Several months ago, I saw 29-year-old YouTube personality Gaby Dunn give a live presentation about how millennials can better manage their money, and one of her pieces of advice was: “Check your mail.” Apparently, millennials are notorious for throwing out bills and other important financial documents before they even read the envelopes.
No offense to Dunn, but my initial thought was, What kinda bullshit advice is that? Who needs to be told to check their mail?!
Then I remembered my own experiences with physical mail. When I was 23 and living in my first post-collegiate apartment in Chicago, Comcast (now Spectrum) suspended internet and cable service to my unit. Perplexed, my roommate and I tried to deduce why exactly this was, only to realize that neither of us had been paying the bill. In fact, we hadn’t even seen a bill in months. In fact, we hadn’t seen any mail in quite some time.
We called our local post office and discovered our carrier had been holding the mail addressed to our unit because the names on the packages didn’t match the ones on our mailbox. Being the shitheads we were, we never bothered to take off the old tenants’ names when we moved in. A week later, we were delivered a shit-ton of mail, most of which was promptly thrown into the trash.
If you’re a millennial, snail mail is, at best, one of life’s many minor annoyances. Nearly everything that once necessitated sending physical documentation through the mail — paying bills, paying rent, renewing your DMV registration, sending letters to grandma — can now more efficiently be conducted over the internet.
As such, having to actually send something in the mail feels like a colossal undertaking for any Extremely Online millennial — one that necessitates a trip to the convenience store to buy envelopes, asking coworkers if they have any stamps, and if you’re me, Googling how to address an envelope because you forgot how to do that shit.
I’m particularly disdainful of the mail. When searching for my current apartment, I demanded that paying rent via Chase QuickPay be a condition of the lease. (My landlord was wary, but his fears were assuaged when the money magically started showing up in his account at the first of each month.) I often send wedding gifts via Venmo rather than go through the painful process of writing and sending a check. I understand this is gauche, but I don’t care. The only time I interact with the USPS these days is when I receive Amazon Prime packages or wedding invitations (which I find annoying, because those too can more easily be handled online).
It turns out, however, that my extreme aversion to physical mail is but one point on a spectrum of strange mail-related behaviors among my generation. For example, when I asked my predominantly millennial Facebook network how they handle their mail, I got responses that range from the antiquated to the odd to more of the “Millennials are overgrown babies” stereotype.
- Kristen says she meticulously opens every piece of mail “like the thorough bitch I am.”
- My very strange friend Sarah Kelly Shannon says she tosses the junk mail, keeps “the stuff that looks important” and then… doesn’t even bother to open it, leaving it to just sit on her counter. (Like I said, strange.)
- My more reasonable friend Kendra has a similar routine, except she actually opens the seemingly important stuff.
- Jack Marshall, managing director at Digiday, immediately throws his mail in the recycling bin unless he’s expecting something specific.
- Robin says he checks his mail only twice a month and 90 percent of it is useless.
- Most say they open all envelopes except the obvious junk mail.
- And three of my friends admit they still have their mail sent to their parents’ house, and have their parents relay to them any important information, which makes me weep for the state of my generation.
But for some millennials, snail mail is more than mere annoyance — it’s the bane of their already tortured generational existence. Millennials are the most financially troubled generation in American history, and the mail — with its bills and student-loan account balances and past-due notices — only serves to remind them of their predicament. As Henry “Hank” Lockwood declared in a recent episode of Barstool Sports’ Pardon My Take podcast, “Nothing good comes in the mail.” So millennials throw their mail away as a way of avoidance.
“For years, I had this idea in my head that if someone really cared about my debt, or a bill I didn’t pay, they would throw a brick through my window with a note that said, ‘Your bill is due,’” says Dunn, who hosts a podcast, Bad With Money, about her endeavor to learn personal finance. She adds that this flippant attitude toward physical bills is common among her peers. “The general consensus around mail and money seems to be, ‘If it’s that important, the bill collectors will just come to my house. Or I’ll get arrested and sort it out from there.’” (Note: This isn’t a recommended personal finance strategy.)
This generational aversion to mail spells doom for the U.S. Postal Service, whose mail volume hit a 29-year low last year, and has been operating under a multi-billion dollar annual deficit for years now.
And yet, some millennials still derive some value from snail mail. Dunn pays many of her bills by mail, as the act of physically writing and mailing a check helps her better track her spending and avoid overdrawing her checking account. And I was astounded earlier this week to find my MEL colleague Alana Levinson paying her parking ticket by mail, when she could easily do it online. “The mail is pure,” she says. “Sending mail is productive. It feels good. There’s something about licking the envelope, the smell, that feels nostalgic. And putting a stamp on things makes me horny.”
At press time, Levinson also reports having anxiety about not having received an email confirmation of her payment.