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Despite being ambitious and goal-oriented, the youngest American adults are “saddled with substantial uncertainties about their current financial status” and see “significant room for improvement” in how they manage their money on a day-to-day basis, according to the latest findings of Northwestern Mutual’s 2019 Planning & Progress Study.

Almost seven in 10 Gen Zers (69%) indicated they didn’t have much clarity on how much money they should be saving for later and how much they could spend now, according to a survey of Gen Zers — Americans born from 1997 to 2012 — that was conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Northwestern Mutual from Feb. 20 to March 5.

More than a quarter (28%) of Gen Zers, meanwhile, viewed their generation as not at all responsible when it came to finances, which was “double that of the general population (14%) and well above the percentage” of millennials who said the same thing (22%), Northwestern Mutual said in announcing the findings of its study Tuesday.

And 57% reported not even knowing how much money they had in savings, which was significantly higher than the general population (46%) and their millennial counterparts (48%), the firm said.

Predictably, Gen Zers had far less money saved than those in the general population or millennials. While 8% of the general population and 9% of millennials indicated they had $25,000 to $74,999 in savings, only 2% of Gen Zers said they had that much saved, according to the data. Similarly, 3% of the general population and 4% of millennials had $75,000 to $124,999, but only 1% of Gen Zers had that much; 3% of the general population had $125,000 to $199,999, but 0% of Gen Zers or millennials; and 10% of the general population and 6% of millennials had $200,000 or more, but only 2% of Gen Zers.

It was the first time that Gen Zers were studied as part of Northwestern Mutual’s annual Planning & Progress Study. Although millennial debt was included in the 2018 edition of the report, it wasn’t cited for Gen Zers this time.

When asked to list the three things that would improve their lives the most, 50% of Gen Zers said having more money (50%), followed far behind by being more self-confident or self-reliant (27%) and doing work they enjoyed (24%).

“Given the age of Gen Zers and where they are professionally, it’s not particularly surprising that more money would have the most immediate impact,” according to Emily Holbrook, senior director of planning at Northwestern Mutual. But she found the other two choices “revealing,” she said, adding: “The desire for more self-confidence and self-reliance illustrates the depth of their uncertainty even if their instincts and motivations appear to be in the right place. This is a generation that’s looking for more than a paycheck — they’re looking for meaning at work.”

Indeed, when asked how they defined success, the top response from Gen Zers was “enjoying your career” (45%), the firm said, noting this is the only generation placing an enjoyable career first, ahead of attributes including “spending quality time with family,” which ranked highest for millennials and matures, and “being healthy,” which Gen Xers and boomers listed as their top attribute.

Despite uncertainties about their finances, Gen Zers were optimistic about their prospects, the study found. Almost eight in 10 (78%) indicated they believed that someday they would get where they wanted to be in life, which was more than 10 percentage points higher than the general public (67%) and also slightly outranked their millennial counterparts (75%), according to Northwestern Mutual. Meanwhile, 65% of Gen Zers indicated they were confident they would achieve their goals for the next 5-10 years, on par with millennials and surpassing the general population (59%).

Included in the survey were 2,003 American adults aged 18 or older in the general population and an oversample of 281 U.S. adults age 18 to 22 who participated in an online survey, Northwestern Mutual said. The results were weighted to Census targets for education, age/gender, race/ethnicity, region and household income, it noted.

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