In 2017, 35-year-old millionaire Tim Gunder set the internet ablaze with Millennial ire when he opined that the reason that Millennials could not afford homes was owing to their penchant for expensive coffees and smashed avocado on toast. Millennials bit back with sarcastic remarks blaming a stinted economy and crippling student-debt to explain their seeming lack of moxie. So, are Millennials in a financial rut of their own making, or have the cards been stacked against them from the beginning?
Below, we’ll discuss three reasons Gunder’s appraisal of Millennials is right on the money, and three reasons to cut Millennials some slack (and maybe even a check!).
Blame the Economy
Millennials are frugal
Contrary to the popular belief of billionaires and baby boomers, Millennial frugality puts your grandma’s coupon-clipping to shame. Coming of age during the Great Recession, Millennials witnessed the disappearance of their parents’ life savings and widespread home foreclosures. These influences have made Millennials a generation of conservative spenders who are fearfully aware that employment and financial stability are never promised. When one considers how far Millennials will go to achieve personal financial stability – like living in a truck in a company parking lot to beat student loan debt and high housing prices – it’s hardly surprising that Millennials spend less on apparel and other incidentals than previous generations, and that they have more cash savings than the general population.
The economy isn’t what it used to be
Millennials are not making big investments in cars, homes and retirement savings because today’s economy has all but put these big-ticket items out of reach. Even in the years leading up to the Great Recession, the average wealth of people in their 20s and 30s was 7% less than it was in the 1980s, and 7% can be the difference between having savings and living paycheck to paycheck. This, combined with wage stagnation and significant increases in education, health insurance, and housing prices (the median price for a home has risen by 20% since the 1990s), and Millennials are facing the perfect storm. Brunch or no brunch, Millennial dollars simply don’t buy as much as they used to.
Millennials are hard workers
The Harvard Business Review reports that an overwhelming number of Millennials are self-identified “work-martyrs,” full-time employees who want their bosses to view them as fully dedicated. Forty-three percent of them even feel guilty for taking time off, and they’ve forgone more paid time off than any other demographic. The Deloitte consulting group uncovered an upswing in employee loyalty among Millennials, with over a third stating they see themselves staying five or more years in their current position. In stark contrast to their personification as lazy or entitled, Millennials are eager to impress and stay employed.
Blame The Avocados
Millennials make frivolous purchases
Gunder’s controversial statements about Millennials overspending on coffee and avocado toast were not far off the mark. Millennials consume 44% of the coffee in America, which makes restaurants and cafes ecstatic, and their grocery bills are inflated by high-cost organic food purchases. While most millennials are still living at home, they are willing to spend big money on experiences, like travel and live shows (83% spent money on live entertainment last year). Another favorite Millennial purchase is body art – 40% of Millennials have at least one tattoo. With prices starting at $100 per hour, Baby Boomers are rightly perplexed by a generation which prefers body art and organic bananas over moving out of mom’s place.
Millennials make poor financial decisions
A recent Gallup poll demonstrated that pay is not in the average Millennial’s top tier of priorities in a job. Millennials happily trade security for flexibility and decrease their chances for promotion through relentless job-hopping. For a generation strapped with the nation’s highest-ever levels of student debt, choosing purpose over pay is hardly an effective approach for getting ahead. And Millennials have misguided ideas about long-term financial health as well. While Millennials’ preference for liquidity might be understandable, cash is commodity that often depreciates more than a house or even stocks. Poor decision-making is doing more damage to Millennials than a weak economy ever could.
Millennials are poisoned by instant gratification
Millennials have grown up in a world where most things are just a click away, be it their favorite Rihanna single (Remember actually waiting for your favorite song to come on the radio? Well, Millennials don’t.) or an interactive history of WWII. In the professional world, employers perceive Millennials as victims of grandiose expectations at best and reluctant to pay their dues at worst. Indeed, Millennials do believe that pay raises and promotions should be swift. Forty percent of Millennials believe that they should receive raises every two years no matter how they performed, and a full third of Millennials planned to jump ship from their companies because they were not adequately developing their “leadership skills.” This mindset is simply inimical to the long-term planning required to buy a home.
The Bottom Line: A long list of Millennial moguls have shown the generation’s tremendous ability to capitalize on opportunity, even in an increasingly hard-to-navigate economy. But is this success readily available to all Millennials, or are the successful Millennials merely outliers? Feel free to discuss, over avocado toast and $4 coffee.