While our nation battles the widespread economic challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Millennials are gaining a new perspective on the value of a budget.
According to a survey from First Insight, the coronavirus has impacted the purchase decisions of Millennials more than any other generation. Instead of shopping trips at the outlet mall or double dates at the local bar, we’re left scrolling through Instagram and bingeing on baked goods. With fewer opportunities to spend, younger Americans are becoming more aware of their (lack of) saving tendencies, and many are making a concerted effort to change.
As we adapt our habits to weather a volatile economy, here are five financial lessons our generation is learning along the way.
Everyone should have an emergency fund
In January of this year, the TIAA Institute conducted a financial survey of 1,000 Americans, which revealed that the financial knowledge of Americans was “lowest in the area of comprehending risk.”
This reality affects much more than our ability to navigate the ups and downs of the stock market. It impacts our responses to the unforeseen circumstances of everyday life — a broken refrigerator, a popped tire, even a surprise root canal. However, the rapid, unpredictable nature of the coronavirus is forcing us to recognize the importance of expecting the unexpected.
In conversations with my own friends, I’ve seen how the jarring reality of business closures, lost jobs, and millions of unemployment claims has prompted a substantial shift in the budget habits of Millennials.
“I’ve started independently saving about three times more a month than I used to,” says Ariah (26). “Even my stimulus check went in savings.”
Financial experts like Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman recommend Americans save roughly three-eight months of monthly expenses in an emergency fund. After nearly two months in quarantine, I think many of my peers will adopt their suggestion to maintain a healthier savings cushion long after the pandemic passes.
How much of our spending is “essential”
COVID-19 has limited the businesses currently operating to those deemed “essential” — which means no manicures, no hair cuts, and absolutely no tattoos.
In fact, Americans have cut spending habits substantially in response to the coronavirus, and many are embracing quarantine as an opportunity to evaluate and modify financial habits.
Now more than ever, online personal finance services like PocketSmith and MoneyPatrol are providing structure and guidance for those of us who want to improve our budgets — and we finally have time to do so.
As you review your own finances, PocketSmith’s built-in forecasting tools can help you visualize how your current spending and saving will affect you long term. Additionally, MoneyPatrol has developed a demo so you can experience their tools and features before adding your own bank accounts, bills, investments, and more.
For some of us, taking this time to improve our budgets during the pandemic may also reveal what we truly need to thrive. With shopping now limited to food and household supplies, Anne (28) says the coronavirus has given her “a whole new definition of ‘essential.’”
“While browsing my favorite retail and consignment stores is a pastime I enjoy, it’s been a refreshing experience to see all of the things that we can live without.”
We need to teach kids about personal finance
The coronavirus has shed some light on the lack of financial health among Americans, but it may also be the catalyst for change, prompting parents to educate the next generation.
As schools across the country remain closed, parents have transitioned to homeschooling to finish out the year, and many are adding topics like personal finance to their children’s curriculum.
“There is definitely a trend: We are doing a lot of academic stuff with our kids, but let’s go back to our roots.” she says. “Let’s teach our kids how to fix a car, how to garden… how to balance a checkbook.”
To teach your own children about money management, consider browsing through online resources from reputable organizations like the American Bankers Association (ABA). They offer tools, tips, and even games for a variety of age groups.
It’s important to invest for retirement
While many Millennials have drastically reduced discretionary spending in the last two months, Erin Lowry, author of Broke Millennial Takes On Investing, says the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus can offer young people a unique opportunity to begin investing for retirement.
“We actually use the wrong language when we talk about retirement,” says Lowry. “We say ‘saving for retirement,’ but really you’re investing for retirement.”
Webull is “a financial company driven by technology” and provides detailed tools so you can easily build and customize your portfolio. You can also engage in E*TRADE’s “thematic investing” to support a specific industry like clean energy or health care innovators.
However, if you’re still uncertain about investing, consider options like You Invest by J.P. Morgan, where your portfolio can be personally designed and managed by experts at J.P. Morgan.
After receiving their stimulus checks, Hayley (26) and her husband Ben (30) used a small portion of their savings to begin investing.
“Each of us invested somewhere around $100,” says Hayley. “It isn’t a ton, but getting into the stock market and learning how to watch the market is good for us.” When the pandemic slows, Hayley and Ben have plans to diversify their portfolio more and dedicate more money to retirement.
Millennials are taking advantage of low interest rates
It’s unclear how COVID-19 will affect the housing market long-term, but, in the meantime, Millennials are refinancing to lock in historically low interest rates.
Joe Tyrell, chief operating officer at Ellie Mae, says older Millennials (30-40 years old) are refinancing their mortgages to gain lower interest rates, while younger Millennials (21-29 years old) are utilizing the current market to purchase their first home.
“We’re also seeing first-time homebuyers take advantage of low rates as well as the availability of non-conventional loan types, which allow for lower down payments, helping them make the American Dream of owning a home a reality.”
Even with strict shelter-in-place orders in California, Mare (27) and Chris (27) recently purchased their first home in Palm Springs.
“Prior to the pandemic we were planning to buy in the summer, but after receiving pre-approval, we were too excited to wait,” says Mare. “We plan to use this house as a rental property in the future and are grateful that we are now building equity.”
Whether you’re searching for a new home or a lower monthly payment, services like Reali Loans are providing our generation with the technology needed to complete the process online — especially as social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders remain in place. Reali also offers a simple pre-approval questionnaire so you can get a free quote quickly.
The coronavirus has effectively altered everything we once knew as normal, but Millennials have been quick to adapt and are continuing to adapt.
For some of us, quarantine restrictions have been an effective incentive to update budget practices using financial services like PocketSmith. Others have explored investing opportunities through platforms like Webull and E*TRADE. Even young parents have utilized the extra time at home to teach their kids how to manage money well.
In the face of an uncertain future, we are adopting new habits to improve our financial health, teaching our children to follow suit, and equipping our families to pull through this pandemic better than before.