If you’ve heard a lot about millennials’ financial challenges (they hop between jobs, they’re strapped with student loan debt), you might be surprised to know that as a generation, millennials are actually extremely fiscally responsible and eager to get started on the right financial foot.
That’s why I was intrigued by the forthcoming book by Bobbi Rebell, How to be a Financial Grownup: Proven Advice from High Achievers on How to Live Your Dreams and Have Financial Freedom.
As a business reporter at Reuters, Bobbi was constantly asked basic questions about money and saving from her readers, many of whom were millennials. Like any good writer, she knows that stories help an audience grasp information. She realized she had access to many incredible personalities, from celebrities to CEOs, with money stories that could give real-world context to dry financial advice. As she told me, she was actually a little stunned about how generously and enthusiastically they shared some very candid stories.
Are you more intrigued than ever? So was I! That’s why I interviewed her to find out more about her mission to help millennials make smarter moves with their money. Read on…
What are some of the biggest misconceptions that you find millennials have about being “financial grownups?”
They tend to feel like they are “not ready” to take control of their financial life, but they are ready—or they need to decide to be ready. Millennials have faced many external events that were not their fault, but that’s just part of life. They are not the first generation to face obstacles, and sometimes you just have to get on with it. My book is focused on pointing out how you must separate from your parents and create your own financial destiny.
And, believe me, I know how millennials feel about adulting, and I’ve been there: I was at Reuters for more than a decade, but I still didn’t want to be the grown-up and take the promotion to being a team leader. In fact, I turned it down twice. That’s where the title of the book comes from: My exiting boss told me I had to be the grownup. I think we never feel quite ready for the next challenge, but when the train leaves the station, we better be on board.
We know that since millennials as a group face staggering student debt, many of them are cautious with their funds. In fact, somewhat surprisingly, a study from the personal finance website Bankrate.com found that 62 percent of millennials are saving more than five percent of their income. Where do you think this savings mentality comes from?
I’m so glad you brought this up because I write about this a lot and find it fascinating. Millennials crave financial security more than “stuff,’ primarily because they understand how temporary stuff is. Many of them saw their parents lose what they had worked so hard to accumulate, and they just don’t see the point of being ”owners.”
I once did a story about how many millennials want the latest car so they can take advantage of the tech, but they don’t see any advantage to owning when they can lease. After all, their needs—and certainly the tech—will change long before 11 years, which is the average age of a car on the road. Many decide that it’s better to spend less and save the money to have that security.
Millennials work hard—many even have side hustles—so they want to keep that money rather than wasting it on something they won’t want for long. The status culture and “Material Girl” mentality of Gen Xers is gone.
Millennials have found that paying off their student loans makes them feel a lot better about themselves than a Chloe bag. And with today’s norms, it actually would raise eyebrows to have a 25-year old carrying something they can’t afford; like, “Who are they pretending to be?” Nothing cool about that.
Another factor in this anti-materialism is that it is harder to get a credit card these days because of the way the laws have changed. If you need to get a parent to cosign, but that parent has trouble with their own credit, it sparks productive discussions about financial responsibility.
Your stories from financial “role models” from all walks of life are fascinating. Was there one that stood out that really surprised you?
Definitely Drew Barrymore; in fact, after I met her, I read her book Wildflower. Like many, I assumed that because she was the granddaughter of Hollywood legend John Barrymore that she had it made from an early age. But along with Tony Robbins, she was probably the most financially unstable role model in the book. She was on her own supporting herself—and at times her erratic mother—by age 14 when she became an emancipated minor. And nothing came easy for her. I wish I knew more about her before I met her; I am so in awe of how hard she works and what she has built in her businesses.
What should workplaces do to help educate millennials on financial matters?
I think onboarding is a big opportunity. At my first job at CNBC, the HR person told me I needed to put 6 percent of my meager $20,000 salary—the amount the company would match—into a 401(k). I was living at home but wanted to move out so I was hesitant since that meant I wouldn’t be able to spend that money. I told her I would save it in my own account, but she kept at it, and so 6% plus the match went into the 401(k) where it still sits today, growing. HR can also educate new employees about benefits like help with tuition and subsidized insurance.
If you could give just one piece of advice to millennials on finances, what would it be?
Know your numbers. I did a story on net worth and just over a quarter of the millennials surveyed knew how much money they have. You have to know how much money you have, how much you make and how much you spend. With that information you can start making sound decisions based on your values and priorities.