Written By: Jean Chatzky
Everything’s coming up roses for millennials and Generation Z with regard to their money — at least that’s the view from one side of their rose-colored glasses. According to the new Young Adult Financial Literacy Study by Charles Schwab, 76 percent of young adults aged 16-25 believe they’re headed for a better financial future than their parents, 81 percent plan to own a home, and 53 percent are counting on an inheritance from mom and dad. Most even plan to retire at 60. It all sounds great, but experts caution that the reality may not be so bright.
Many young adults are barely getting by, much less getting ahead — 43 percent have had to borrow money from their parents in the last year in order to pay for necessities, and 30 percent have even skipped a meal due to lack of funds, according to the Schwab study. Yes, for this group there are a lot of years between now and retirement, but being able to knock back margaritas on the beach all day at 61 doesn’t look particularly promising.
The problem, explains Stephanie Corns, Managing Director of Corporate Reputation for Charles Schwab, is that the details get a little lost in translation. “When you’re that age, you don’t know what it takes to retire — you haven’t experienced the realities of working and saving. I won’t say that some of these goals are not possible for them, but they have to have a plan for how to get there.”
A Nudge From Mom and Dad
Prioritizing what you want your life to look like 40 years into the future is a tough concept for most young adults to wrap their heads around, Corns says. “Most of them aren’t thinking, ‘If I spend on these concert tickets right now, how does that impact my goal to buy a home?’” The good news is that some of their optimism can be channeled into positive financial habits, but it’s going to take some help from mom and dad.
According to the Schwab study, 44 percent of young adults say their parents are more likely to talk to them about drugs than money, yet 69 percent of the young adults surveyed said they believe their parents are good financial role models. In other words, they’re watching and listening, but it’s up to the parents to initiate these conversations, Corns says.
According to the Schwab study, 44 percent of young adults say their parents are more likely to talk to them about drugs than money.
Two of the best ways parents can broach the money topic with their kids is to be open and honest about their own financial mistakes (paying off credit card debt, taking a bad mortgage, etc.), and to have frequent conversations about their own budgeting strategies and concerns, Corns says. “These conversations aren’t always fun, but you’re doing your child a disservice if you don’t have them.”
Start To Save, With A Tech Assist
Once you open the door with a conversation, you’ve teed up the first action step: Saving, a lifetime of which is the key to a stable financial future. Start small. Recently, investment firm Acorns studied what happened when it asked one group of its users to save $5 day and another $150 a month. Do the math and you’ll see the amounts are identical — and yet the $5 a day program was five times more successful, even for people making just $25,000 a year. No matter how much you — or your kids — are saving, make sure you do it automatically. The idea is to make a good decision one time then dine out on it for years.
Focus On Priorities
According to the Schwab study, 51% of the young adults surveyed have some level of debt, but if given an extra $1,000 to spend however they want, only 3% would use the money to pay down debt. That’s a problem. Paying down high interest rate credit card debt, in particular, should be at the top of the financial priority list. “Americans have a bad habit of saving when times are bad, and spending when the economy is good. Many of us have a very short memory, and as such are already deaf to what happened in 2008,” says John Girouard, CEO of financial planning firm Capital Asset Management Group and author of Take Back Your Money.
He’s right. It’s particularly worrisome that debts of all sorts have not only reached but exceeded 2008’s record setting levels. Talk to your kids about wiping the slate clean of high interest rate debt while simultaneously trying to amass savings that they can use in the event of future emergencies.
Then, get clear about your priorities and the order in which you may want to accomplish them. Take a look at how much money you have coming in and decide: How much goes into savings? To debt repayment? To other goals? “If you don’t have enough money for a rainy day fund, how can you think about a bigger goal of owning home?,” says Arian Vojdani, an investment strategist at MV Financial. “You’re putting the cart in front of the horse.”
Get Real With The Numbers
Finally, it helps tremendously to know how much your future life will actually cost. Thanks to social media, we're inundated with other people's success stories that definitely feed into feelings of financial optimism, explains Adam Vega, certified financial planner and wealth manager at United Capital's Fort Lauderdale office. "I have often worked with millennials who have optimistic goals of early retirement, home ownership, or globe-trotting vacations and adventures. Everything seems so attainable, because they've never had to plan for it and see the cost."
With many of the stats from the Schwab study, young adults seem to be “throwing out arbitrary goals without a base of knowledge,” explains Vojdani. Better to get educated and then dream, than to dream without an education.
With Kathryn Tuggle