College Connect: Financial planning and millennials

Posted By David Wilhite

By Steffenie Burns

Millennials have been criticized for being egocentric, easily distracted, unmotivated to work and frivolous with their finances. While some in the older generations may still believe such negative stereotypes about millennials, research has indicated otherwise about their financial habits.

“More and more millennials are finally earning and spending serious money. But millennials’ finances often remain fragile, constraining their expenditures,” said an article from eMarketer.com, noting that millennials take a “cautious approach” with their spending.

“I set my budget at the beginning of each biweekly paycheck,” said recent University of Georgia graduate Mary Kathryn Harrington. “If I want something like a dinner out or a clothing item I budget for it that week along with my monthly spending on groceries, rent, insurance, my 401k and everything else.”

Such a cautious approach to spending by Harrington and her peers reflects a financial world that is structured differently from previous generations.

“Given the multiple factors that influence millennials’ purchase decisions, marketing can only go so far—especially since millennials’ digital orientation does not translate into enthusiasm for digital ads,” according to the article from eMarketer.com. “Given many millennials’ tight budgets, bargains can be one way to reach them. Then again, some will pay a premium for brands on the basis of ethical corporate behavior.”

Brands that have been around for decades have had to restructure their marketing approaches.  With financial planning smartphone apps, digital banking and spending notifications, millennials are hyperaware of their spending habits and are constantly checking how much is in their bank accounts.

Though Harrington said she enjoys spending leftover money after budgeting, she says her high school and college jobs of working at a credit union influenced how she manages her money. She also said her family life influenced her approach to money.

“Money was always a factor growing up,” Harrington said. “Though I was a very privileged kid, my parents always made sure I had to work for things that I wanted. Before getting divorced, my parents really struggled with money. My mom was a teacher, but my dad didn’t have an education…it made feeding a family tough so that’s when he went back to school.”

But now, higher education comes with a higher cost, leaving younger people in a pinch when it comes to how much money they can spend each month. Because of student loans and having to pay that added bill month-to-month, millennials are taking on a responsibility their parents didn’t have to face at the same age.

“Millennials are making money. But the bad news, is debt…this is a generation that carries a lot of debt; student debt being most of it,” said Mark Dolliver in eMarketer’s podcast, Behind the Numbers. “The average monthly student loan payment was about $351, which is a significant amount of money when trying to budget for rent, groceries or even considering saving up for a house.”

All in all, millennials are budgeting better than previous generations because of the modern-day financial hurdles that are thrown at them, like student loans. And when they tend to buy big ticket items like a house or a car, they’re generally being smarter about such purchases, according to eMarketer.

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