Common Nicknames: The Millennials, Generation Y, The Boomerang Generation, The Peter Pan Generation
Financial Challenges: Student Loan Debt, Putting Off Marriage and Kids, Putting off Home Ownership
Likely born: between 1981-2000
“Millennials are well known for prioritizing value and meaning in their work over money, and that’s an advantage.” -Why Millennials Aren’t As Useless As You Thought
This week on the Talkin Bout Your Generation series, we’re talkin bout the Millennials.
If you’re in the 20-30’s age range or identify as a Millennial, you might be up against some serious challenges. An April 2012 article by The Associated Press reported on the alarming and disheartening statistic that 1 in 2 recent college graduates was unemployed or underemployed. On top of that, the national student debt is higher than it’s ever been before. It’s no secret that many Millennials have struggled to find footing on an ever increasing mountain of national student debt. And unfortunately, the problem isn’t going away.
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A natural desire to pursue an independent life paired with less than perfect economic circumstances might seem like the unsolicited wrench in your plans and goals. Thoughts of home-ownership may be pushed aside in favor of more imminent pressure – how to make sense of a college education that has left you with so much debt, and seemingly so little advantage on the job market. Long term goals seem less accessible, uncertainty leads to more uncertainty.
But you’re not alone.
The Millennial generation is faced with an overwhelming number of pessimistic projections. Yet even bombarded by articles with titles like “Do Millennials Stand a Chance In The Real World?” and “Are Millennials The Screwed Generation?”, they remain resilient and optimistic. In fact, finding the balance between fulfilling work and personal happiness often takes top priority. And with such an amazing amount of creativity, talent and ambition, millennials not only have the intelligence, but also the drive to take the reigns of their finances and work towards a successful and happy future.
So where should you go from here?
Having to acknowledge the challenges ahead might feel crushing and undoable. But even up against tough odds and less than predictable prospects, you can take hold of your financial future – in fact, there’s no better time to start than right now! Seize that optimism, utilize those wits and let’s talk how to make the most of the decade you’ve been dealt.
Empower Yourself and Get Educated on Your Finances
Known as the most educated generation to date, Millennials are some smart cookies. Yet still, even with the looming cloud of student debt, there is a limited understanding in how to handle finances.
Don’t make the excuse that being financially aware is only for business majors or those with a background in finance. Do you spend money? Then you’re a financially minded person. One of the best things that you can do for yourself in your 20’s is to simply educate yourself. Even if you’ve never had so much as a piggy bank growing up, finances will be dictating factors in your professional and personal decisions. Creating a routine early on can help steer you on a comfortable financial path.
If it feels overwhelming, then start small – learn some basic definitions and phrases. Once you have a handle on some of the terminology, it will feel less isolating and more accessible. And perhaps even more important than doing independent research is asking questions if (and when) you’re confused. Entire careers are devoted to helping people who need assistance with their finances.
Take Your Student Debt Seriously. Seriously.
While Millennials are generally less burdened by credit card debt than many of their predecessors, they’re compensating for it by taking on more student debt than the nation has seen before. The average student loan debt for the 2013 college graduate is $35,200 a huge increase from just two years previous when the national average hovered around $25,250. That’s no small change!
Recognizing the significance of such high numbers can feel abstract and for many, it takes opening the first bill to realize the seriousness of the situation. With education as the main goal, important questions like ‘Am I really ready to sign those papers, and enter into such a high cost contract?’ aren’t given enough weight.
Regardless of where you fall on the student loan timeline, here are some actions to take or consider as you tackle the challenges:
- If you’re considering taking out a student loan… make sure to do your research. Start planning early. Make projections and use calculators of what financial steps will need to be taken once you graduate. Websites like The Federal Student Aid compile the information in a user friendly and accessible way. Ask questions and take advantage of the career counseling centers at your school. There are several different types of loans – so make sure to read up on the pros and cons of each, and plan out what kind of payment future you many be committing to.
- If you’re already in the midst of paying off your loans… continue educating yourself about the debt which will continue to be a very real part of your life. Re-assess your payment plan, and decide if you have the financial flexibility to make higher monthly payments. Even a few dollars extra each month can make a huge difference in the long run to your payment plan. Avoid paying on the interest alone by making the largest payments you can earlier on. Less principal means your interest will continue to decrease. Bi-weekly payments can also shave off a significant amount of time and money overall.
- If you’re unable to make payments at all… there are other options like deferment or forbearance. If the traditional payment plan assigned to your repayment is too high for your budget, consider an Income Based Repayment plan which will adjust your plan to reflect more reasonable payments based to your current salary. Avoid default by staying in touch with your financial aid office if you’re struggling to meet payments, and never ignore letters or e-mails from lenders.
- If you’re thinking about continuing your education… really take the time to formulate a financial plan. If you’re simply doing so because you’re unsure of where to go after undergraduate studies, or if you’re trying to put your debt on hold – make sure you feel confident that the choice will benefit you in the long run. Put together a plan, or you’ll only be assuming even more debt.
Student debt should be take seriously – it’s not just a number on a paper or a screen. It’s a very real burden that many face in their 20’s and far beyond. And no matter where you land after college – at a high paying dream job or at a minimum wage interim – your student debt will follow you. Even if you’re forced to declare bankruptcy at any point in your financial future, your student loans will remain.
Get Started Early in Career Planning
No longer can you count on full-time employment simply based on your college degree. One of the most challenging obstacles faced by millennial graduates today is finding and obtaining a job within their field of study. Even if you take on minimum wage jobs to support yourself in the meantime, each small paycheck might be accompanied by a healthy dose of resentment towards a costly education that seems to mean little on a resume. But in lieu of foregoing higher education, there are other ways to navigate the challenging job market.
