Photo: Flickr / joshuahoffmanphoto
John T. Rogers, age 26, grew up in rural West Texas, raised by a single mother who often worked three jobs to make ends meet. He says his 59-year-old mother remains fiscally conservative, refusing to spend a dime on herself, though she now earns a respectable income.But when it comes to spending, Rogers is not following in her footsteps. “Not to knock J.C. Penney’s, but I definitely wanted to step up my style,” he said. Earning $46,000 a year as a communications manager for a private, non-profit university in Denver hasn’t held him back. He bought a hybrid Lexus SUV after graduating from college and recently purchased a $950 Hugo Boss suit as well as the iPad 3, since the MacBook he purchased five years ago “moves at a glacial pace and I can’t carry it around to meetings and look cool.”
To balance his spending, Rogers skimps in other areas, shunning trips to Starbucks and seeking out free or inexpensive cultural activities. Still, he’s racked up $3,500 in credit card debt and owes $19,000 in undergraduate loans and $22,000 in graduate loans that will kick in this September.
Rogers is like many of his millennial peers, who are helping to jumpstart the economy in ways that their more fiscally conservative boomer parents are not. Despite the fact that those ages 18 to 29 have among the highest unemployment rate, at 12.4 per cent, and those with college degrees are the most indebted graduates in history, millennials are positive about the economy and their futures. According to a February 12th 2012 report by the Pew Research centre entitled, “Young, Underemployed and Optimistic,” 88 per cent of those ages 18 to 34 say they either earn enough money now or expect they will in the future.
This has led to some uninhibited spending by young people. According to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, Gen Y shoppers will be a big factor in leading the economic recovery, since this generation has a greater willingness to spend, especially on new technologies. “Gen Y is accustomed to instant gratification and demands the latest and greatest gadgetry; a tech lifestyle is a need, not a want,” the report says. Millennials are more inclined toward spending on discretionary items, since they have fewer financial responsibilities and less need to accumulate wealth in the immediate term, in comparison to older shoppers, the report says.
Jason Dorsey, chief strategy officer at The centre for Generational Kinetics in Austin, Texas, says that while there’s certainly a significant group of young people who are struggling financially, there are also plenty of affluent young professionals who have accumulated net worth. And they often spend without thinking about the long-term implications.
One big reason? Spending is easier with credit cards. “Nobody our age carries that much cash anymore,” says Chris Sands, age 27, private CFO of oXYGen Financial, Inc., a financial planning firm tailored to Generations X and Y. The preoccupation with material goods is a reflection of the consumer-driven culture in which they were raised, says Matthew Segal, age 26 and co-founder and president of Our Time, an advocacy group for young Americans. “We’ve been deluged by ad and marketing campaigns from the crib,” in a way that no prior generation has experienced, he said. And the rise of social media means that there are so many more platforms to market to this group.
Studies show that young people are more focused on material goods than prior generations were at the same age. The Monitoring the Future study, an annual survey of high school seniors, found that only 30 per cent of baby boomers surveyed from 1976 to 1978 felt that having a new car every two to three years was important, while 44 per cent of millennials surveyed between 2000 and 2010 valued that as important. In The American Freshman survey of entering college students, 42 per cent of boomers surveyed in 1966 said that being very well off financially was important – while that number rose to 80 per cent of millennials surveyed in 2011, a record high.