide things for us that they never had.

And so goes the “American Dream” – building off of the success of previous generations to create a wealthier lifestyle for our own families. An unfortunate byproduct of achieving the dream is that it tends to create a sense of entitlement among us.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that millennials are better educated than their parents’ generation. The percentage of bachelor’s degrees held by those age 18-34 has increased to about 23% from just over 15% in 1980. Housing statistic also show a (mostly) steady increase in owner occupied residences dating back to the 1940’s. (Blast you Great Recession!) So, the dream appears to be continuing.

However, the statistics also show a downside. When adjusted for inflation, 18-34 year olds are now earning about $2,000 less than they were in 1980. So, while we’ve increased our standard of living, our children are now earning less while accumulating more debt. If this cycle continues, aren’t we just setting our children up for failure?

What is a Sense of Entitlement?

Merriam-Webster defines entitlement as: 1) the condition of having a right to have, do, or get something, or 2) the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges). Clearly, having a sense of entitlement isn’t always a bad thing. For instance, you have the right to your own religious beliefs. You are entitled to your own opinions. (Haters gonna hate.) Most of all, having a healthy dose of self-confidence and expecting success can get you far in this world.

Of course, there are times when feeling entitled can be a hindrance. Having a sense of entitlement gets you into trouble when you start expecting things to be given to you when you haven’t earned them. This is especially true when it comes to finances. Feelings of entitlement may be costing you big bucks if you:

  • Constantly spend money on wants but can’t manage to save an emergency fund.
  • Feel the need to keep up with the Joneses, even if that means going into debt.
  • Expect others to meet your unrealistic demands of them.
  • Resort to pouting or punishing others when you don’t get your way.
  • Expect a job should be given to you simply because you have a degree.
  • Expect a higher salary based on tenure instead of merit.
  • Expect the government to take care of you…even your cable and internet. (Yep. I’ve actually seen people say this on Facebook.)

Getting Beyond a Sense of Entitlement

Look, we all feel entitled to a certain extent. But, if you want to grow rich, you have to find ways to make sure that you don’t allow your sense of entitlement to derail your goals. Here are a few ways you can get beyond your entitlement issues:

  • Lower your expectations. – We all want to jump right into the job market and make bank, but that probably isn’t going to happen. Employers are looking for education as well as experience. Your shiny new degree may pay well, but only after you have proven that you are an asset. Until then, take a job – any job – to gain experience…andvput some coin in your pocket.
  • Have patience. – Your parents, friends and relatives didn’t get where they are over night. It took years for them to build the life that you are accustomed to living. You probably can’t have it all right away. It may take a while, but it will come if you work for it.
  • Seize opportunities. – Although it takes patience to build your wealth, that doesn’t mean that you should wait for good things to happen. Seize opportunities and capitalize on career and wealth building opportunities when they present themselves. Make thoughtful, decisive decisions…and don’t look back.
  • Learn to say “no.” – I know you love your space, but you may have to settle for that queen size bed instead of buying a California king. Part of growing wealth and maturing into an adult is learning how to tell ourselves “no.” Differentiate between needs and wants. Wealthy people know this and practice it often.
  • Take responsibility. – Always remember that nobody owes you anything. It is your life. You know what you want. Now go earn it.

Dealing with a sense of entitlement can be tough. But if you lower your expectations and watch your spending, your hard work will get you exactly where you want to go. All it takes is a little planning and a lot of patience.

Do you know somebody dealing with entitlement issues? What are you teaching your kids about entitlement? Let us know in the comments below!

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  1. Patience seems to be the big one with the younger crowd. I see it with my daughter’s friends (and sometimes my daughter), they expect to be able to walk into a well paying position when they finish uni, they expect to be able to buy the house/car/wardrobe, etc. of their dreams – immediately. I guess we’re to blame for that, to a certain extent, for shielding them from the realities of life while not shielding them from the advertisers’ fantasies.

    Every generation has it’s challenge… Debt and widespread bankruptcy might be the next one.

    1. I agree. Debt is going to be a gigantic problem for years to come.

  2. We should know how to differentiate between the needs and wants. Before, I easily bought things which I don’t really need without even thinking that I only wasted money on it.

  3. I really took notice of the whole “entitlement” thing during the whole housing market boom (pre Great Recession) when a lot of my college buddies and I were buying our first homes. They were getting themselves into these over-sized +$300K McMansions because “they wanted something just as nice or better” than what their parents were living in now. That was a stupid premise to use because they ignored the fact their parents had worked for 30 years and upgraded houses 2-3 times to get to the point they are now.

