Personal Finance

Millennials Are Poised to Be the Wealthiest Generation Yet: Here’s Why

Expertise: Real Estate News & Commentary, Real Estate Investing Basics, Mortgages & Creative Financing, Personal Finance, Personal Development
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millennial-wealth

If you take a look around, there are some mixed reviews of Millennial financial habits all over the web. Some studies suggest that Millennials aren’t saving a dime, while others counter that Millennials are getting surprisingly good at saving.

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Personally, I’m sick of hearing my generation (Millennials, or “Gen Y-ers”) get bashed for our lousy money habits. These naysayers are unable to see our accomplishments and potential as a generation, and that we may actually be ahead of the curve as far as money matters are concerned.

Despite the challenges that uniquely devastated Millennial personal finance and entry into the workplace, it’s my expectation that we are poised to be a powerhouse generation in terms of wealth creation over the long-term.

I believe in my generation because I believe that we have three distinct advantages over prior generations that are conducive to long-term wealth accumulation:

  1. A relatively powerful incentive to accumulate wealth rapidly
  2. A thorough, painful, but early financial education
  3. An instinctive grasp of 21st century business technology

Advantage #1: The Millennial Incentive

I believe that the single most important value for Millennials like myself is freedom — specifically, freedom with respect to when, how, and how much to work.

Millennials aren’t interested in the corporate life. In fact, I’d venture to say that a lot of us aren’t interested in “getting rich” or “climbing the corporate ladder,” as was the dream of many in the previous generation. Instead, we want to focus on wishy-washy, lazy, entitled life. We call it “work-life balance.”

reclaim-freedom

We value our time far more than our money. We want to experience life. That’s reflected in the changing job market, and in our earnings as a generation. Yes, money is obviously still the most important decision to us as a generation in terms of where to work, but flexibility is a close second place. Close enough where a $5,000 salary difference won’t quite cut it for that company that offers just two weeks’ vacation.

Any personal finance nerd will tell you that it’s never about the money. It’s about the freedom. It’s about F.U. Money. Millennials desperately want that freedom, and because that desire is bred so strongly in us as a generation, we have the mindset requisite of great investors.

We don’t want that money for spending on fancy new cars or big new houses; we want it so that we can experience a sunny summer Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon lounging in the park, not in some dusty cubicle cranking out spreadsheets. That’s what we’ll purchase. The cost of that isn’t an expense, it’s in fewer hours worked and resulting lower wages — what we finance nerds call opportunity cost.

Related: Not Too Late: A 20-Something’s Plea to Generation Yers for Financial Change

Previous generations were content and even eager to work the same job for a 40-year career, getting up at 8 a.m. every day and returning home at 5:00 so as to earn the maximum salary possible. Millennials won’t put up with that. Not for 40 years. Not when the opportunities and experiences available to us grow exponentially with each passing year and new technological advance.

I refuse to submit to that fate. I’m afraid of that fate; I think that it’s where dreams go to die. That fate didn’t and doesn’t sound so bad to our parents or the Gen Xers who directly preceded us. But it terrifies and motivates us Millennials.

One of the few ways to lay that fear to rest is by taking control of our finances through the accumulation of personal wealth and passive cash flow. There’s a reason why books like Rich Dad, Poor DadThe 4-Hour Workweek, etc. have exploded in popularity over the last decade. There’s a reason why BiggerPockets has grown so quickly.

We are doing our damndest as a generation to escape the cubicle fate. We want to bury the possibility of the cubicle forever, sustainably, by accumulating enough assets so as to never have to work again. That’s the ultimate reason to build wealth, and that’s the value that is so incredibly important to Millennials — far more so than it was to prior generations.

Advantage #2: The Millennial Education

We Millennials have the distinct “advantage” of entering the workforce in the worst economic circumstances this country has seen since the Great Depression.

To top that off, the single largest financial burden for many Millennials is their student debt. These immense personal debts, with no tangible assets to back them up, force Millennials to set aside vast portions of their paychecks towards loan repayment. The media shallowly ignores this burden with phrases like "Millennials aren't saving a dime." That's atrocious commentary in my opinion.

Many of my peers signed up for their $100,000 in student loan debt at the ripe old age of 17 or 18. I’m sure we can all agree that that’s the right age to take out a loan in that amount, and that they were fully educated with years of study on the financial consequences of that decision…

In spite of being (in my opinion) shamefully taken advantage of by the American collegiate education system, my now 20-something peers are paying down their debts by behaving well financially. Folks are setting aside large chunks of their income towards debt reduction, and they are accomplishing the amazing transition from negative net worth to zero net worth. That's far more of an achievement than starting from zero and accumulating wealth having started in the black.

With their loans paid down, America will suddenly find a large group of educated Millennials who already prioritize freedom and who have just recovered from a decade long struggle with crippling debt. Guess who’s unlikely to go take out a $30,000 car loan, or buy the fancy house on the hill for $1 million? Guess who never, ever wants to be in that position again? And guess who has developed a healthy decade long habit of setting aside large chunks of income to build net worth (in the form of debt payments)?

Millennials.

Millennials learned painful financial lessons back to back to back. The Financial Crisis. Student Debt. The Great Recession. But we learned those lessons early. We learned them in our 20s, unlike prior generations whose most painful lesson was the tech bubble in the early 2000s, a far less serious slap on the wrist than the more important crash of the late 2000s through the present. We’ve got plenty of time to pay down our debts, to remember how horrible bad debt truly is, and we are prepared for the worst economically; it’s all we’ve ever known.

Advantage #3: The Millennial Business Economy

I have almost no memory of a world without internet. That’s unique to my generation in today’s business world. Financial and business concepts that seem normal to the previous generations are laughably antiquated to Millennials.

I travel via Uber, schedule appointments online, exchange money instantly via my cell phone, learn about any topic that I’m interested in instantly and for free, and I communicate accurately, efficiently, and deeply with my peers through photos, text messages, and other mobile applications.

I don’t read maps, look up words in a dictionary, change my own oil, sew, or drive a stick shift. Some people call this a “struggle with life skills 101,” but I truly couldn’t care less what they think. I see those skills as just as outdated as tending the horses, plowing a field, or hunting game. I’ll keep acing “21st Century 101,” thanks.

The world is changing, and for me, that’s the standard. It’s obvious that mobile banking has already won, but yesterday’s generation just can’t keep up quite as fast as we can. Many older folks are unaware of the ability to instantly pay others via apps like Venmo. Parents, aunts and uncles aren’t using Uber instead of taxis yet, despite the obvious advantages.

It's simply amazing how far behind powerful businesses, like my mortgage orgination company, are. Dude, paper mail isn't days slower, it's decades behind. And so are the companies and businesses that still use it as a primary means of communication.

budgeting-apps

Related: The Most (and Least) Affordable Counties for Millenials to Buy and Rent

I’m not saying that Baby Boomers and Gen Xers aren’t able to adapt. It’s that they aren’t demanding and expecting rapid progress in these areas of business. The older generations see mobile banking as a great new feature to be adopted as a new business tool. Millennials like myself can’t understand why our money has to wait three business days to “settle” in our bank account. What the hell is that about? Are you kidding me? Banks that “settle” funds are already behind. By years.

This mindset is a powerful advantage. We aren’t just happy to have an added convenience. We’re frustrated by the fact that things aren’t already better than they are and seek out the better product constantly. It’s a subtle, yet extraordinarily powerful difference in mindset over time. I think it’s simply better business. And I think that this mentality is to our advantage.

Conclusion

Millennials are not perfect with money. We struggle in a lot of ways and have buried ourselves in a deep hole financially as a generation. We’ve had a rough start to our adult working lives as far as the economy and our personal net worth are concerned.

But that rough start makes us stronger. It makes us more flexible, and it makes us more conservative financially. Add to that tough start our powerful, deep motivations to accumulate wealth, and you have a generation that is uniquely positioned to change the world. And let’s not forget about our innate ability to understand the changing business landscape.

The opportunities for my generation of Millennials are huge. I think that they are even greater than they were for the generations that preceded us. Far from being financially backwards, irresponsible, and lazy, I think that Millennials are an extremely adaptive group, focused on freedom above all else. And I think that the hole that we’ve dug ourselves into is simply a deep, rock solid foundation for enormous financial success over the long run.

My money is on my generation. But only time will tell.

[We are republishing this article to help out our newer readers.]

Looking to set yourself up for life as early as possible and enjoy time on your terms? Scott Trench’s new book Set for Life can be purchased on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at other fine booksellers! Whether you’d like to “retire” from wage-paying work, become less dependent on your demanding nine-to-five, or simply spend time doing what you love, Set for Life will give you a plan to get there. This isn’t about saving up a nest egg. It’s not about setting aside money for a “rainy day.” Set for Life is an actionable guide that helps readers build the accessible wealth they need to achieve early financial freedom.

What do you think? Are Millennials in a great position to build substantial wealth, or will their financial problems continue to plague them?

Let me know your agreements or disagreements with my assessment below!

