When it comes to being financially responsible, millennials tend to get a bum rap. But if we choose to look past the stereotypes that have come to classify millennials, we can see that they do, in fact, have a pretty solid grasp on their finances. This point is further driven home in a study by Natixis Investment Managers, which finds that the majority of younger workers have solid goals they're working toward. There's just one problem: They're still pretty misguided.
Millennials aren't slackers
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Though millennials are often characterized as lazy, when it comes money matters, they're more on top of things than they tend to get credit for. In fact, 64% have financial goals, while 59% say they have a financial plan in place to achieve them.
Another impressive factoid? More than 66% of millennials are actively contributing to an employer-sponsored retirement plan. Then again, many younger workers are contributing at lower rates than older generations, and that's largely a function of limited earnings and additional factors, such as high levels of student debt.
Because millennials have multiple decades to build wealth for retirement, the fact that they may not be close to maxing out their 401(k)s isn't surprising, nor it is even hugely problematic -- as long as they work on ramping up over time. Furthermore, younger millennials in particular may have other financial challenges to tackle, such as building their emergency funds, paying off student loans, and saving to buy homes.
Millennials put safety ahead of performance when selecting investments
But while it's not particularly discouraging to see millennials saving for the future at lower rates than older workers, what is troublesome is the fact that many focus on minimizing losses when choosing investments rather than maximizing gains. The problem with this approach is that limiting oneself to low-risk, low-reward investments will result in a much lower savings balance for retirement, as the following table illustrates:
You can't help but notice the sizable gap in gains when comparing a conservative, or moderately conservative, investment strategy to one that's far more aggressive. In the above scenario, an investor limited to a conservative strategy would come away with $437,000 less over a 30-year period than someone with a portfolio generating an average annual 8% return -- which, incidentally, is more than doable with stocks, given the market's historic performance. And that sort of shortfall is clearly enough to spell the difference between a comfortable retirement and one loaded with financial stress.
Millennials need help understanding risk
A big reason why so many younger workers shy away from risk is that they need helping understanding how to manage it. In the referenced study, 50% admitted to being desperate for guidance.
What investors of all ages should realize is that having a deep knowledge of the stock market isn't necessary for long-term success. Along these lines, there's no sense in attempting to time the market, because most investors who aim to do so wind up failing at it. Rather, a smart approach is to invest for the long haul, and bank on the fact that over time, those who keep their money in the stock market are likely to come out ahead.
Furthermore, investors can do a good job of mitigating risk by staying away from individual stocks and loading up on exchange-traded funds (ETFs) instead. ETFs have been growing increasingly popular among millennials because they offer instant diversification (the key to minimizing risk) and charge very low fees.
Finally, millennials shouldn't hesitate to get themselves financial advisors. Contrary to certain rumors that might abound, there's no such thing as being too young or too poor to enlist outside professional financial help.
While most millennials have their financial priorities aligned, it's clear that many need help meeting their goals. Though saving from a young age is a pretty solid start, those intent on long-term financial security need to invest in a wise, reasonably aggressive fashion -- even if that means stepping outside their comfort zone.
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