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Millennials and money: Financial planning and preparedness (and 6 tips to make it happen)

Retirement isn't part of the millennial plan. But if you think Gen Y or the echo generation, as many young adults are less frequently known, are going to work every day for the rest of their lives, you might also be mistaken. If you were born before 1980, you might be wondering what other options are available.

 

If you're a millennial (roughly born between 1980-1995), you don't pigeonhole your life into timeframes. Whether it's marriage, home buying, financial decisions, or family planning, you don't live on a timeline. You make the choices about your now and your future in an ever-changing response to what's going on in your world. In short, you're living your life.

According to Merrill Edge, why wait until the end of life to finally start enjoying it?

 

Millennials like you plan to continue living your life into your later years just as you do now, and your financial plan looks different than the financial goals of the previous generation.

Let's dig into the millennial money mindset or you can skip to the 6 tips for millennials to tackle your personal finance goals. Either way, there's good news ahead.

 

How millennials think about money

Everything from earning money to spending money to saving money revolves around your overall view of life — one that is fulfilling and meaningful, not just planned and allocated. Your financial health is as important as your physical health. 

 

Traditional retirement savings may not be part of the millennial plan, but saving absolutely is. The fact is life events have taught your generation that there is no time like the present. The life you are making for yourself as a millennial is equal parts about finding what brings you joy today and what will bring you joy in the future. Your financial plan is about saving for both.

 

A survey of investors by generation also shows that millennials, despite the rocky financial world in which you've been trying to navigate, are less likely to tap into your long-term savings. Is your personal capital more precious? It might be easy to say the reason is that millennials haven't yet built up enough savings. But it's just as likely that your financial philosophy of living in fifty years will be to continue living as you do today, which makes saving money — and keeping your savings — a priority.

 

Despite so many financial doors being open to millennials, with money comes financial stress. According to a 2022 Investopedia survey, almost 75% of millennials are at least somewhat stressed about their finances. What causes all that stress? Saving money now, tackling outstanding debt, and financial planning for the long-term all combine to add pressure to your financial well-being.

 

If you search the internet or read short posts on social media, you're likely to see just as many comments that millennials struggle with finances as you see kudos for how smart they are with their money. Here's the unvarnished truth: you're working hard to make a life for yourself. Be proud of your money. You’re working hard to earn it and save it.

 

Do millennials have good money habits?

 

Yes, millennials are self-focused on their financial choices, and nowhere is that more true than when it comes to savings. The stereotype of a young, broke millennial is a myth — millennials aren't broke (and they aren't always young).

Good savings habits start early

Even a decade ago, when Americans were just starting to climb out of the Great Recession, millennials were already saving money. 70% of millennials were saving in 2014 according to the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. The median age of those saving was 22, which is a great money habit to have. Go you!

Borrowing requires long-term good habits

When it comes to borrowing, millennials are also developing smart money habits. 62% of millennials have used loan services, and of those, more than 80% are paying ahead on their loans.

 

The key indicator of good financial habits, especially borrowing, is your credit score. Discover's Annual Credit Health determined that as of 2021, 93% of millennials know their credit score. This may be attributed to equal parts personal credit history being more widely available online, and millennials being much more aware of their credit than the previous generation.

 

In a 2018 survey by Bank of the West, more than half of millennials make a point to pay off their credit card debt in full each month. That's admirable, but that still leaves a lot of debt to be managed by the rest of those using credit cards to cover spending while floating the debt month to month.

Spending responsibly means saying no sometimes

As for spending, yes, you shop, but you think it through. Millennials often prefer experiences to objects — you can always grab a selfie instead of a new sweater. More importantly, millennials are conscious consumers. From personalized service to shopping from environmentally aware companies, you're looking at more than just the price tag.

 

Plus, you're also looking at your budget. Those student loan payments and your everyday living expenses take a big slice of the pie, so millennials make smart choices about when to say no, including to job opportunities that don't cover the costs of the life that fits your financial priorities.

 

How much money do millennials make?

 

You may wonder if you are earning enough compared to others your age. In this respect, you're just like each older generation before you. You need enough money to sustain the life you have. The difference for millennials is that your financial plan isn't for a future, far-off life. It's today, tomorrow, next month, next year, and in thirty and forty years, too.

 

Millennials may look for employment that meets those expectations for their bottom lines throughout their lifetime. As it’s been since you first entered the workforce, you expect something more rewarding than just a paycheck.

 

An expert in public opinion, John Zogby's research shows that an overwhelming 85% of millennials want to engage in careers that are rewarding to them as individuals, and to society as a whole. The earnings that come along with that vary based on your individual financial goal and overall life aspirations, not the pay scale.

 

How much money do millennials save?

 

Back in 2020, a midwestern credit union survey found nine out of every ten young adults (both millennials and gen Z) had a savings account with an average of more than $14,000. While that sounds great, more than half of those same adults weren't satisfied with your savings.

 

Like most Americans, money worries might be that millennials don't save enough, or even that you don't earn enough to save as much as you would like. That's valid — financial security is as much about your peace of mind as your bottom line.

