What Do Financially Successful Millennials Have In Common?

What separates the millennials who are struggling with the ones who are thriving? We asked a certified financial planner who works with Gen Y to share her thoughts.

Millennials have a reputation for delaying adulthood. Many of them graduated during an economic downturn and are struggling to build their careers, pay down debt, and save up for long-term financial goals.

As a result, they put off buying a home and car, they’re more likely to live with their parents than with a significant other, and they’re waiting longer to get married and have kids.

But despite the stereotypes, millennials don’t refuse to grow up. With the oldest members of Generation Y approaching their mid-30s, many have reached those traditional markers of adulthood. And quite a few have found financial success! It takes more than a combination of hard work and luck. To be a financially successful millennial is to adhere to a certain mindset and set of values.

What do they do differently? I work with some pretty successful Millennial clients, and here are the patterns I see.

They Go Their Own Way

The American Dream used to mean marriage, kids, a home in the suburbs with two cars in the garage, and a gold watch after 30 years at the same company. In today’s economic climate, the traditional American Dream is out of reach for many millennials — but they don’t really want that for themselves, anyway!

It’s easy to give in to pressure from family and friends to stick to a certain life script. You buy a home because you’ve been taught that renting is throwing money away. You buy a nicer car than you can afford to project a certain image to your friends. You take on even more student loans to get a master’s degree because you’re convinced a bachelor’s isn’t enough.

But you can write your own life script — one where you determine what’s important to you. Financially successful millennials don’t make money decisions because their friends are all buying condos or their parents want to brag. They take the time to think about what matters to them, and that’s where their hard-earned dollars go.

It takes a healthy dose of chutzpah to follow your own path, but the rewards are sweet.

They Live Within Their Means

Following your own life path also means the simple step of spending less than you earn. Budget your money and make cuts as needed. If you don’t love setting a budget an easy way to live within your means is this:

  • Know your monthly take-home pay.
  • Add up the total you need to pay for fixed needed monthly costs (rent or mortgage payments, utility bills, groceries, transportation, medical expenses, or loan payments).
  • Set up automatic savings to funnel money into your retirement, savings, and investment accounts before you get a chance to see it and spend it.
  • Whatever money is left after you pay your bills and set aside savings is yours to spend as you please!

This easy method of budgeting allows you to cover your bills and pay yourself first, but still leaves some wiggle room for variable costs like entertainment, dining out, shopping, travel, and more.

They Aim to Earn More

Two ways to increase your net worth are saving more and earning more. Financially successful Millennials definitely prioritize saving money, but they also know that one of their biggest assets is their earning potential.

That means they develop new skill sets by constantly seeking out learning opportunities. They work hard for promotions at their jobs — and they don’t neglect to negotiate their salaries on a regular basis, especially if they take on new responsibilities.

And should the chance for a side hustle present itself, they go for it. A second job, if your schedule allows it, can be a great way to boost your income while learning new things. It’s also a low-risk way to see if a career change would be right for you. If you like the work, you steer your career in that direction. If you don’t, lesson learned — and you still have your full-time job to fall back on.

When you’re young, establishing your career is really important. You’re creating your future earning potential today, and increasing your odds of being able to afford a higher standard of living as your career progresses.

One more thing — remember to protect your ability to work by getting disability insurance, which can come in handy should you ever suffer an illness or injury that prevents you from working for a time. Your job might already build coverage into your benefits package so make sure you elect coverage for short-term and long-term disability insurance during open enrollment.

They Make a Plan for Their Money

Saving money is good. Saving money for a specific goal is better! The reason for having a goal is simple: if you have one, you can work backwards to figure out how much to set aside now to be able to afford your goal later. Without that goal, you might not save enough for the things you decide you’d like to do in a few years.

And a money plan involves more than just saving for short- and long-term goals. It also includes retirement planning, investing, paying off debt, protecting yourself and your valuables with insurance, and even planning your estate if you have assets you’d like to pass along to a loved one.

Some argue that your 20s and 30s is too young to begin thinking about these things, but I disagree. At this age, you’re making some of those most important financial choices of your life — deciding if and when to buy a home, marry, and have children. And as Millennials head into their 40s, they’ll also be making decisions about caring for elderly relatives, funding their children’s educations, and more. Starting as early as you can is the responsible thing to do.

They Know When to Seek Help

There are more and more financial planners like myself that are geared towards helping Millennials manage their money more effectively, so if you’re wanting help navigating through these major life changes, feel free to reach out to a CFP for help.

Online banking, budgeting, tax preparation, and investing tools makes it easier than ever to handle your own finances. But a savvy Millennial knows when they’re in over their head.

Sometimes, seeking the help of a financial planner, accountant, tax preparer, or attorney is essential when you’re making adjustments to your financial plan. Usually professional advice is most helpful when you’re going through a big life change, like marriage or divorce, having children, receiving a large inheritance, or even starting your own business.

Professional advice involves an investment of your time and money, but if that help leads to a clear financial plan with specific and attainable goals, you’ll earn that investment back and then some.

This Can Be You!

It is possible to do all these things — work on your career, plan out your finances — without it taking up all of your time. A few small actions, plus a healthy dose of self-reflection, can really pay off for you. Looking for a good place to start? Check out my ebook on What You Should Have Learned About Money But Never Did or sign up for my free Gen Y Planning Newsletter here.

Sophia Bera, CFP® is not your father’s financial planner. After working in traditional financial planning firms since 2007 she quit her job at a NY start-up to launch her own firm, Gen Y Planning. Now, she runs a 6-figure online business from her laptop. Her recent accolades include the “Top 40 Under 40” by Investment News, “10 young Advisors to Watch” by Financial Advisor Magazine, and “10 of the Best Personal Finance Experts on Twitter.”

5 Comments

  1. Rudy SMT

    June 10, 2016 at 10:28 pm

    Millennials are reshaping the financial world with their value and a new way of life.

    Would be interesting to see how the car industry will change to adapt to the Millenial new requirement.

    Why buy a car with a big engine? Actually, why purchase a car at all?

  2. ZJ Thorne

    June 11, 2016 at 8:18 am

    This is true of practically everyone doing well financially. An important point is that they get a job (not all millienials have found one) and are not laid off.

  3. K Welch

    June 22, 2016 at 10:39 am

    You make some very good points in the article. However, please warn Millennials to be extra careful who they have as a spouse/significant other and to protect themselves. I had over $300,000 in liquid assets for retirement-caught my cheating spouse stealing it and he was giving it to his girlfriends! Yes, he was caught actually stuffing money into their mailboxes! He finally admitted it. I demanded divorce but they had already siphoned it off. Be wise. Thanks.

    • Nate Tsang

      June 22, 2016 at 10:47 am

      Wow, that’s really horrible.

      Very sorry you had to go through that K, but also thanks for taking the time to share your experience.

  4. Jenna L at Hello Suckers

    June 29, 2016 at 7:44 am

    Some great points.
    I am a millennial just starting my financial journey and I am already learning about living within my means in order to improve my PF. I think it’s that drive and having those goals that will bring you success.

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