10 Reasons to Cut Millennials Some Slack About Their Money


Millennials are getting beat up these days for their money habits. According to observers, people between the ages of 18 and 34 are financially irresponsible — one CEO even suggested they are spending too much money on pricey avocados when they should be saving for a home.

But these reports are unfair. There's a lot of evidence to suggest that from a financial standpoint, millennials may be facing unique challenges that older generations simply didn't deal with. (See also: 7 Ways Millennials Are Better With Money Than You Are)

Should we take it easy on millennials when it comes to their money habits? Perhaps, and here's why.

1. College is really expensive

We encourage young people to attend college, but according to Student Loan Hero, the average member of the class of 2016 graduated with more than $37,000 in student loan debt. Borrowers between the age of 20 and 30 spend an average of more than $350 a month to pay off these loans.

This student debt is largely the result of rising college costs: Public school costs have risen 9 percent over the last four years, and private universities have risen 13 percent. A student attending a four-year private school now pays an average of $45,000 each year. While it's true that young adults should be aware of the cost of college when deciding if and where to attend, it's also clear that many are now handcuffed by their student loan burdens. (See also: 7 Unique Ways Millennials Are Dealing With Student Loan Debt)

2. Wages haven't gone up

One of the biggest problems with the current economy is that it's been a long time since wages have gone up in real terms. In fact, there's evidence that wage growth has basically been stagnant since the 1970s, and any wage growth at all has been concentrated to the top earners.

Anyone without a college degree has seen their wages decline, on average, in the last decade. It's easy to accuse millennials of making bad financial choices, but there's very little evidence they are rolling in the dough to begin with.

3. Housing is really costly

In many parts of the country — especially those with good job opportunities for millennials — it's nearly impossible to find an affordable house or apartment. A recent survey of 24,000 renters by ApartmentList.com found that millennials would have to wait more than a decade to save enough for a 20 percent down payment on a home in many markets. In some cities, including San Francisco and Austin, the wait is as much as 19 years.

There are simply not enough affordable, entry-level homes available for millennials to buy, and with interest rates rising, the problem is only going to get worse.

4. Saving for retirement is mostly on them

If you're a baby boomer or even a GenXer, you might have worked for a company that offered generous pensions to its employees. For much of the 20th century, workers could find decent jobs at big companies and know they'd be getting a monthly check even after retirement.

Nowadays, it's up to the individual to save for retirement, using a 401(k) plan (if they have access to one) or individual retirement accounts (IRAs). No doubt, you can generate a lot of wealth this way over time, but most of the savings will have to come from the worker, not the employer. And for many young people, setting money aside for retirement is an afterthought if they are also facing student loan debt and other expenses. (See also: 4 Things Millennials Should Do Today to Prepare for Retirement)

5. They've lived through several market crashes

For millennials, the stock market and economy have done quite well during their time on Earth, but there were several big events that may have left them wary about investing.

The stock market endured three straight years of bad losses from 2000 to 2002, due to the dot com bubble bursting and the terrorist attacks of September 11. The markets tumbled dramatically again in 2008 after the financial crisis. These events may have taken place during a millennials' formative years, and the headlines may have clouded their belief in the power of investing. (See also: 7 Reasons Millennials Should Stop Being Afraid of the Stock Market)

6. Many don't use credit cards at all

We often assume that millennials have a ton of credit cards. But according to one survey, millennials have fewer cards than most Americans. BankRate.com reported last year that only one-third of people under the age of 30 have a credit card. (See also: Best Credit Cards for Millennials)

7. Everybody is marketing to them

It's easy to say that millennials should be more frugal, but that's easier said than done when America's marketing dollars are bombarding that exact generation. Ask any advertiser what their coveted demographic is, and they'll likely tell you they deliberately target people between the ages of 18 and 34.

On one hand, we want young people to be responsible with their money. On the other, we know that consumer spending by that same group is often a big driver of the American economy.

8. They are more generous than you think

It may be frustrating to see millennials with poor personal finance skills. But while they may not necessarily be smart with money, they are not as selfish as you might believe.

Millennials basically invented the concept of crowdfunding, which has led to sites such as GoFundMe and others that have supported nonprofits. One survey from 2014 noted that 84 percent of millennials donated to a charity that year, and that they are more likely to give on their own accord rather than from a top-down, corporate-driven approach.

9. They grew up in a fairly prosperous era

People who grew up during the Great Depression learned the hard way about living frugally and making every penny stretch. Those who grew up during World War II remember making severe sacrifices. Even baby boomers remember the gas shortages and economic stagnancy of the 1970s.

By contrast, millennials have grown up in a time of relative prosperity. Millennials have never been forced to learn how to save and invest as a matter of survival. Is it their fault that they grew up in relative comfort compared to older generations?

10. Luxury items are practically necessities

Older people like to accuse younger generations of spending money needlessly, but think of the expenses they have that did not exist even 20 years ago. Cellphones? Tough to get by without one these days. High-speed internet service? Yeah, that's almost as important as electricity. Millennials have considerable expenses each month that were once considered luxury items, but are now considered vital.

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