Millennials Are Top Savers, but Not for Retirement

‘Fear of missing out’ influences 18-to-34-year-olds’ spending habits

For a majority of millennials, saving no longer has a retirement focus; it’s about financial freedom.  

The latest Merrill Edge Report finds that 63% of millennials were looking to achieve the amount of savings or income necessary to live their desired lifestyle, versus the 55% of baby boomers and Gen Xers who were saving for an exit strategy to leave the workforce.

In terms of their top priorities in life, 42% of millennials focused on working at their dream job, compared with 23% of older generations, and 37% on traveling the world, versus 21% of Gen Xers and boomers.

The younger cohort was much less likely than the older one to prioritize traditional life milestones, such as marriage and parenting.

What Merrill called millennials’ “fear of missing out” philosophy trumped saving for their financial future. Eighty-one percent were more likely to spend money on traveling, 65% on dining out and 55% on exercising.

(Note: Millennials don’t like to be called that.)

“This spring’s report shows us even more differences between how millennials and their parents view and save for the future,” Aron Levine, head of Merrill Edge, said in a statement.

“Young adults tell us they are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve freedom and flexibility, even if it means working for the rest of their lives. To ensure success, it’s increasingly important these younger generations take a hands-on, goals-based approach to their long-term finances and prioritize saving in the short term.”

It behooves advisors to find out who millennials are and what they want.

Convergys, an independent market research firm, conducted an online survey of 1,023 mass affluent respondents across the U.S. from March 21 to April 5. Millennials in the poll had either investable assets between $50,000 and $250,000 or an annual income of at least $50,000 and investable assets between $20,000 and $50,000. Older respondents had between $50,000 and $250,000 in investable assets.

Unprepared for ‘What-Ifs’

The survey overturned a stereotype. The report found that respondents in every generation viewed their elders as superior savers.

However, when asked how much of their income they saved annually, millennials reported that they saved a much larger share than their generational counterparts, with about one in three millennials putting more than 20% of their salary toward savings goals.

Overall, 42% of respondents were saving less than 10% of their salary, and 7% were not saving at all.

The report said this broader savings gap could explain why respondents felt unprepared for various “what-if” scenarios. Seventy-one percent lacked confidence that they could achieve their financial goals if they were to get divorced; just 5% said they had planned for the possibility.

Sixty-four percent said they were not very confident they could be financially successful if they had children, with just 23% saving for a family. And 48% were not very confident they could achieve their goals if they outlived their significant other.

Respondents agreed that they could do a better job to prepare for life’s surprises. Fifty-nine percent said individual Americans should be required to save for their own retirement, and 48% asserted that financial education should be a requirement.

Future of Investing

Technology innovations are having a significant influence on the future of saving, as many Americans increasingly embrace recent industry advancements to make investment decisions and receive guidance.

Two in five survey respondents said they made and managed their investments through an online or mobile portal. One in eight overall, and 22% of millennials, said they currently used a robo-advisor or would consider doing so in the next year.

Fifty-one percent reported that the ability to invest via mobile made them feel knowledgeable. Thirty-one percent said they felt empowered and 14% savvy.

Asked to make predictions for the next decade of investing, 41% of respondents believed emerging technologies would allow more people to invest, 34% said most investments would be automated and 29% predicted that the 401(k) account would lose its “gold standard” sheen.

“We’re at a pivotal moment in time, when our physical and digital worlds are intersecting more than they ever have before,” Levine said. “This growing shift is driving our high-tech and high-touch approach to innovation, and the beauty is that consumers are recognizing that planning for their later years is not a one-size-fits-all process.

“With new technologies, customers have the flexibility to be hands-on with their investment decisions, while still consulting an advisor to help navigate complexities as their lives change.”

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