Gail Vaz-Oxlade is a Canadian personal finance author, speaker, and TV host. She has published numerous books on budgeting, saving, and investing, and I’ve always been a fan of her no-nonsense approach to financial management. You can read more from Gail on her website, or purchase her books here. Below, she answer four questions I posed about millennials and money. Read on!
1. Most Millennials can’t afford to support themselves until their 30’s. What’s the biggest thing holding them back from independence?
It’s hard growing up with privilege and then coming to the realization that all that good stuff costs lots’n lotsa money. I remember the first time I pointed to a pile of fire wood (we had a country home and heated with wood) and said to to then 11-year old daughter, Alex, “How much?” She didn’t have a clue. I let her guess. And guess. And guess. Wowza… big surprise. I started sharing what things cost, not to beat into her how privileged she was but to educate her on what things would cost when she took on those bills herself. This is perhaps the easiest and least taken path to raising young’uns who understand their privilege. And before people rush into, “I’m not really privileged,” I’d like to point out that if you had a roof over your head and good food in your belly, if you had at least one present on your birthday or for Christmas, if you were driven anywhere, you’re privileged. So the big thing holding Millennials back may be their expectations. What’s a roof? Is it clean and without holes or does it have to sit on 3,600 square feet of hardwood, granite and marble? What’s a good car? Does it reliably get you from point a to point b or does it have to have swag?
2. The biggest complaint from new grads is crippling student loan debt. What’s the secret to paying it off before grey hairs come in?
Most people default to the payment the student loan system give you, sometimes even less. That’s a sure way to stay in debt for a decade or more and to pay double your cost of education. If you want to be out of debt, pick an end date, calculate the payment that will get you there and then do whatever it takes. I don’t care if you have to work two or three jobs, if you want to be debt-free, that’s how you do it.
3. 20-somethings tell me the stock market is scary — what investing tip would you give them to overcome their fears?
Start by using an indexed investment that mirrors the market so you’re not worried about having to “stock pick.” Be prepared to stay in the market for a minimum of 15 years, so that can’t be money you’re planning to use to further your education, buy a home, or have a family. Educate yourself. Learn at least 12 new things about investing every year. Start a ‘pretend’ portfolio and watch how you do. Tweak. Learn. Get competent.
4. There’s lots of articles about what millennials are doing wrong with their money, but is there anything they are doing right with their money that we’re not giving them enough credit for?
Millennials are extremely concerned about doing good with their money even as they’re figuring out how to live well. I applaud their social conscience. Perhaps more than any ‘young’ generation before, they understand that their own pleasure should not come at the expense of another, be it a person in a sweatshop, a critter, or Mother Earth. I think too many people of my generation have put the Mighty Dollar before those that are impacted by their desire for profit. Millennials are showing us that with careful consideration and attention to detail they will hold their suppliers accountable whether those suppliers are using the services of a worker in the third world, sourcing energy or looking for palm oil. Keep it up!