Young Consumers a Mix of Super Savers, Debt Slaves
Ebeth Fielder, 22, is like a lot of young consumers when she admits that she has not begun saving in a 401(k) yet. Even Fielder, who makes a living talking to other millennial consumers about money, admits she has a big financial learning curve ahead.
Fielder drives a car with loud logos plastered all over it. She heads to festivals and events as the hip “spokester” for the Young & Free program that targets the 18-to-25 crowd at Michigan First Credit Union, based in Lathrup Village, Mich.
She thinks younger consumers can save money, sees a financial future as doable, but says many young people need to re-think how they’re spending their money. Giving up small purchases can help finance bigger projects. Her goal is to save money to buy a home with her husband, who is a youth minister.
“I love to shop so much, but I hate spending money,” said Fielder, who writes a blog at YoungFreeMichigan.com.
Young consumers, depending on the survey, can provide a contradiction in financial terms. Millennials either are “super savers” with an eye on retirement or so dogged by debt that they don’t know which way to turn.
They are the digital do-it-yourself generation of “super savers,” according to a study by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. That study offered a shocking tidbit: about 70 percent of millennials are starting to save for retirement either through employer-sponsored plans or outside the workplace.
The median age they start saving is 22 years old, far younger than many baby boomers who started saving at a median age of 35 years old, according to the Transamerica Center study.
“Millennials have retirement on the brain,” said Catherine Collinson, president of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. For research purposes, the report defines the millennial group as those born between 1979 and 1996.
But others say we cannot lose sight that Americans owe more than $1.2 trillion in student loans and many younger consumers are reluctant to spend.
More than half of millennials say they are living paycheck-to-paycheck and are unable to save, according to a survey prepared for Wells Fargo.
About 39 percent of millennials indicate that they feel overwhelmed with the current amount of debt they have to pay off. That compares to 23 percent of baby boomers, according to the Survey of Millennials and Baby Boomers prepared for Wells Fargo Retirement Communications and WBR Market Intelligence.
While 3 in 5 millennials identify themselves as savers, about 45 percent have not yet started saving for retirement, according to the survey released in May.
For some, the burden of too much debt means they cannot buy a home as quickly as they’d like.
Colleen Jirikovic, certified credit counselor for GreenPath Debt Solutions in Farmington Hills, Mich., said some young people seem more concerned about tackling student loans first before taking on the responsibility of a mortgage.
Jirikovic counseled one engaged couple, both in their 20s, who wanted to buy a home but then dug through the numbers associated with their student loans.
After taxes, their income was about $4,000 a month. But their combined student loans added up to about $1,100 a month. And they had debt from car loans.
Given all their debt, they’d be limited to a $600 monthly mortgage payment with taxes and insurance. On a 30-year fixed mortgage at 4.25 percent, the couple might be able to take out a mortgage of around $70,000 or so, according to Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate.com.
But even then, the couple wouldn’t have much money left in their budget. Ultimately, they decided they didn’t want to buy a small home now.
“They were upset at first,” Jirikovic said.
But they knew waiting, renting and taking more time to pay down their debt would be the right thing to do for them.
“They didn’t want to invest in something that they maybe couldn’t sell later,” Jirikovic said.
Fielder said one of her goals is to help young adults feel empowered about their finances. Sometimes, it means studying options and mapping out a route.
One trick Fielder uses to control her urge to shop is to ask how many hours she’d have to work to pay for a T-shirt or a pair of shoes.
Say you spot a pair of shoes on sale for $40. It might be tempting to snap up designer shoes that are now half-off the $80 original price.
But instead, a shopper might stop and consider how much he or she is paid each hour. If you’re earning $10 an hour, you could ask if the shoes are really worth four hours of your time - or half of a regular workday.
“Is this a value to me? Is it worth my time?” Fielder said. “You’re spending your time earning that money.”
Susan Tompor is the personal finance columnist for the Detroit Free Press . She can be reached at stomporfreepress.com.