According to Goldman Sachs, there are 92 million Millennials, making them the biggest generation in U.S. history. They're about to move into their prime spending years, and are poised to reshape the economy. They could change everything we do, from what we buy to how we do business.
But there are a few problems with this: many Millennials are mired in debt, not investing, and are teetering on the brink of financial disaster.
Millennials don't corner the market on debt and economic uncertainty. Plenty of indebted generations before them have experienced similar predicaments that left the future full of doubts.
Fortunately, today there are more tools, technology, and resources to help turn our financial health around than ever before. But those tools and resources have to be utilized to make a difference.
Here's a look at 5 of the top money mistakes Millennials often make--and what they can do to correct them.
1. Shrugging Off a Budget
Debt and budget often go hand-in-hand, with one creating a domino effect that topples the other. Unfortunately, Millennials are prone to skipping the budget altogether and just winging it instead.
One reason for this could be their reliance on technology to tell them when their checking account is low or they're using too much plastic. It's easy to forget about making timely payments when your credit card statement is tucked safely in your spam folder.
Let's face it: most Millennials aren't going to sit down and balance a checkbook, or even log into their bank account every day to see what's going on.
Instead, they should embrace what they're good at: technology. An app like XOBI serves as a virtual assistant for personal finance. You can connect XOBI to your credit card and bank account. It creates a real-time digital library of all your spending and savings, so you can see at a glance how much you spend on groceries or how much it costs to own your own car.
2. Pretending Debt Doesn't Exist
The second money mistake Millennials frequently make is pretending that their debt doesn't exist. Ignoring debt is one approach for keeping money in your bank account, but ultimately it will only unravel and sink your long-term financial health.
To be fair, it's hard to blame Millennials for wanting to shrug off the sticker shock of their ever-growing debt and seeing it as part of the status quo. But there are solutions to digging out of debt and allocating more funds towards investing and living better. Create a side income dedicated to your debt burden, or look into the Student Loan Forgiveness Program to help repay debt.
There are also some more creative options to paying down debt relatively quickly. Some states are trying to lure graduates wanting to pay down their crushing student loans. Kansas offers a student loan repayment plan for those who establish residency in a Rural Opportunity Zone.
Whatever you do, don't pretend debt doesn't exist and decide paying it off is futile. Gen Y Personal Finance Advisor Sophia Bera says, "I've never had a client regret paying off their student loans. Eliminating your student loan debt can free you financially to be able to achieve other goals like traveling, starting a business, or scaling back on work to raise a family."
3. Ignoring Investments
Which is worse? Ignoring your debt, or ignoring your investments? Both can have a similar catastrophic effect and leave Millennials working paycheck-to-paycheck for the rest of their lives.
Don't put off investing until your 30s or 40s (but it's better late than never). Millennial money expert Stephanie O'Connell warns, "Savings at the exclusion of investing can prove problematic over the long term. Investing grows your money in a way that savings cannot match."
Working with a financial advisor who has experience working with Millennials' unique financial landscape is a good place to start. You can also ask about 401k company match plans at your workplace, or SEP IRAs if you're self-employed and looking for ways to save while offsetting taxes.
So now that you've asked HR about matching plans and are talking to an investor, what's next? Millennials are poised to disrupt the investment industry, and aren't going to just sit back and accept the traditional advice doled out to them. They want clear, simple advice with technological features attached.
They also have so much debt that they're not going to sink their hard-earned money into the stock market at the rate we've seen in the past. Start with a service like Betterment to get a handle on your retirement options, and use an app like Digit to study your finances and spending habits, and automatically save small amounts to a savings account without ever feeling it.
4. Skimping on Healthcare
It's common for people to think they're immune to serious illness, accidents, or worse. Yet it's pretty much inevitable that everyone will need medical care at one point or another--and a good health insurance policy in place. If you're an employed Millennial, the good news is that your company is likely helping to foot the bill, although the premiums can still be steep.
For those who are unemployed or underemployed and without benefits, keeping up with health care can cost a small fortune. Currently, the penalty for not having health insurance in 2016 is either 2.5% of your household income, or $695 per person. If you're skipping health insurance, plan to pay whichever is higher. But just remember that the cost of not having insurance and suffering a health setback could put you into serious debt.
5. Overspending with Plastic
It's no surprise that a poll by CreditCards.com found that Millennials prefer using plastic over cash.
Credit cards can be a great way to rack up airline miles and cash back offers, but they can put Millennials in financial danger. The current economic climate of low wages, underemployment, and staggering student debt make it tough to make ends meet and get on top of cash flow.
And now that 53 million Americans freelance, it's not uncommon to see paychecks come once every 30 to 60 days--or longer. That makes overspending and splurging with plastic for everything from car repairs to dinners out an all-too-easy alternative.
I can't imagine Millennials are going to ditch their technologically-savvy upbringing and adopt their grandparents' envelope cash system to straighten out their plastic problem and budgeting blues. Instead, a tool like Debitize can help turn your credit cards into debit cards so the cash comes out of your bank account and doesn't pile up on your card.
So where do Millennials go from here? Maybe a step backward, to take inventory of their personal and financial life. According to Edelman, Millennials are reaching key personal goals faster than financial goals. If Millennials align their personal goal of having rewarding experiences with their financial goals, they just may be an unstoppable generation.
What kind of mistakes do you see Millennials making with their finances, and how can they fix them? Let me know by leaving a comment below: