Financial Fitness


Don't believe the hype about millennials and money

Posted at 5:55 PM, Sep 21, 2018

Millennials are killing fast food. They’re wiping out golf. Thanks to them, mayonnaise is as good as dead.

If you believe the latest survey — no need to specify which survey here, they’re all virtually the same — there’s very little millennials can’t do. Except, of course, save for retirement, control their spending and keep their grubby young hands off luxuries like coffee and avocados.

So what’s true and what’s false? Much of the above falls into the latter category. Millennial stereotypes make good headlines, but they’re often just that.

Here are some myths about the way millennials handle money, followed by the facts.

Myth 1: Millennials don’t save for retirement

Let’s be clear: As a whole, no generation is saving or has saved as much as it should. Millennials — generally considered to be between ages 22 and 37 — are no different. But it’s not for lack of trying, and they’re not doing significantly worse than their parents or grandparents did.

According to the most recent Survey of Consumer Finances, households headed by someone under age 35 have a median $12,300 in retirement savings. That’s not enough. But neither is $120,000, which is the median for ages 55 to 64 — and those people are actually on the brink of retirement age.

One thing holding millennials in particular back: lack of access to employer-sponsored retirement plans. According to research from the Pew Charitable Trusts, more than two-thirds of millennials don’t have one. The National Institute on Retirement Security says that of millennials who are eligible to participate in employer plans, more than 9 in 10 do.

And they do it at rates that meet or exceed other generations: According to a Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies analysis, millennial participants in 401(k)s or similar plans contribute a median 10% of salary, the same rate as baby boomers, and more than Generation X, which contributes 8%. The report classifies 39% of millennials as “super savers,” which means they’re contributing 10% or more. That’s more than any other generation in the study.

» No employer plan? Save for retirement in an IRA

Myth 2: Millennials blow their money on frivolous things

This is a survey favorite, particularly when framed as a reason millennials aren’t saving. Somehow, you can be responsible for killing everything most people spend money on — dining out, department stores, vacations — and still be shamed as a careless spender.

The reality: According to a NerdWallet analysis of last year’s Consumer Expenditure Survey, millennials actually spend less than other generations in several categories that could be considered frivolous, including clothing, entertainment and alcohol.

Myth 3: Millennials are job hoppers

The truth: They’re right in line with Generation X when it comes to changing jobs. According to a Pew Research Center analysis of government data, 22% had worked for their current employer for five years or more in 2016, compared with 21.8% of Generation X workers in 2000 (when they were the same age). The analysis found that college-educated millennials actually have longer track records with their employers than Generation X workers did in 2000.

Incidentally, there’s nothing particularly wrong with moving on to a new and better opportunity — in fact, it could very well be financially savvy, assuming that opportunity comes with a pay increase. Which brings us to …

Myth 4: Millennials are unambitious

Millennials have one habit that could greatly increase their net worth, and that’s advocating for themselves at work.

According to research from Bank of America, millennials are more likely to ask for a raise. The data found that 46% of millennials have asked for one in the past two years, compared with 36% of Generation X and 39% of baby boomers. Even better, they have a good batting average: Of those who asked, 80% received.

This is key to financial security because raises are an opportunity to build retirement savings. If you increase your savings rate each time you get a raise, you’ll easily and painlessly work your way up to saving 10% to 15% of your income for retirement, which is the general goal. (To get a more personalized retirement savings goal, use a retirement calculator.)

Myth 5: Millennials don’t want to buy houses

Alternate phrasing: They’re killing homeownership. Reasons range from an unwillingness to put down roots to financial instability.

Either way, it’s not entirely true: While many millennials struggle to afford their own home, they’re working toward it. NerdWallet’s own research from this year found that 82% of millennials say buying a home is a priority. In fact, they were the generation most likely to say they’d like to buy a home to rent out for extra income. (What was that about a lack of ambition?)

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by Forbes.

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