As a Millennial, I often find myself wondering “How in the world do people do it?” How do people my age manage to support themselves, their families, and sometimes even their friends when I’m married with no kids and still trying to maintain a comfortable, somewhat secure balance in my finances? Over ten million Millennials, on average, spend greater than twenty-one hours per week on caregiving duties, most while also working a full-time job. They spend $6,800 per year (on average) of their own money to do so. Luckily, some employers are now offering paid caregiving leave programs to help, but that is just one step in helping alleviate one of the many pressures associated with this generation.1 In this piece, I want to consider the primary forces that have shaped the Millennial generation, some little-discussed advantages of our generation, and some common-sense steps that Millennials can take to start securing their financial futures.
Let’s go back to 2008. Millennials came of age during the time when our parents were losing their jobs left and right, potentially losing their homes, etc. Prior to the Great Recession, we were told that all we had to do was graduate from college and we’d have access to any job we could ever dream of. In reality, even college graduates during this era dealt with companies laying off workers with years of experience – the exact opposite of hiring someone with none. I believe that this sort of adversity not only created a sense of urgency within our generation to plan and make sure that this didn’t happen to us and our families, but it also made us realize that the truly important things in life weren’t having the best corporate title or driving the fanciest car. We’ve come to a point where we understand that it’s important to save, but it’s also tough for us not to spend on experiences because who knows what could be around the corner (i.e., another financial collapse or WWIII)? We also have the pressures of worrying about affordable healthcare for our young families and saving for college (for ourselves and/or for our children). This is all on top of an overwhelming amount of student loan debt we carry. In short, due to this struggle, 75% of Millennials say that they are delaying significant life events.2
Luckily, Millennials have some benefits that older generations don’t have – options and time. Generally speaking, we have less credit card debt than other generations. We tend to hold more cash and invest more conservatively due to the ever-growing fear of living in an unstable political and economic environment. While a quarter of us have no equity exposure which opens us up to the risk of not growing our money properly into retirement years, we are generally coming up with more creative ways to live that allow us to survive and thrive throughout our working lives and into retirement.2 We tend to work smarter, not harder, thanks in part to technological advances (think “gig economy” jobs). The old saying is “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” and Millennials seem to have created a “lemonade economy” that better suits modern technology and lifestyles to suit them.
So what else can Millennials do to point themselves to a more secure financial future? First of all, budgeting is key. Luckily, there’s an app for that! We recommend Mint, which is owned by Intuit and excels in helping people track where their money is going. In breaking down expenses, be crystal clear on spending on needs versus spending on wants. I’ve recently learned of the 50/30/20 model, which allocates 50% of after-tax income to “needs”, 30% of after-tax income to “wants”, and 20% to future financial goals.2 After all, folks shouldn’t have to sacrifice going to that concert they’ve been saving for. They deserve it!
Second, establish an adequate emergency fund so that you can respond to unexpected expenses without taking on additional debt. Your emergency fund should be equal to three to six months of living expenses. Once you figure out how much that is based on your budget, create a plan to set some money aside each month to start building that fund. The most important thing here is to revisit this process annually. Life changes, and so will your budget.
A few other creative ways to stay ahead of the game:
- Track debt interest and research refinance options. Be careful, because some refinance options come with major costs. Also, having a corporation buy out student loan government debt can also potentially eliminate some good options such as tuition reimbursement programs.
- Set aside money that you save from grocery store discount programs. This adds up quicker than you think it does.
- Use cash instead of credit or debit cards. Multiple studies have shown that the physical act of handing over cash helps us rein in our tendency to spend without thinking.
- If you feel more comfortable using your debit card instead of carrying cash, download an app that rounds card purchases up to the nearest dollar and then transfers the difference (the “change”) to a savings account.
One thing that will start working in our favor is that Millennials now make up the majority of the workforce.2 This could potentially give our generation an advantage because at a certain point, companies should have to start competing for us. Know your value. Do your research while searching for jobs. Check out average industry salaries and benefits, and use these sorts of things as leverage in a salary negotiation.
Millennials have been shaped by financial forces much different than those faced by the generations that preceded them. Like each generation, the values we choose will create a distinctive legacy. In a world dominated by change and pressure, a calm, considered approach to finances remains the best choice. Share your concerns, and your thoughts about the steps you might take, with a wise friend. Compile financial questions that you have and ask a financial planner for some professional advice. It will benefit you in the long-run to start getting comfortable with having conversations about your finances.
The foregoing information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that it is accurate or complete, it is not a statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision, and it does not constitute a recommendation. Any opinions are those of Natalie Seber and not necessarily those of Raymond James.
1 Jenkins, Jo Ann “More Than 10 Million Millennials Are Caregivers.” AARP, 29 May 2018, www.aarp.org/caregiving/home-care/info-2018/millennial-caregivers-work-life.html.
2 Garrelick, Jenine, et al. “Millennial Female Finances: Time To Own Them.” MFS Fund Distributors, 25 Apr. 2019.