 

There are two upsides to that dilemma: one, you are saving, and two, you have plenty of time to keep saving. If you are part of the additional savers who aren't certain where or how to save money, there are plenty of ways to learn — and not just from your social network of friends. Remember, your personal finance plan needs to be designed to meet your unique financial needs and wants.

 

What two types of debt are most common for millennials?

 

You've all read about it: student loan debt is off the charts. True, and this is one of the two big debts faced by millennials. Depending on your age, though, you may not be facing as much student loan debt. For older millennials, those who were just out of college when the economy collapsed in 2008 and incomes stagnated, much of that debt has been paid down.

 

For the class of 2018, however, the average student loan debt is just shy of $30,000. For those who moved your tassels across your mortarboard in 2003, the average student loan debt was closer to $16,000.

 

Student loan debt is only half the borrowing story for millennials. Even though this is the age when the older generation may have been buying a house, it's only been in recent years that the housing market has shined on millennials. Roughly three out of five older millennials (those of you on the upper end of the Gen Y age range), now own a home. Congrats, but that might feel like it simply moved you to a different loan type.

 

There's more good news, though. According to Experian's State of Credit 2021, millennials may have seen a dip in their credit scores during the pandemic. That's not an indicator of bad financial planning, though — quite the opposite. Due to low-interest rates, more millennials took out mortgages since the start of the pandemic, which does cause a small dip in credit scores, but also leads to long-term financial success.

 

How are millennials investing?

 

Nearly two-thirds of millennials aren't just planning to retire; they’re planning to live their best life after they finish their career.

 

You also are less likely to take a set-it-and-forget-it approach to investing your money. Part of this is because you might be looking for greater returns. Also, you want to be sure your money is in the right hands and that you are keeping pace with the bumpy economic challenges that the financial world keeps throwing your way. That's not always easy, so taking an active role in your investing becomes a big part of your personal finance activity.

 

Where do millennials invest their money?

 

By the end of this decade, millennials will control close to $20 trillion, but how you gain investment knowledge is what, yet again, makes your approach to money different from previous generations.

 

If you don't have a financial advisor, you're certainly not alone. For better or worse, millennials are often searching for more information on financial literacy, often on their own. Financial advice may come from a Facebook thread as much as from an expert, since that's the community that you rely on for input and articles, and even the occasional quiz, about your life.

 

Whether the desire to continue to learn or the inability of financial education to keep pace with the rapid financial changes in your lifetime to date, millennials often make their own investment choices. Planning for the financial future from your own little island may be why investment choices are breaking the mold. It may also be why cryptocurrency and new investment options appeal to your younger generation.

 

The tricky part, and again quite normal for millennials, is to seek answers online and on social media where your community can always share its two-cents worth. Marketers may try to target you in your Twitter feed or on TikTok, but you're just as likely to follow the investing advice from Reddit.

 

But what you really want are relationships you can trust with your money. You want to put your money into investment options that fit your view of life, even if it means retail investing.

 

Do millennials invest in stocks?

 

If you think the stock market is too old school, guess again. There is money to be made in the speculative nature of a wide range of investment options, but stocks tie directly to businesses, which is where money is being made, spent, lent, and risked.

 

Risky might be the key, too. Millennials are more inclined to invest where there is some risk (and you're young enough that those risks aren't catastrophic if the investment doesn't pay huge dividends), but there's a higher priority than the financial payoff.

 

Like your approach to work and family, and most areas of your life, your investment choices are about putting your money in companies that share your values. Companies that impact the world with priorities that align with your priorities are the stocks of choice for millennials who invest in the market.

6 tips for millennials to tackle your personal finance goals 

Despite all the generational hype — and your own uncertainty — you're in a great place financially. There are still ways you can expand your financial health through advanced financial education.

 

Here are our top six areas to enhance personal finance for millennials:

 

1. Stick to your savings

You've got this. You're already saving younger and smarter than previous generations. Stay with it and be sure you've got these four bases covered.

 

  • Get your emergency fund in place and secure. When an unexpected bill comes due, you can't postpone the expense.

  • Start saving early. What is the best time to start saving? Today. In truth, it's as soon as you receive your first paycheck.

  • Make saving automatic. Whether allotting part of your direct deposit to go directly into savings or setting up an automatic transfer every payday, if the saving happens without you having to lift a finger, your money is working harder than you are.

  • Save for today and tomorrow. A savings account is ideal for short-term savings, but you have long-term plans (also known as your entire future). Plan for your investments to create the future you want.

 

2. Stick to your budget

Let's be honest, budgets are boring. What you really have is a financial wellness plan that will get you through this month, your year, and your life. In order for the plan to be effective, you definitely need to do much more than check your balance every few days.

 

  • Keep tabs on your spending. Millennials are pretty wise with money management. Keep saying, "no," to those expenses that aren't in line with this month's funds.

  • Get more for your money. There's no reason in today's financial industry to pay for a checking account. When there is free checking — and free checking with rewards — you can get paid to bank where you are valued as much as your money.