    1. Totally. I think that we are going to continue experiencing that in the years to come. I know a lot of really intelligent folks who are my age and younger. I also know a lot of people who are very entitled.

  4. Technology is a great factor in this as well. The youth now is so used to fast technology that they relate this in most of what they do. Everything must be instant and fast!

    1. Excellent point! Everything moves at such a high speed that instant gratification is expected in everything we do.

  5. These concerns are real. I am especially concerned about the huge debt load that many millennials are forced to bear just to get an education. It gives us extra incentive to save for our daughter’s college education. But will she then feel entitled? I just picked up a book called The Opposite of Spoiled that I am looking forward to reading, and it is supposed to address this. We are definitely concerned that if we provide too generously she might grow up with a sense of entitlement. Perhaps we all have it to some extent in this country- but I have seen some pretty unflattering attitudes in some young people I know, and we would like to avoid that in our daughter.

    1. Us too. We would really like to avoid that in our own kids. However, we also want them to get great, enlightening experiences. I guess it is a balance.
      Let me know how that book is. I may have to check it out.

  6. While I agree that sense of entitlement is rarely a good thing, I find that the numbers on millennial earnings and job stats are largely disheartening, not necessarily because of millennials though and that “entitlement” (which I won’t deny), but because of the implications of the recession and the job market on that generation.

    1. Oh absolutely. The job market sucks right now, which has nothing to do with entitlement. I talked with some friends a few weeks ago, and I can’t believe what a different market it is from even 10 years ago. Frankly, people would be crazy not to hire my friends…but the jobs just aren’t there.

      I do think searching for a job has become a lost art, though – not in this persons case but in general. It takes more effort than some are willing to give.

    1. Ha! Totally. Haven’t thought of that sketch in a loooong time.

  7. I totally had a sense of entitlement in my 20s. I had a high paying job and I always said that I worked hard, so I “deserved” more. I hate that the old me thought that deserving more meant more stuff instead of financial freedom.

    1. Oh gosh. Me too. This comes from somebody who has totally walked the sense of entitlement walk. It is amazing what a few years and becoming a parent can do for that.

  8. Good point on patience. Like Dave Ramsey says, people spend the first few years on their marriage trying to reach the standard of living that their parents have, but it took them 30 years.

    1. So true. As young adults, I think we forget that sometimes.

  9. With technology, more and more times, we want things now and don\’t want to wait. In some cases, this is good, but in others, like our finances, this is bad. It gets us into trouble by overspending and it stops us from building a nest egg because if the stock market drops, it\’s considered \”rigged\” and we sell out.

  10. You see it so often on TV that young people today couldn’t possible live in a house without granite counters and hardwood floors, or that has brass light fixtures. And they expect to have two new cars in the garage, a closet full of high end clothing and a great vacation every year. They aren’t willing to even live without that for even a couple of years in order to save up for it. My parents bought one house in their lifetime . Each year they saved up for one home improvement project which was paid for with cash. Now kids buy the house with little down payment and then must borrow more money for a whole house renovation (if they had the cash they should have used that for more of a down payment).

    1. Very true. I feel like the crotchety old man next door…”Back in my day…” However, I don’t think that we have done a good job financially educating Gen X and Y’ers. It is my hope that the spend now, pay for it later isn’t passed down to my children’s generation.

  11. I had a bit of sense of entitlement when I lost my job (but had years of experience) so I thought freelance work would just come to me in droves. I could not be more wrong. I had/have to hustle for it constantly…CONSTANTLY. In reading Jack Canfield’s book on success right now, his first chapter is about owning your life 100%…whether good things or bad things happen to you…unless you start owing it, you will always expect someone else to fix things or make them better for you.

  12. CharlesMakesCents says:

    Hi, Greg–

    I think you’re spot on with the issue that an undue sense of entitlement is having a negative impact on American culture. I’m bullish on the US in general in the long term, but I definitely see us going through a period of “birthing pains” as we transition from a largely labor-based economy into one based on ideas and automation.

    I work in local government and bought a small, 3-bed, 1-bath house (listed as a 2-bed because one of the rooms lacks a closet, but it’s functionally got 3 beds). It cost $350,000, because that’s what small houses cost in my area.

