Millennials might be all right

Depending on what you read, millennials are either doing just fine or are having a real hard time of it now and will in the future. High student loan balances, rising real estate valuations and the like place financial pressures on them unlike a generation ago. 

Sure, I had student loans, but they weren’t as onerous as the stories I read about now. Housing prices were increasing when we were in the market 25 years ago and mortgage rates were slowly receding from 8% down to the 7% range. That sounds crazy in today’s market of half that rate.

Things were different a quarter century ago but they were also different 25 years before then. Each generation faces new challenges.

The other night, I had dinner with my 25 year old godson who was visiting family and friends for the week. Because he lives over a thousand miles away, we don’t often get the chance to visit and catch-up. Our visit was a treat.

Traveling man

He’s a traveler. Every couple of months he’s posting about going overseas or heading to another place across the US. That sounds like the Gen Y I’ve read about. They value experiences over other material things. It was terrific to hear about some of the adventures he’s had over the last year. Most recently he’d traveled to Panama. It was fascinating to listen to him spout off facts about the Panama Canal. For instance, it can cost upwards of $750k and $1.25m for some of the largest cargo ships to move through the canal – and they have to pay up front!

Panama Canal

When not traveling, he’s a hard worker and has progressed with more challenging roles with his employers over the years. At dinner, he was telling us about a recent promotion as well as some of his goals.

I was happy to hear that one of his major goals is to continue his education. Taking advantage of his employer’s tuition benefits is a huge incentive to further his education. To be paid to take classes and still work at the same time can be an incredible opportunity. It not only makes you more valuable to your current employer but possible future employers as well.

If you were to ask me prior to this dinner if he was saving for his future, I must admit I would have said that I doubt it given the amount of travel that he does.  Clearly, in my mind, that’s where all of his money goes. 

I was wrong

But I was completely wrong! Yep, I was really wrong.

He’s a saver. Not only a saver but a really good saver. He told me he was tucking away 13% into his 401(k) plan. I was shocked! The bonus? His employer is matching with another 8%. Wow! 25 years old and to be saving 21% toward retirement each year. That’s fantastic! Later in the conversation he confided that he wants to retire by the time he’s 50. It’s great that he’s putting some thought into FIRE so early.

I clearly wanted to know if the track he was on could potentially work, so I took a shot at making a projection. Starting with his current retirement balance and applying an average 8% return (I also projected a 3% average salary increase over the next 25 years without any increase in his contribution rate) the following chart was created.

Amazing where good early financial habits can lead.

I think he’s got a more than fair chance of hitting his goal. There are a few things that increase his chances of success too. 

Factors in his favor

First, the chart above doesn’t account for any increase in his contributions during his career. More than likely his contribution percentage will increase as he continues to progress at his employer. I’ll also encourage him to increase his contribution rate each time I hear of another promotion.

Second, my godson was also quick to point out that he has bonus and variable compensation potential (not accounted for in the projection). If he’s able to reserve a portion of that compensation whenever it’s paid, he’ll be able to build up a nest egg to carry him between early retirement and age 59 ½, when he’s no longer subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty.

Third, he also told me that he thinks he may have a Health Savings Account option at work that he’s not currently contributing to (I posted about the benefits of an HSA in this post). I told him an HSA can be a powerful tool especially because he’s so young and that it can provide a tax free cashflow stream for his healthcare and medical expenses in retirement. When we texted the other day, he said he was going to look into it when he got back to work next week.

Lastly, he was excited that later this year he would no longer have a car loan payment and he was happy with his car. That means he won’t go out and trade it in and take out another debt.  That’s great. I told him to take care of the car and make sure it lasts as long as possible. I’ve haven’t had a car payment in 8 years. While I’m hopeful he can replicate that record, if he can reserve his current car payment amount in a separate account for four or five years, he’ll be able to avoid a car loan and pay cash for his next car – saving him money in the long run.

I was really happy to see my godson the other night and I look forward to year-end when he’ll visit again. I’m also extremely proud he’s taking so many of the right steps to a secure a sound financial future so early. 

As a millennial, he’s going to be all right.

Do you have young people in your life that also take finances seriously? What opportunities have you taken to influence them? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Thanks for stopping by.

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