Some sobering news for the late-20-somethings/early-30-somethings in the crowd: According to a survey conducted by credit check company ClearScore, 31 is the most expensive year of your life — or at least, it is if you’re a millennial. Of course, that immediately prompts the question of why 31 is so dang expensive — and it turns out that a lot of it has to do with the sorts of Major Life Events that tend to occur around that age these days.
Here’s the deal: Of the 3,000 people ClearScore surveyed, 27 percent said that the biggest expense they encountered at the age of 31 was getting married; 25 percent said it was buying a house; 20 percent said it was having a baby; and 14 percent said it was paying for a honeymoon, according to Business Insider. This trend put that particular year as the priciest one ever. About 60 percent of respondents said that they had enough savings to pay for these major life events/expenses, while around 33 percent of people between the ages of 25 to 34 said that their parents helped them out. About 20 percent of people under 34 said that they used credit to fund big purchases and expenses.
Indeed, the pinpointing of 31 as an unusually expensive year for millennials does line up with current “life milestone” trends (we’ll get into why I’ve put quotation marks around the phrase “life milestone” in a minute). The age at which people first get married, for example, has been on the rise for decades, according to the U.S. Census Bureau: In 1960, the median age was 22.8 for men and 20.3 for women; by 1990, it was 26.1 for men and 23.9for women; and in 2017, it was 29.5 for men and 27.4 for women. Add to that the fact that wedding costs have been on the rise, as well — The Knot’s annual survey regarding couples getting married in the United States found that the average cost of a wedding in 2016 was a whopping $35,329, an all-time high since The Knot began collecting this data in 2008 — and, well… it’s easy to see how 31 might end up being a particularly expensive year.
Consider, too, the fact that people are waiting longer to have children. Indeed, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more women are giving birth in their 30s than they are in their 20s as of 2017 — for the first time ever, reported Slate. Women in 30-to-34 age bracket averaged about 103 births per 100,000 people;meanwhile, women in the 25-to-29 age bracket average 102 births per 100,000 people. Overall, the average age that women tend to have their first child is about 28. Meanwhile, the costs of simply having a baby — let alone, y’know, actually raising one — are steep, as well: According to Nerdwallet, a standard hospital birth costs $13,524 for delivery and care for mothers and $3,660 for newborns. These costs, of course, go up if there are complications; what’s more, what’s covered by insurance and what needs to be paid out of pocket can vary depending on your plan. (And depending on what the current administration deigns to do with our health care, we could end up paying more out of pocket soon, too.)
Then there’s the whole house-buying thing. It’s no secret that buying property is out of reach for many millennials (and no, it’s got nothing to do with avocado toast); between skyrocketing student debt, stagnant wages, and a lack of low-priced “starter homes,” we simply can’t afford to buy houses at the ages that previous generations have been able to. Indeed, according to the 2016 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, which is published annually by the National Association of Realtors, the average age of a first-time home buyer today is around 32. Prior to buying a home, 74 percent of first-time buyers rented — meaning that renting, rather than buying, is the norm for most younger adults. The median home price for these buyers was $182,500... which, honestly, makes me laugh. If you live in a major metro area — which, generally, is where the jobs that attract millennials tend to be — being able to buy something for that cheap is a pipe dream. In the Washington, D.C. area, for example, where I currently live, one in four homes are priced above $1 million, according to Urban Turf.
In any event, though, because all of these “life milestones”— getting married, having kids, and buying a house — are now generally happening much later than they have for older generations, it’s unsurprising that 31 would turn out to be a Year of Big Spending for many millennials. My own 31st year was actually pretty typical of this pattern: While my partner and I haven’t bought a place or had kids yet, we did break our lease the year I turned 31 in order to move to a completely different state for a new job opportunity for him — and then we got engaged shortly thereafter. Even though our wedding was tiny and relatively inexpensive in the grand scheme of things (much less than the average according to The Knot), it was still a wedding — so, like many of ClearScore’s survey participants, “getting married”was the big ticket “life milestone” of my 31st year.
But I think it’s worth remembering that “life milestones” are actually pretty arbitrary. This is why I tend to put the phrase in quotation marks: I don’t really think they’re “milestones” at all. Being married doesn’t make someone more of an adult than someone else; nor does owning a home or being a parent. Mark your life by the milestones you consider significant — or not at all, if the idea of milestones doesn’t do it for you in general. The phrase “you do you” may be overused, but there’s a lot of truth in it anyhow: You do you, whether it means that doing so will make 31 really expensive or not expensive at all. It’s totally your call.