Recently, Fidelity released another survey about millennials and money.1 The survey found that 47% of my Generation Y peers are saving for retirement—a significant portion, particularly for such a young demographic. This stat is telling of my generation's views on personal finance, and it's not unlike other findings.
As TIME reported: "Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found that 71% of millennials eligible for a 401(k) plan participate and that 70% of millennials began saving at an average age of 22. By way of comparison, Boomers started saving at an average age of 35."
It's self-reported data, sure. But it's hard to deny that there is a heightened post-recession interest in finance and our economy. We're pushing for every manner of financial education, in schools and on the Internet. Personal finance has become an increasingly popular niche in the blogosphere. Even Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, is involved in the production of movies designed to explain how our economy works. To me, it would be more surprising not to see some new-found interest in personal finance after the Great Recession.
Another interesting finding of Fidelity's poll: When asked whom they trust most for information on money matters, 33% of millennials say they trust their parents, but 23% say they trust no one.
Considering the economic climate, it's no wonder that millennials are skeptical. At my own blog, Brokepedia, one reader brought up a point that I hadn't really considered: Our parents' money advice might not apply because they come from a different time. Obviously, some financial advice is standard. "Spend less than you earn," for instance, will always be the formula for financial independence. My parents taught me that at a young age. The advice stuck, and it's working.
However, there are things my parents couldn't predict. I wanted to save money by going to a community college, for example. But their idea was for me to go to a "real university"—the more prestigious, the better—so they didn't think my choice was very smart. After witnessing my younger brother's massive tuition, though, they changed their minds a bit about saving money on college.
Sure, all of these studies on millennials and how they handle money are generalizations. The huge focus on our behavior borders on obsession, if you ask me. Until recently, that focus has been pretty negative. But more studies and surveys are showing that we're actually better with money than we're given credit for.
Even if you take the stats with a grain of salt, I think there are a couple of lessons we can learn from the data.
It's OK to be skeptical
For their study, Fidelity asked me if I'd like to produce a man-on-the-street video for them. It involved talking to people my age about money issues. The conversations I had with people closely mirrored Fidelity's findings.
Most of the people I talked to said that while their parents gave them basic advice, which they appreciated, there were things they simply had to learn on their own. Because of the aftermath of the housing crisis and now the student loan crisis, young people seem to be skeptical of what other people tell them to do with their money.
That's not a bad thing.
Outside of the video interviews, I talked to a recent college grad about money. She complained about her massive student debt. What really bugged her about it was that most of it wasn't necessary. Her student loan company approved her for $100,000. She told them she didn't need that much.
But they told me, 'No, it's fine. You're approved, it doesn't matter. You can just spend it.' I was 18. Someone gives you $100,000 at 18, all you can think about is all the stuff you can buy. I learned my lesson.
To me, this is a microcosm of why our generation, as a whole, has learned to be more careful—and maybe even more skeptical—about financial advice.
In the man-on-the-street interviews, I asked the subjects where they got their money advice. Again, the response was mostly "I learned on my own." And although this will make me sound like a money snob, when they told me they were learning "on their own," I assumed that meant they didn't actually know anything.
I was wrong.
We talked about personal-finance books that I didn't think anyone other than my money-nerd friends would recognize. We talked about investing and homeownership and how your financial mind-set changes as you get older. One 26-year-old, on his way to lunch with a friend, said something that sounded like it came straight from the pages of my blog: "Now Me wants to have fun, but Future Me wants to have fun, too."
It seems like millennials are learning through a filter of skepticism—but they are learning. Our economy is changing, we're recovering from our mistakes, and we want to make sure our moves are steady and well-calculated.
Learning to adapt
Millennials have been criticized for postponing families, not buying property, moving back in with parents, and even commuting.
I've done three out of four of those things, and they contributed immensely to my financial security. Moving back in with my mom was the last thing I wanted to do at 22. But I saw it as an opportunity to get my finances in order, and, thankfully, my mom welcomed the idea as a smart money move.
As the economy slowly recovers, millennials seem to be adapting and seizing control where they can, challenging traditional measures of success—and that's a good thing. Yes, it might mean moving back in with your parents for a while so you can build an emergency fund. It might mean deciding that renting is OK because you don't want to be house-poor.
We should try to make the bigger picture better, but in the meantime, we also need to do whatever we can to improve our own personal financial situation.
What do you think about the (generalized) financial habits of Generation Y?
Obviously, there's room for improvement. While we might be pleasantly surprised to learn that 47% of millennials are saving for retirement, we should really be concerned for the remaining 53% who aren't.
Nevertheless, it sometimes seems the characteristics we are criticized for include the things we're doing right. For example, there's nothing wrong with a healthy dose of skepticism—especially when it comes to financial advice.
I stand by my assertion that there's a shift toward greater financial security. It seems more people, both young and old, are interested in what it takes to recover from an economic fiasco. Given that millennials came of age in the middle of that fiasco, is it so hard to believe that they might be interested in developing better financial habits than previous generations?