By Janna M. Hall
Throughout history, each generation held their own views about money, financial success, and the timeline needed to acquire it all. The Greatest Generation, marked by those born in 1946 and before, typically held staunch ideas about gender roles—the man brought home the proverbial bacon, and the woman cooked it for their family. Such a dynamic made for a stable, fulfilled life for the entire household. Moving into later generations, we begin to see more women buckling their briefcases and earning a paycheck of their own, allowing the burden of financial stability and financial literacy to fall onto both husband and wife. Women played a more active role in their household, including whose name was on the deed. Baby Boomers’ ideas of success was also rooted in stability, both for themselves and their children. Over the years, though, the desire for and understanding of true financial stability has changed, and recent generations find themselves in times much different than their parents. The “American Dream,” for many young adults, not only seems unattainable, but they’ve begun to reshape what that actually means.
Millennials, in particular, find themselves in a relatively tough spot. The lives their parents lived is not only harder to attain due to a change in the housing market and job stability at an all-time low, but the cost of both education and living is at an all-time high while income remains stagnant. Understanding this, it’s no surprise that their lives are centered more on instant gratification than lofty goals like saving money, homeownership, and retirement.
In fact, millennials are marked as the first generation to demand fulfillment from their chosen careers, often bidding adieu to their dreadful desk jobs in search of something more meaningful. Sometimes that “something meaningful” comes in the form of a lower-paying job at a mission-driven non-profit organization, and for some, it means backpacking across a foreign land. They’re also willing to put off having children, more invested in the idea of “living their dreams” and securing their dream job, no matter how long it takes them. Because of the housing market, you’ll find many in their late-twenties and early thirties living with roommates, saving money on rent in more expensive cities.
The bottom line? Millennials’ relationship with the almighty dollar has changed tremendously. Their sense of fulfillment isn’t as tied to how much money they make during their lifetime, but rather the experiences they gain along the way. It’s crucial, though, that this generation understands that saving is possible, and a stable future doesn’t have to be ruled out because desires and opportunities aren’t the same as their parents and grandparents. Yes, in the midst of their latte buying and weekend getaways, millennials can achieve financial stability and live their own “American Dream.”
Jimmette Jones, Richmond lifestyle blogger behind the popular site JandMikeJones.com, uses her platform to cover all aspects of financial literacy for her generation.
Jones encourages her readers to cut costs wherever possible in order to maximize their income, no matter how large or small their salary. In a post titled “5 Things I Stopped Wasting Money On,” she provides multiple solutions to frivolous spending, like cutting out the luxury of drinking expensive lattes and opting to brew coffee at home instead. She also suggests examining your bank statement to see how frequent restaurant visits impact your spending in contrast to cooking at home.
While many bemoan the thought of sacrificing beloved pumpkin spiced lattes and Taco Tuesday at Wong Gonzalez, Jones ensures her audience that with proper planning, making the transition won’t be as dreadful as they may expect.
“I turned it into a lifestyle fairly quickly, actually,” she says. “I repurposed my budget with a goal. I didn’t just decide one day to start saving more money; I had a very specific reason for this change. Because I knew my goal and what was needed to achieve it, it didn’t take long before I stopped swiping my card on certain things.”
While her site delves into tips about saving money on a smaller scale, Jones covers reaching long-term goals many millennials don’t believe is a reality for them in 2016. Recently, she discussed the financial plans she and her husband put in place to become homeowners at just 27 years old.
“Aside from making minor adjustments to our budget, we were very much in tune with what we could afford in the housing market,” Jones explains. “It was very important for us to know our financial status. This can be achieved by developing a personal goal, but ultimately consulting with a mortgage broker. They have the ability to tell you what you can comfortably afford and what is necessary to secure a home loan. From there, we were very strategic and aggressive in our saving.”
Her journey to homeownership is something she speaks candidly about on both her website and Instagram page, empowering others to make small, but necessary sacrifices in order to live a more fruitful life.
Will Jiles, Operations Manager with Capitol Securities Management, also agrees that making sacrifices now will not only ensure a stable future full of luxuries millennials want in the moment, but a long-term savings plan makes retirement—a life event that many millennials don’t plan for—a reality. Those sacrifices include “paying yourself first,” or putting aside money each paycheck into an account that can’t be easily accessed.
“By and large, when you’re in your twenties, you don’t want to think about being at retirement age,” Jiles explains. “But older generations have to be more forthcoming with information for millennials about what money has to do for them further down the road. Younger generations tend to obsess over purchases of the day. They’re so excited to finally have their own money that material things are made a priority. But you have to rein it in.”
Jiles suggests setting a realistic budget with realistic goals, and choosing to invest. Admittedly, many young people struggle with saving because the idea of money sitting dormant in an account is far less attractive. As a solution, Jiles recommends investing money into an account that grows over time.
“I work with some young people who say, ‘my goal is to buy a drone’, or my goal is to buy a purse’,” he says. “I stress to them that if they take the $500 they’ll spend on those things and put it in a Roth IRA and let it grow unencumbered by federal or state taxes, by the time they’re 65, that money will be worth enough to buy multiple drones and multiple Kate Spade purses. At some point, you have to look at your future and get out of ‘the now’. Don’t purchase a car that you can’t pay off in three years. Don’t buy that Mercedes; buy a Honda.”
Enjoying the luxuries of “the now” is what has so many young people discouraged about saving, in the dark about investments, and ambivalent about retirement. They’ve viewed the lives older generations live as unattainable, and deny themselves the opportunity for true financial security. The days of guaranteed pensions are gone, and younger generations are put in the driver’s seat of their future. It’s important that they heed the counsel of older generations to get started on the right path.
“All of us older cats were twenty-something once,” Jiles explains. “We alway say, ‘if I knew then what I know now, I’d be a millionaire’. And the truth is, millennials are us, so we’re reaching back and talking to them, because we’re really talking to ourselves. We’re saying save your money; don’t do the crazy things we did with money at those times. We want youth to grasp the ideas about saving and investing so you don’t have to struggle the way many of us do today. Take our advice.”