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Improve your financial picture: Advice for millennials


Entitlement, narcissistic, comfortable with digital technology, and spend most of their time on social media. What do these words describe? According to many, these words describe a millennial. When I think of millennials, I must be honest and say the most common word that comes to mind is entitlement.

But is that always a negative connotation? I don’t think so. Millennials are probably one of the most misunderstood generations. To me, millennials' sense of entitlement reflects an attitude of an entrepreneur or self-starter willing to go the distance to meet their goals, whether in their career or finances. So, who are millennials? As I looked to our good friend, Merriam-Webster dictionary, a millennial is “a person born in the 1980’s or 1990’s-usually plural.”

Generational Differences?

I have provided financial advice to countless millennials and although they are often criticized for the financial decisions, I don’t see a real difference between how a millennial think of their finances compared to other generations. The key difference between millennials and their parents or grandparents is their approach to finding information.

Millennials typically use technology to improve their financial picture. They rely on a range of online tools because they think it is less consuming and more efficient to achieving their financial goals. Conversely, when I think of myself, a Gen Xer, I prefer meeting with an advisor to figure out my financial path when it comes to credit and investments. Although millennials have more resources at their fingertips to manage their own finances, like the generations before them, many are left to figure out finances on their own. That is not so different from when I was growing up.

Thinking back to your childhood, were you exposed to financial literacy courses or did you have to figure it out on our own? As I think back to my schooling, I must be honest and say as a Gen Xer, I was not formally taught financial literacy topics. My financial teacher was my dad. I think that is true today and true for millennials as well. I feel for millennials because they are at a critical age in their lives. In their late 20s and 30s, millennials are at the age when they are looking to purchase their first vehicle or home. They may also be thinking of long-term investment strategies. And when you start thinking about these things, it can seem overwhelming at times.

Strategies to Improve your Financial Picture

Millennials have one key advantage over previous generations. They are comfortable with technology and because of that, they have an easier way to strategize when it comes to their financial picture. But when I meet my current or prospective millennial customers and we discuss their financial picture, many of them don’t even know where to begin. There is an abundance of online financial tools and information but no one to answer their questions.

If you are looking to improve your financial picture, these are some strategies to help you get started:

  • Know your debt-to-income ratio and track all your expenses. The first thing I talk about with my customers is understand their current monthly income and monthly expenses. This can put a lot of things into perspective for them right away. This will determine how much they can save and expenses they can do without to save more. Millennials also spent many years in college, earning their bachelor and graduate degrees. Most of them took out student loans and have credit card debt, which is why understanding their debt-to-income ratio is important. I then explore ways to consolidate their debt and lower their monthly payments and increase savings.
  • Improve your credit score. A good credit score can ensure better rates when you take out a personal or mortgage loan. Many millennials are just beginning to build credit and I typically suggest ways they can repair or improve their credit by looking at their unique financial picture.
  • Know ways to earn passive income or increase savings. Some funds are good if you are investing for retirement and others are good if you are investing for your next vacation. Since millennials are technology-forward, I find that some can be overzealous with the latest trends in cryptocurrency or investing in a new tech startup. Instead of chasing the latest trends, I work with millennials to know their risk tolerance and long-term goals. I then advise them on how best they can attain their lifestyle goals.

After discussing the above, this is typically when I will pass the baton. Because of millennials’ comfort level in investigating financial tools, in some cases, they will do the research on their own. My focus is then to follow up with them - Did they hold up their end of the bargain to track their expenses or keep within budget?

Building a relationship with my customers is important to me and following up with them ensures I am on task to helping them meet their goals. For those who are focused on the end goal, which I genuinely think is a positive quality many millennials possess, they are headed down the path of improving their financial picture.

Many millennials rarely think about their financial picture until they need to make big life decisions. But the sooner you start this conversation with a banker, the quicker you will be able to achieve your life goals.

About Sarah Adams

Sarah has more than 15 years in the banking industry. Prior to joining Bremer Bank as a consumer banker team lead, Sarah worked at BlackRidgeBank as a personal banker, commercial lender and retail manager. A graduate of St Cloud State University with a Bachelor of Science in Education, Sarah combines her expertise in finance and education to help her customers meet their financial goals. An experienced relationship manager who goes above and beyond for her customers, Sarah was nominated for and participated in the CEO Roundtable at Bremer. She also holds a certification from the National Mortgage Licensing System (NMLS). An active member of her community, Sarah serves on the Junior Achievement board and is the treasurer of the Crow Wing County Adult Protection team. During her free time, Sarah enjoys running, camping, playing golf and spending time with her husband and children as well as being involved in her local church.)

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