    I can’t tell you how many folks at work say it’s a nice ‘starter house’, and that it’s nice we got it now before we ‘upgrade.’ The house is 1,400 square feet for a family of two (soon to be three), and it cost nearly a third of a million dollars. Could we swing a larger house, if we wanted to explode our debt-to-income ratio? Absolutely. But I don’t make enough money to rationally afford that bigger house, and so I won’t buy it–I am NOT entitled to a large house in the hills because I want it. I’m entitled to the things I pay for and the things I earn, and I’m not going to get myself convinced that I “deserve” something bigger because someone else can afford it.

    Of course, that’s why we were able to save 60%+ of our income when we were both working, and why Marie will be able to be a stay-at-home mom once our child is born.

    Keep on saving,

    1. 60%! Well done Charles! And now you guys can afford to have her stay at home because you were able to save…LOVE IT!!!

      Oh…and this. “I am NOT entitled to a large house in the hills because I want it. I’m entitled to the things I pay for and the things I earn…”

      Yes. Just, yes.

  13. I certainly went through an entitlement phase, didn’t have much to show for it other than debt. We are trying to teach out children its okay to say no and if you want something save for it. So far so good. Our youngest wants to buy a new gaming system, so this weekend we listed a bunch of his old stuff on e-bay to earn the money o do so.

    1. Awesome! Sounds like what you are teaching is sticking.

  14. I’m in my early 30’s and everyone around me has a sense of entitlement. They want the big house and fancy cars as soon as they graduate. They don’t want to save, they’d rather take an 8 year car loan so they can driver their Benz now.

    1. And they will continue to have to work until they are 75 to pay off all of the stuff they financed for the last 50 years…

  15. I think society in general could use a big dose of personal responsibility. We make terrible decisions and live like there’s no tomorrow, then want someone to bail us out when we end up old and broke. I don’t want to rely on anyone besides myself!

  16. You make some great points, but even still it can be difficult to put some of these things into practice sometimes. I am impatient, but I’m working on it, haha.

    1. We all fall down every now and again. The key is to get back up, know where you are going, and bust your butt to get there.

  17. Drop the sense of entitlement and you’ll be better off in the long run.

  18. Entitlement has become a huge issue these days and it honestly scares me a bit. What I see is so many parents who believe that in order to be a good parent that they must also say “yes” to their kids. Kid expect to get everything they want and throw a tantrum when they don’t. They think they are setting their kids up for success but they are actually doing the opposite.

    1. Absolutely. My hope is our children see what we have, see how hard we work, and want to go out and earn their own way as well. We say “no” a lot to the kids…so much so that they are stoked to get a piece of gum 🙂

  19. I never really thought of “deserving” of whatever, l always just wanted it, and would just get it. It took a long time to wean myself off that, especially because pretty much everything ended up at Goodwill yearly. Older and wiser..

  20. Entitlement is well-known problem for most generations. But I think it’s especially virulent nowadays. Why? There’s so much you can buy — stuff that is constantly evolving. So you never have the best for long.

    The best you can do is remind yourself that as long as it functions, you don’t need a new one. And/or that you may not need the technology at all.

  21. I can’t stand the sense of entitlement this entire generation has, it drives me crazy!!

  22. Great post, Greg! If I can be nitpicky, while 18-34 year olds are making less on an inflation basis, part of the reason we have a higher standard of living is because of technology. Technology has made things like air conditioners, TVs, etc. MUCH more affordable. It’s a big reason why I’m a fan of free market economics and public policy because technological advancement lifts up the standard of living for everyone.

    So that was off-topic, but yes, everyone feels entitled to an awesome life. I think social media has really made this a HUGE issue for millennials. Everyone wants to post about their “awesome” life regardless of whether it’s a facade or not.

  23. Great post, I completely agree. It’s quite frustrating to see so many people feeling entitled but not willing to put in the hard yards. I’ve seen it a lot with people fresh out of uni, they think just because they have a degree they deserve to start at the top instead of work their way up the ladder.
    While I plan to provide for my son as well as I can, he’s not going to get anything on a silver platter. He’s going to have to learn to value hard work and realise that you can have what you want, but you have to put in some work to get it.

  24. I see entitlement play out as my peers wanting everything they own to be top of the line–house, car, clothes, furniture… it’s all bought new and immaculate. I think in some ways, people have lost the idea that when you first start out, you cobble stuff together and then later on, perhaps you’re able to buy newer things. People are always surprised that Mr. FW and I got all of our furniture from Craigslist because their mentality is–if you can buy it new, why wouldn’t you?

  25. I think this is possibly the most important lesson that my parents taught me – quite simply that nobody owes me anything and I want something I darn well better go out and earn it. I’m so grateful to them for that it’s it really has helped me take ownership of my finances and get on the right path.

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