Use apps. Pay with cash. And more ways millennials save.
Most of the internet would like you to believe that millennials are ruining the economy. After all, every other thing they tweet laments empty bank accounts while more and more of them move back in with their parents after college.
I started my research into millennial money habits with the same biases. As a 24-year-old, I’m proud of myself for using a spare-change investing app and for setting up automatic transfers to my savings account each payday. But I’ve also dipped into my emergency fund for notable non-emergencies like “my favorite author released a new book” or “it’s on final sale and in my size.” But as it turns out, my mostly responsible financial habits are actually representative of the millennial generation as a whole.
It’s the fact no one wants to talk about: Millennials are much better with money than they get credit for.
So why do millennials get such a bad financial rap? One study suggests the negative reputation comes from millennials clustered at the young end of the age bracket. The generation as a whole encompasses young adults 18–34, which includes undergraduate and graduate students, working professionals, aspiring artists and couples with houses and children. Spending habits and degrees of financial responsibility vary more drastically within the millennial generation than most others. So while some college students may blow their savings on spring break or endless cups of coffee, older millennials are more likely to save for retirement and invest intelligently.
Set up for financial failure
As a generation, however, millennials face a number of unique challenges.
The average monthly student loan payment is $351. And their income isn’t making up the difference: The US Census Bureau estimates that young adults make $2,000 less annually than they did in 1980. At the same time, millennials need to save more than ever for retirement, thanks to their longer lifespans, weaker investment returns and the imminent bankruptcy of social security.
Many millennials left college with immense student loan debt and entered the workforce during the Great Recession. Graduates struggled to find jobs, and when they did they stayed in low-paying positions longer than previous generations had. Millennials also delayed significant financial investments, like buying a car or house, longer than their predecessors.
These financial struggles continued long after the 2008 recession. A 2013 study reported that 48% of employed college grads have jobs that don’t require a degree and 37% of those jobs require no more than a high school diploma.
Yet maybe coming of age during the financial meltdown and seeing the volatility firsthand helps young adults make better money decisions. On average, millennials start setting financial goals by age 27, nine years earlier than boomers.
Eighty percent of millennials have a budget, compared to 61% of boomers, and millennials are better at sticking to the budgets they set. Perhaps contributing to their success, millennials overwhelmingly pay with cash and debit cards instead of racking up credit card debt. And when they do spend money, they’d rather invest in meaningful experiences than material goods.
Millennials are also making smarter savings choices by considering retirement early in their careers. Sixty percent of millennials save more than 5% of their annual income for retirement, compared to only 40% of older adults. Millennials also flourish with goal-oriented savings. More young adults than boomers have written out their financial goals and regularly monitor them. Millennials also more regularly enroll in automated savings programs which guarantee a consistent savings rate.
It’s all about technological tracking
As a digital-first generation, millennials overwhelmingly rely on technology to inform and simplify financial decisions. Nearly every financial institution offers online and mobile banking, and the app store abounds with even more personal finance app options.
I’m a self-declared superuser with apps to refill my prescriptions, track my water intake and manage my personal library. So it’s no surprise that I have a folder of financial apps to help me with saving and tracking, investing and managing rewards programs. This proclivity toward mobile financial tracking is a common millennial trait as well. According to a 2016 comparative study of generations, millennials are 10 times more likely than boomers to use a savings app and 11% more likely to use their phones to set financial alerts and reminders.
I can vouch for that method, too. One of the most annoying (and most effective) financial adjustments I’ve made was getting a daily balance e-mail from my bank to remind me just how much money I don’t have to spend on $5 lattes or new shoes.
Manage money like a millennial
Of course, like most tasks, starting is the hardest part. So to become as financially savvy as a millennial try a few of these strategies:
- Download financial planning apps. Try Mint for simple budgeting and Acorns for hands-off investing.
- Ramp up your retirement savings. You can’t get back compound interest you’ve lost over time, but you can make larger deposits to make some progress.
- Set savings goals. Saving toward goals is more motivating than a general stockpile. Try using the Qapital app which automates savings toward goals by integrating with other commonly used apps.
- Pay with cash. Set yourself a strict daily or weekly budget, withdraw a set amount of cash, and make it last.