Scott Trench is a perpetual student of personal finance, real estate investing, sales, business, and personal development. He is CEO of BiggerPockets.com, a real estate investor, and author of the ...
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    Costin I. Rental Property Investor from Round Rock, TX
    Replied over 1 year ago
    Una hirundo non facit ver – Scott, you are the exception to the rule.
    Lesley Resnick Real Estate Agent from Jacksonville, FL
    Replied over 1 year ago
    Great article! While I am not a millennial, I have one. My daughter is 20 and a college student. As she is fond of saying, “I don’t understand her”. Interestingly enough, as she has aged, I hear it less and less. My greatest concern is not the individual members of this generation, but the events that are coming. The level of change is ever increasing and there will be big winners and big loses and no one knows. My grandparents and parents largely lived a similar economic existence. I remember traveling to California from Florida with my family, my father had a stack of hundreds an inch thick. We were not drug mules or doing anything illegal, but that was just how things were done. In my lifetime, it has all changed, It is unusual for me to carry more than $100 in cash. I fully expect that in my daughter’s lifetime paper currency will be all but extinct. A loss of personal freedom and privacy is very unnerving and going to shape peoples lives more than we give it credit. What would happen if right now you say, “hey Siri”? She is listening to everything you are saying. Is she recording it? We just don’t know. Are keywords and phrases being picked out? Will this come out in your supreme court hearing? Will you be forced to sell your pro basketball team? What people do today to generate value and pay is going to be very different than in the coming years. Automation is going to do to workers, what offshore outsourcing did to the US. Why make shoes in the US when they can be made in Srilanka for 1/10 the cost. When artificial intelligence and driverless cars hit, we will see a shakeup like never before. Driving a vehicle is the number one profession of men without a college degree. This is going to punch a huge hole in the economy. What will these people do to make a living? There will be masses of people who simply can not find a job. They will not be able to just acquire a skill and move up as is a popular concept, The next level jobs will be replaced by artificial intelligence. The events of a time will drive a generation, it will define who they are more than anything else. There may be a tendency to prefer one approach or another, but outside events will ultimately win out.
    Ed Emmons Specialist from Milford, ME
    Replied over 1 year ago
    Very interesting to see how the different age groups respond to this article. I think every Millennial should read and ponder the comments of the old timers as most of it is spot on. Experience is the best teacher but it doesn’t have to be your own. I have read the 4 Hour Work Week and E-Myth Revisited and I think every business owner and potential business owner should read them and apply the principles. The 4 hour work week is very possible to sustain a business set up through principles in E-Myth but it would be extremely lucky to build a business on a 4 hour work week. Scott, you have some very valid points and some that reflect your age which isn’t a bad thing just the fact. I would bet 20 yrs. from now your article will be very different. One of the biggest challenges that will face the younger generation of people reading this, which by the way doesn’t represent the norm, if they eventually build a real estate empire, who is going to do the maintenance and repairs as the older generation dies out? What the other “old” people have said here about the majority of the young seems to be the universal observation of the older generations. The people that are reading this and have the mindset to learn and strive to self improve are a small percentage of the population of any age. It has always been that 3% of the population are served by the other 97%. Roughly 10% will be worth what the other 90% are in financial terms. There is and always will be a need for all age groups to work together and learn from each other. Technology can’t replace experience and experience will only go so far without learning the technology. The ideal partnership would be one of each generation who has goals to be in the top 10%. All of us should try to educate others who are willing to learn. Many have no idea of the resources out there to improve our lives. Even when shown these things most of all generations will choose to watch tv, play video games or do other types of recreation for many hours a day. Let’s all help each other reach our goals whether it means sharing the latest technology or some great hacks on practical experience or common sense. I’m ready to help.
    Sofia Sharkey Rental Property Investor from Kansas City, MO
    Replied over 1 year ago
    So accurate! I love it and identify so much with what you described here. This generation doesn’t care about buying expensive toys, we just want our time back to explore the world. Technology is at our finger tips and it’s the vehicle to speed up learning, opportunities, and connections. Looking to connect with all the millennial investors who are killing it!
    Lynnette E. Rental Property Investor from Tennessee
    Replied over 1 year ago
    Will the millennials be the wealthiest generation? Very likely! Why? Because they are set to inherit from their grandparents and their parents, both generations who worked those 40 hour weeks for 40 years to create a more secure future for their families! But they are likely to pass nothing on to future generations themselves because they will sped it all on experiences! They are the first generation to spend so called ‘student’ loans on vacations, and then complain about the amount of their loans. The reason they have such high loan amounts, sometimes double and triple the cost of tuition and board is because it was used for ‘experiences’ too!
    Susan Maneck Investor from Jackson, Mississippi
    Replied over 1 year ago
    The average baby boomer hasn’t saved enough for their millennial to end up wealthy. We are the ones who got to attend college virtually free, not our children. I’d like to see your evidence that they are taking out two or three times in student loans what their education actually costs and spending it on vacations. That doesn’t describe any millennial I know. It sounds like just another age-old example of the older generation bashing the younger one.