  • Manage your checking account. Two-thirds of Americans log into their mobile app or online banking every week. Look beyond your direct deposit and which bill payments have been sent and really use your checking account to track your financial wellness plan.

  • Organize your money so you know exactly where it is. Your 401k may live with one company while your checking account or loan are with your local community bank or credit union. You may easily move from one app to the other, but be sure you know where all your money lives. If you needed to pool your money for a down payment on a home, be able to put your hands on the entire map of your personal capital.

3. Don't go it alone

Millennials are notoriously independent. Financial independence doesn't need to mean financial isolation, though. Get all you deserve from as many sources as possible.

 

  • Learn from the experts. Financial literacy is more than following the latest trends among your peers. It's also about knowing what's coming, how to respond to market hiccups, and adjust to a changing economy.

  • If you think a money topic requires more insight, seek financial advice. Some 401k plans come with financial advisors through the investment company, so consider it part of your 401k package and a service that is geared towards investors — oh wait, that’s you!

  • Speaking of your employer-provided 401k, enroll in it if it’s offered. Most plans come with a tax-free contribution from your employer. While that sounds like free money, it's actually your money. Take it. The same is true of your company's health savings account (HSA).

 

4. Put your money where your heart is

This is an important chapter of the personal finance book about you: spend (and save) your money on what is important to you.

 

  • Focus on you and your family. If something were to happen to you, would your current financial plan cover your family? Life insurance sounds like a far-off future, but like an emergency fund, it covers the expenses your spouse and kids hope they won't need. Prioritize your family.

  • Do you have health savings plans for your family? Everything from life flight transportation services to your health insurance plan may fall into this bucket. Know what is in your bucket, what coverage you have, and what coverage your family may need each year.

  • As a millennial, where you choose to invest your money is often more important than the potential gain on the investment. Seek advice from professionals to learn more about a company's philosophy and business practices, not just your friends’ or coworkers' personal experiences. It's okay to sell shares in a company that doesn't align with your values.

  • Bank like it matters. Some too-big-to-fail megabanks are often in the news for unsavory practices and misusing their customers' money. A community bank or credit union is invested in your community, your neighbors, and your town's overall health. Bank where it matters — you know you want to.

 

5. Borrow wisely 

Not everyone can buy a house, or a car, or a camping trailer with cash. Borrowing is necessary but should also be thoughtfully considered. In addition to helping you move forward with your big plans, it can help you build credit and financial security.

 

  • Buying a house takes time and planning. Consider speaking with a community banker or local loan officer before you are ready to start looking for a home. They can help you see the big financial picture, understand the local market, and help you move responsibly towards home ownership.

  • Have a plan before you get started. 60% of millennial homebuyers had regrets about their decision to purchase a house whether because of the house itself or the financial position in which they found themselves. Choosing the right loan at the right time can make all the difference for decades.

  • If you go to a dealership to buy a car, the salesman will do what it takes to get you into a car you'll love. They may not get you into a financial deal that is to your advantage, though, because their goal is to sell the car. If you start looking with a pre-approved auto loan in your pocket from your local bank or credit union, you can bargain for a better deal (and likely have a better rate than the dealer can offer).

  • Have a strategy to pay down debt. Whether student loans, credit cards, or just the BNPL purchases you made during the holidays, organizing your plan of attack to pay down debt will put you on the high ground towards managing your debt.

  • Know your credit score before you need to know your credit score. By keeping tabs on your credit information, you can watch for errors, monitor changes, and take action when needed.

  • Even if you struggle to manage your debt, stay on top of it. Managing what you owe will only work to provide you with good financial stability. Trying not to think about it never works out quite as well as thinking through your debt and resolving to dig your way towards a better financial future.

 

6. Accept changes in technology

As a millennial, this sounds like a financial strategy you already have in check. Think again. Just because an online neobank has fun giveaways or a gaming-style app doesn't mean it's the only option out there.

 

  • The fintech industry is changing fast — just watch the crypto roller coaster. Even small, local banks and regional credit unions are adapting to these changes. From online account opening to personalized SMS banking options, the latest technology isn't only at the big banks. Many smaller financial institutions are making advancements just for you.

  • Necessity is the mother of integration — use all that new technology. If you have accounts spread all over, watch for opportunities to integrate your apps. If you can include your loan in the same app as your checking account, it will make payments easier and your life exponentially more simple.

  • Keep tabs on your digital wallet. Think about it: all the information and access points to your personal data and financial information are in one place. Keep it safe. Use your passwords, PINs, and authentication features. Have a plan B to access all of those sites from an alternate device in case your phone is lost or stolen (or goes for an accidental swim in the lake).

Live your best financial life

Your future plans align identically with your current plans: live your best life every day. It doesn't look like anyone else's life — you don't want that anyway. Don't work towards retirement, keep building your life as you live it every day.

 

Keep doing things your way, whether it's your plan for financial wellness, choosing the next step in your career, or designing your own timeline of life. The way you live and enjoy life now won't change when you reach a set age. It will look a lot like it does now, with the exception of a few more gray hairs that might show up along the way. It’s going to look great on you.

Tags: My finances, Future planning, Spending

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