- Consider your career before you graduate and remember the point of your education. If you’re still attending college, begin to research positions you’d like to pursue. Beyond researching, reach out and network early on.
- Paid internships are on the rise, and more and more companies are looking to hire employees with experience and background. If you can achieve the benefit of adding to your professional experience while you’re in college rather than seeking it out postgrad, you may have a foot ahead of the rest. Even a few hours a week can be invaluable later on.
- Utilize your connections and resources – and do so sincerely. You’re probably connected to more opportunities than you realize. Think of all the teachers, friends and family that have already entered into your life. Keep in contact with them, and try to maintain regular interactions. Value their time and effort to help you, and always respect the fact that when you are asking for help or references, they are doing you a favor that should be appreciated.
- Expand your search, and reconsider your expertise. Talk to a career counselor and find out more specialized opportunities for your interests. Outline where you think you’ll be able to utilize your talents most successfully – even if the career is nontraditional.
Value Your Adaptability and Choose to Compromise
So what really happens when you move back home post graduation, or take a job that’s below the level you aimed for? You might feel disappointed, that you’re regressing or that you’ve failed to reach the goals that may have been set for you at a very young age – all very common reactions. But don’t forget to take pride in what should be considered a very valuable characteristic – adaptability. Having to change plans, alter expectations or deviate from the assumed path can be seen as negative paths of action. But adaptability is key while reassessing options and finding financial stability within your current circumstance.
More and more young adults are returning or “boomeranging” back home to save money after moving out to attend college or pursue early job hunts. And while you might be hesitant to return to the nest, if moving home saves 500 dollars on rent a month – or 6,000 over a single year – it can provide a bit of financial respite in tight times.
If you do find yourself in a less than ideal job, don’t waste the opportunity to learn from it. View temporary jobs as learning opportunities rather than punishments. Though the ideal trajectory might be landing a perfect job with potential for advancement and growth immediately after graduation, that’s become increasingly difficult to achieve. No job should be viewed as useless, even if it’s not a stepping stone. It provides funds, it provides experience and it can provide a broader perspective. Work hard – developing the right work ethic will be invaluable in any future position you decide to take.
Additionally, be flexible in your job hunt. Maybe you thought you would be an architect or a social media guru. Maybe your idea of the perfect job doesn’t even exist anymore. But that doesn’t mean you have to resign to doing something ill-suited for your talents as a way to make a living. You can often incorporate elements of your passion along with your strengths. Ask yourself not only what you would be happy doing, but also where your skills actually fit it. Go beyond the traditional examples laid out for specific majors or studies.
Having to adapt doesn’t mean you’re letting your choices or education go to waste. It means that you’re being smart enough to make changes where changes are needed. Being flexible when necessary, and standing behind your choices are both admirable attributes!
Seek Happiness… But Save While You Do
One of the main priorites for Millennials – like previous and undoubtedly future generations – is happiness. Surveys show that on average, Millennials tend to rank happiness over a higher salary. That’s pretty inspiring from a social standpoint! But happiness isn’t exactly a currency to be put into your 401K. The thought of retirement, homeownership, and investments are often left out of the equation in pursuit of a more immediate satisfaction.
Striking the balance between a smart financial plan for your future, and a pursuit of a fulfilling and happy career in the meantime is more important than simply seeking one or the other. As you consider your present, consider your future and take advantage of options quickly and as often as you can. Personal finances, for instance. Younger folks have a huge advantage in regards to their retirement – time!
Though money won’t buy happiness, having a retirement unburdened by worry and a comfortable emergency fund if anything should go wrong in the meantime will certainly help achieve a happier future.
If you’re employed at a company that offers benefits like a 401K, then research how you can take advantage of them! If you’re new to the professional world, and not quite sure how the companies retirement benefits function – ask questions! Don’t avoid the topic just because you’re worried about looking unsure. There’s a reason companies hire financial advisers and accountants.
If the idea of little to no possibility of benefiting from social security is giving you anxiety, then take the opportunity to look into other forms of retirement to pay into. Look into opening an IRA. And beyond opening one – actually contribute to it. The advantages you have now are based on the fact that time is on your side.
Learn From Others
The best part about being the newest trackable generation is that there’s a surplus of advice and history available for you to learn from. Each generation is faced with its particular and specific challenges but that doesn’t mean different experiences can’t or shouldn’t be given due credit or consideration. Consider potential obstacles down the road based on how other challenges have been faced or resolved before you.
Heeding the wisdom of other generations will allow you to approach your finances strategically. Take the time to really listen to others – don’t take it for granted that experience does mean something. Work with those who have faced financial hardships, and find a middle ground. Especially when you may very well be encountering some very similar challenges, sharing work space, or witnessing the growth of the newest sandwich generation.
There’s a lot of advice out there – not all of it in your best interest. But there’s no harm in listening and taking different views into account. Listen, learn and continue to appreciate varying perspectives.
Work Hard, Keep At It and Don’t Give Up
Of course, we can’t end the post without giving a little old-fashioned encouragement. There will always be numbers and statistics, but sometimes it’s the simple words of wisdom that you can really find catching on loop in your mind. Undoubtedly, you’ll be giving the same advice to others as you continue to age and witness a new and unique set of generations develop. Work hard, keep at it and don’t give up – they’re timeless bits of advice and things to take seriously as you continue to explore the parameters of your financial life. You’re a hard worker, with confidence and optimism – that’s a pretty potent combination. Try to make the most of such admirable traits. As a millennial, utilize the positive aspects of your generation, and use them to your advantage!
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