The myths and realities of millennial wealth

29th November 2017
by:

“Millennials – stop buying avocado toast if you want to buy a house”

Sound familiar?

A curious trend has surfaced within the thinkpiece journalism of contemporary culture in recent years. It involves making sweeping and largely inaccurate generalisations about the economic circumstances of entire generations – often accompanied by unhelpful scaremongering that doesn’t consider the realities of many young people’s lives.

The pessimism – and it usually is pessimism – is a self-fulfilling prophecy that’s fuelled largely by the media juggernaut responsible for reporting it – but even intergenerationally, it would appear that everyone and their mother has an opinion about how people (and mostly 20-35 year olds) are spending their money. It’s been reported that 60% of millennials would rather spend their income on in-the-moment pleasures rather than saving for the future, which makes sense given the climate of financial instability most millennials have grown up in.

With skyrocketing student loan debts, insane house prices and major changes to traditional structures of living and working – for example, the concept of a job for life, which is now pretty much obsolete – millennials are living and spending differently to any other generation before. In short: there’s more brunching, less future-targeted number crunching – or so we’re told.

And there’s some truth to it. Even anecdotally speaking, it’s just a fact that it is a lot harder to buy a house now than it was 30 years ago, and millennials do tend to spend more money on experiences than stuff (although that, we might add, is rather less to do with the humble avocado – and more to do with economic conditions invoked by the decisions of previous generations *cough*).

We built Starling because we want to help people enjoy a better relationship with their money, achieve their loftiest goals and as a result, live the very best version of their own lives. Because money – our often-tempestuous relationship with it; a dearth or surplus of it – isn’t necessarily the measure of success or a guarantee of joy, but managing it well does allow us to grow hopes and dreams into tangible real-life triumphs. That’s partly why we built our newest feature Goals, as it’s a place to define those dreams, visualise them and set money aside for making them come true.

Goals feature walkthrough

At Starling, we’re not really interested in the skewed perceptions and myth-making propagated by the media around millennial wealth. What we are interested in is the people behind those statistics; what they’re really hoping for and dreaming about; what’s important to them, how they’re approaching saving – and what they’re really saving for.

So to do a little digging of our own, we recently took Starling to Stylist Live at Kensington Olympia. We thought it would be a great opportunity to have some of those conversations IRL – in short, to conduct a little on-the-ground research about what people are actually saving for, so we could find out whether the media frenzy matches up to the real experiences. Here’s what we found out…

34% of people were... saving for an adventure!

Stylist travel goals

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of the people we spoke to told us that they’re saving for travel and adventure. This correlates accurately with media reportage on the subject, which has widely claimed that millennials spend far more of their income on experiences rather than things – in fact, it’s so significant that millennials are thought to be the primary driver of the ‘experience economy’, with research indicating that only 22% value material goods more than experiences.

From birthday trips to New York to year-long voyages traversing the seven seas and trips to Mars – yep, really – it was certainly clear to us at Stylist that people are definitely prioritising exploration and experience over the traditional ‘material’ purchases like cars, tech and designer clothes.

Although we’d suspected that this would be the case, it was still interesting to discover just how many people really are prioritising time away with family or friends, or hoping to amass incredible new experiences as a consequence of their saving efforts. At Starling, we want to help people laser in on their passions, and it was certainly clear to us that travel forms a major part of that (and side note: it’s lucky that our debit card is so brilliantly travel-friendly and completely free of fees abroad, eh?!)

23% were... saving for their first home

Stylist travel goals

Here’s where things get interesting. Most of the people we spoke to reported major difficulties when it came to finding the cash for that elusive first home – so far, so millennial. Prices are now so extortionately expensive that it’s no longer the walk-in-the-attractively-located-park that it once was – nice one, baby boomers – but interestingly, we found that it hasn’t actually put people off the chase.

That’s a direct contradiction of some recent predictions, which have stated that the impossibility of the property market now means that many millennials have put the dream of owning their own place entirely to (rented) bed. Our conversations, however, told an entirely different story; 23% of the people we spoke to said that they were saving for a house of their own (and that was just the people for whom it was a number one priority – there were plenty of people who were still planning for it, but are currently playing the long game and prioritising other goals because of the high costs involved!).

In any case, it’s clear that this dream is still very real for a lot of people – and that they’re working hard to try and turn their fortune into four walls.

20% of people were saving to... start their own business (or develop their passion)

Stylist business goals

It’s been reported that 76% of millennials would like to start their own business in the future – and this was definitely supported by our chats at Stylist Live. One of the things we loved about the conversations we had – besides hearing about a lot of sun-drenched heavenly holidays – was realising how many people’s professional passions are taking centre stage for them in their saving journeys.

From opening a supper club or investing in better blogging tools to starting a company that employs the homeless or kickstarting a pom-pom business, it became increasingly clear that financial ambitions aren’t just remaining in the realm of the personal – they’re also entering the professional. Personal development was a recurring theme throughout our conversations at Stylist, and that’s something we’ve always been really keen to support here at Starling.

One of the most satisfying consequences of a healthy relationship with money is the sense of freedom it cultivates — and that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re the richest person in the room, or that you own the most stuff. Rather, it’s the breathing space and sense of agency that financial independence and control can foster, allowing you to focus on the things you’re really interested in, or the means and capital to invest in the things you’ll need to build something permanent and personally fulfilling (or something that may or may not mean that you’ll never have to work for someone else ever again!).

On that note, we’ll be launching business accounts in early 2018, which will be totally free, refreshingly straightforward and take minutes to set up – plus it’ll be connected to smart financial tools in app to help you take care of the numbers. They’ll be great news for sole traders or small businesses, so if that sounds like you – sign up for more information and stay in the loop!

12% wanted to... save for material rewards

Material goods were a little further down the list, which we’d predicted as it’s been reported that only 22% of millennials would value buying stuff over having fun. From a Chaise Longue in green velvet to a Chanel handbag, or a first car to a veritable zoo of animals, it would certainly appear that people are still interested in material possessions – but what struck us was how personal and reward-based these ‘treats’ felt.

Many people we spoke to mentioned that they saw these self-administered gifts as something that would mark a major milestone or act as a ‘reward’ for their efforts to improve their relationship with their money (which we applaud, for obvious reasons!).

As for the rest? 6% were saving for future milestones like weddings or babies, 3% wanted to save for a rainy day and 2% were saving with something philanthropic or charitable in mind.

The three days we spent at Stylist were a genuinely fascinating insight into an area that can often be shrouded in mystery – the relationship between person and personal finance. We learned so much that we’ve decided to take this show on the road – so we’ll be visiting the Ideal Home Show next! Come and visit us at Kensington Olympia between the 17th of March and the 2nd of April to tell us your saving story.

Now it’s your turn! We’d love to hear what you’re saving for too, so join the conversation over on Twitter or on our Community.

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