Connect with us


Why do millennials know so much about personal finance? (Hint: Ask their parents.)




Courtney Burrell, 37, grew up in a household that felt a bit like the CNBC newsroom.

Her parents expounded cheerily about stock picks and savings, scanning the business pages as the ticker scrolled past on the television screen behind them. From an early age, she knew what percentage of each parent’s salary went toward their 401(k) retirement accounts.

“Money was always in the conversation,” she said.

Parents of the Ward and June Cleaver era didn’t talk much with their children about money. But that taboo has gradually faded, and subsequent generations have raised families in households brimming with financial lessons.  

Nearly three-quarters of millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, grew up in families that talked about money, according to a recent survey and report from Forbes Advisor. By contrast, only 41% of boomers recalled talking to their parents about finance.

Most millennials grew up in families that talked about money. Most boomers did not

Burrell, a millennial Coloradan, credits her parents with inspiring her career. She works as a financial professional at Empower, a financial services company.

“As long as I can remember, I’d get a check for my birthday,” she said. “And I always hated getting money for my birthday, because they’d always make me go to the bank with them and deposit the money immediately.”

Who are the top advisers? Help USA TODAY rank the best firms

The Forbes Advisor survey and others point to this general rule: the younger you are, the more likely you grew up in a family that talked about money.

The Forbes poll, conducted with 2,000 adults in September, found that boomers were the least likely to hail from families that discussed finance (41%), followed by Generation Z (55%), Generation X (57%) and millennials (73%).

Another recent survey, by Northwestern Mutual, finds that Americans are learning about finance at a steadily younger age. Boomers, on average, reported having their first family money talk at age 22. Generation X first discussed finance at 20, millennials at 18 and Gen Z at 15. That survey covered 2,740 Americans in February and March.

Talking about money since middle school

“People are talking about money at earlier ages, which I think is phenomenal,” said Chad Lewis, a Northwestern Mutual private wealth adviser based outside Chicago.

Lewis, a 36-year-old millennial, has been talking with his parents about money since middle school.

“We talked about things like credit cards, your credit score, making sure that you’re paying off cards on a monthly basis,” he said.

Lewis’s parents opened a credit card in their son’s name, using it to buy groceries and paying off the full balance every month. The exercise taught him the proper use of a credit card while building his credit score.

“When I got out of school,” he said, “I had phenomenal credit.”

The Forbes survey suggests the family finance trend may have peaked with millennials. If so, then millennials may have their boomer parents to thank.

Some business scholars theorize that boomers championed the cause of teaching finance to their millennial children precisely because their own parents taught them so little about money.

Boomers mostly grew up in households headed by members of the Greatest Generation and Silent Generation, born between 1901 and 1945.

Those parents didn’t generally discuss money with their children, just as they shielded their progeny from the horrors of war and the scourge of poverty, said Mauro Guillén, a professor of multinational management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

“The contrast between the Greatest Generation and the baby boom generation is a real one,” Guillén said. “One of those generations went through the Great Depression and World War II, and the other one was born into affluence.”

Boomers command nearly $80 trillion in assets, by some estimates. Much of that bounty will pass to millennial children, potentially the largest transfer of wealth in American history. Those riches provided the motivation, experts say, for boomers to teach their children about money.

“They really want to make sure that this younger generation is just much more educated about these money topics,” said Lewis of Northwestern Mutual.

Learning ‘to live inside of my means’

Trent Long, a 34-year-old millennial, remembers that some high school friends had credit cards tied to their parents’ accounts. But Long did not.

That deprivation, he said, was a way “to make sure I was understanding how to live inside of my means.”

Long grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida, and held his first job at 14.

“I remember my parents telling me, ‘All along the way, you’re going to see people going into debt, and it may be from student loans, and it may be from credit cards,’” he said. “They were telling me very early on, ‘You need to set aside savings, every single paycheck.’”

Long went on to co-found BUNKR, an app he describes as “a place to securely store and share important information, like passwords and files, with people you trust.”

If Long, Lewis and Burrell exemplify the 73% of millennials who learned family finance from their parents, then Deacon Hayes can speak for the other 27%.

‘If I didn’t have the cash for it, I couldn’t afford it’

At 40, Hayes sits near the cusp between millennials and Generation X. He was largely raised by a single parent. And they didn’t talk much about money.

“It was talked about in the sense of, ‘We don’t have it,’” he said. “Debt was very much a way of life, at least for my household. My mom financed a car, took out a home equity loan on the house, went on vacations on credit cards.”

Money 101: What is FIRE?

When he entered adulthood, Hayes fell into similar patterns, financing a car, racking up credit card debt and taking out student loans. When the 2008 downturn hit, he faced a financial reckoning.

Hayes adopted a new credo, eventually joining a movement called Financial Independence, Retire Early, or FIRE.  

“The main thing was, if I didn’t have the cash for it, I couldn’t afford it,” Hayes said. “I thought, growing up, if I could afford the monthly payment, I could afford it.”

These days, when Hayes and his wife go on vacation or buy a car, they pay cash. They invest in assets that typically gain value over time, like stocks, rather than ones that typically lose value, like cars.

Hayes founded the Well Kept Wallet website and wrote a book titled You Can Retire Early!

He aims to do just that.

“We’re completely debt-free,” he said. “We’ve paid off our house.”

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *