Millennials are quickly becoming the most examined generation in history—and for good reason. Their numbers exceed even those of baby boomers, and with the social safety net fraying it’s never been more critical for young people to start saving early.
The latest string of surveys and studies is encouraging. On the financial front, this generation of mostly twentysomethings displays surprising fortitude. They recognize the importance of saving and tend to be more proactive about planning than their elders, concludes Northwestern Mutual.
Some 62% of Millennials rate themselves disciplined or highly disciplined as money planners, compared to 54% of folks aged 60 or over, according to the firm's 2014 Planning and Progress study. Certainly, there is evidence that Millennials are making plenty mistakes and may be characteristically overconfident on the financial front. Yet 68% acknowledge room for improvement in managing their finances, suggesting a degree of humility not often seen with this age group. They appear open to learning more but aren’t sure where or how to find a trusted source. Many mistakenly take their cues from online friends.
One of the financial virtues of this group appears to be a slow and steady approach to building a nest egg. Roughly a third favor a long-term tried-and-true strategy, Northwestern Mutual found. Another third would like to take that approach but feel like they are too far behind to play it safe.
Millennials’ cautiousness may be a double-edged sword. Just 14% in the survey say they are pursuing a high-growth investment strategy even though such a strategy would promise superior long-term returns. This may be a case of playing it too safe. Millennials have 40 years to ride out any bumps. If their money is socked away in savings bonds and other ultra-conservative investments it won’t grow fast enough for them to retire even over a long period of time. Now is when they should embrace prudent, low-cost, diversified risk through stock index funds and similar investments.
Other surveys have found that Millennials are generally ahead of earlier generations in terms of understanding the need for saving. Two in three young employees are committed to or have the ambition to save for retirement, according to a report from Aegon and the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. One in four are habitual savers who ‘always make sure’ they are putting something away. Two in five intend to begin saving soon and three in five understand that retirement saving is important—they just don’t have the means yet.
In another survey, The Principal Financial Group Knowledge Center found that 84% of Millennials describe themselves as passionate about creating financial security—more than are passionate about raising well-rounded kids (60%), having fun (66%), making a difference (49%) and exercise (44%). One reason: Most believe Social Security will no longer exist when they retire, Principal found.
Millennials need to start right away for a lot of reasons. Many are loaded with student debt and underemployed. They’re not pursuing home ownership in a big way, which leaves them stuck renting in a climate a fast-rising rents and missing out on the housing recovery. This generation is off to a good start in terms of knowing what it needs to do to reach retirement security. Its biggest problems seem to be lack of job opportunity and having started adulthood in a deep hole of student debt.