    Lynnette E. Rental Property Investor from Tennessee
    Replied over 1 year ago
    Susan, I know many students who went on Spring and Winter, plus Summer breaks every year in college while paying for them with student loans. I have two 30 something kids (besides the two 15 year olds), so know many college grads who are millennials. It was very normal for my children’s peers to go on pretty lavish vacations 3 times a year while in college. None of them worked to pay for any college expenses, they lived on the ever-available loans. They are now paying the price for that choice. I often used my nephew, also a millennial, as an example of what folks could do instead of student loans. And he was a rarity among his peers. No vacations during college, no Spring breaks in the Caribbean, etc. He worked all Summer to earn money, and applied for every grant that required an essay. He found out that he could write an essay on any subject in a few hours and the grants that were for less then $500 had very little competition if it required work, like the essays. He made bank with the grants. He graduated with $10k left over and no debt, no loans. He lived off campus because he could live in a cheap apartment, ate entirely food he fixed, never pizza or out, and rode a bike everywhere, no car, no cell phone, communicated by the school computer in the lab. And he got a double masters. My work , which I am retired from, was federal government. There is loan forgiveness if the students work for so many years. I know about many students we hired post college degree with $150k to $200k after 4 years in a Cal State campus, some with the first 2 years in a JR. college. Yep, those may be college loans, but they did not spend that much on college expenses! And I know about the exact amounts because when there is loan forgiveness to the loan, the agency still has to pay for that forgiveness out of the agency budget, and those employees could really impact our budget.
    Susan Maneck Investor from Jackson, Mississippi
    Replied over 1 year ago
    I’m a college professor and I don’t know any students who go on lavish vacations on student loans. Some of them spend it on everyday expenses and don’t go to class, but those students don’t graduate and get student loan forgiveness. When I attended UCSC I graduated with $3000 in the bank and $300 in student loans. But when I took my son to visit some UC campuses I realized it would be cheaper for him to go to a private liberal arts college.
    Vaughn K. from Seattle, WA
    Replied over 1 year ago
    Well, you may wish to talk to your students in more detail then… Because I have heard several college kids talk about it from their own mouths, and plenty more indirectly. Lest you think I am some old codger ragging on millennials… I AM a millennial myself, granted at the older end of the generation. The truth is even using loans for day to day living expenses is a horrible idea. Day to day living expenses for many kids I’ve known includes going out to clubs, concerts, eating fancy food out, etc more than I did as an out of school adult making 6 figures! The truth is a lot of them are being idiots… The problem is the “system” is giving these idiots the rope to hang themselves with, when it probably shouldn’t. If school loans exclusively covered saaay ACTUAL tuition, books, and maybe dorm costs only it would prevent a lot of this nonsense. The kids would, GASP, have to actually have part time jobs and stuff, which would totally suck dude! But when they were 25 and didn’t have $100K in debt they’d appreciate it more. People no longer are forced to do it this way, hence you have 19 year olds not appreciating the fact that that sushi, music festival, etc is going to KILL them when they have to pay it back… And that’s if they even studied something useful that earns them decent money. For all the Arts Majors and whatever… They’re literally screwed. The whole system needs to be reworked, because it is taking advantage of gullible kids who don’t know any better, and who in some cases will basically never be able to recover from these bad choices.
    Vaughn K. from Seattle, WA
    Replied over 1 year ago
    As an older millennial… I’m going to have to disagree on a lot of this. First, I see a LOT of the same behavior he thinks is “old school” in people my age. I know PLENTY of cubicle working millennials… The fact that you work for a dot com that figured out it was cheaper to have a single long row of desks and not actually give you the privacy of your own cubicle… Yeeeeah, it’s still cubicle work buddy. If you think otherwise you’re just fooling yourself. Likewise many work in the same INDUSTRY for, well, maybe forever? There is more job hopping, but being a java programmer at Amazon and then doing the same thing at Microsoft… Same dif. Not spending on things? Tell that to all the 30 somethings buying Teslas they probably can’t (responsibly) afford in Seattle where I live. Or renting (because they can’t buy!) apartments in the NICEST parts of town, because it’s totally hip bro! First is wasteful THING spending, 2nd is wasteful EXPERIENCE spending. Neither is that great, at least not for your finances. I also think the laziness/entitled thing is somewhat real, although not as bad as some think. Actually, I think it’s mostly a feature of kids a few years younger than me and beyond. Older millennials honestly are more like Gen X in many ways, it’s the younger ones that got trophies for being LOSERS… People my age had to WIN to get trophies. I don’t think this sense of entitlement is a good thing either. I think a lot of people DO have the whole experiences/work balance thing going on… But spending yourself broke on fancy ramen is really no better than doing it by buying a boat like your dad might have done… In fact dads boat at least retained SOME resale value. Frankly, I think most millennials have a horrible sense of their finances… BUT at the end of the day, I think ALL these things are just kind of “on the margins” sort of things. There are people of all types and opinions in all generations. Personally I think my generation is a little on the lower side percentage wise on a lot of good traits/habits, but not so much so we’re completely doomed. But if anything I would lean towards thinking we’ll slightly under perform, not irrational exuberance thinking we’re going to blow everybody else out of the water because we started using Uber 2 years before our dad did. LOL