Millennials, money and avocado toast: why the critics are wrong

Common myths about the Generation Y cohort and their spending habits include a fear of investing or making long-term financial commitments

Millennials woman working in coffeeshop
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There are many misconceptions and sweeping generalisations out there about how millennials are careless in their financial habits.

My generation is criticised for spending frivolously on lattes, avocado toast, Instagrammable experiences and saving too little, leading many Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 to 1964, to claim that millennials do not value money.

Millennials are also accused of being afraid to invest or make long-term financial commitments.

But nothing could be farther from the truth. The nearly two billion people born between 1981 and 1996 are raising families, building careers, buying homes, growing businesses and are an economic force to be reckoned with.

Half of millennials interviewed by investment manager Natixis last year said they have numerous sources of wealth, with 78 per cent citing employment, 31 per cent referring to business ownership/self-employment, 37 per cent highlighting investments and 17 per cent citing an allowance or inheritance.

As older millennials begin to turn 40, it is time for the rest of the world to do away with the cliches and accept the financial truths about this generation.

As a millennial, I would like to debunk some stereotypes about my generation.

Millennials have no emergency fund

The Covid-19 pandemic made me realise the importance of a financial safety net after being laid off from a job in January 2020.

With a steady stream of income drying up amid a tough job market, I realised the importance of budgeting and started saving diligently to set up an emergency savings fund.

An emergency fund is money set aside for the purpose of unexpected financial commitments, such as a medical emergency, a job loss or unplanned car or home repairs. It is usually a static number equal to three to six months of your expenses.

Millennials do not want to buy a home

While home ownership was once a common milestone in the lives of young adults, there is a common myth that millennials are now moving away from buying homes.

If millennials were responsible with their money and stopped spending on avocado toast, they could buy a home, critics say.

But, in truth, it is the rising cost of properties and high mortgage interest rates that present barriers to home ownership for this generation.

I purchased an investment property in my home country in 2013. I took out a personal loan from the UAE to fund the purchase and it is now fully paid for.

The apartment has fetched me rental returns since its handover and has been consistently rented out.

Although historically low interest rates during the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated millennial home-buying in 2020 and 2021, the significant rise in rates and property prices have now made it harder to get on the property ladder.

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Many of my millennial friends who wish to purchase property in the UAE are currently struggling to save up for the initial down payment amid a red-hot market.

Millennials rely on parents to buy homes

This one has some truth to it. Millennials sometimes rely on their parents’ financial help to pay for their first home.

My parents gifted me about one fourth of the value of my property to cover a percentage of my down payment.

However, this was not because I was not capable of raising the money by myself, as they wanted to offset capital gains tax from a separate property transaction.

A 2018 study from financial services company Legal & General found that 43 per cent of people under 35 received help from parents or family members when they purchased a home.

Millennials are saddled with disproportionately high rates of student loan debt and also face high rent costs that put the dream of owning a home out of reach, according to a report by Washington-based Urban Institute.

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Millennials are chronic job-hoppers

Many millennials entered the workforce on shaky ground during the global financial crisis in 2008 to 2009, when the job market was tough. This meant that they never gained the job security that their parents or even older siblings enjoyed.

This is true for me, too, as I landed a job in Dubai in the middle of the 2008 global market downturn. This shaped my outlook and I gave precedence to job stability over career advancement.

In the span of 14 years in the UAE, I have switched jobs only four times.

A Zapier survey of 1,038 respondents in the US in 2020 found that millennials and Gen Z workers plan to stay in their jobs for 10 years and six years, respectively.

Millennials sacrifice long-term goals for current gain

One common stereotype about millennials is that they are hesitant about sinking their savings into long-term investments.

I invest in fixed deposits, gold, exchange-traded funds and life insurance schemes at regular intervals.

However, I also prioritise spending on experiences such as travel and special occasions to treat myself for working hard.

Millennials save significantly more for retirement than Baby Boomers, according to an April study by financial services company Charles Schwab.

Millennials are more likely to use their savings to achieve their dream lifestyle and pursue their passions once in retirement, while Baby Boomers and Generation X aim to continue accumulating wealth during their retirement years, the survey found.

Sixty-one per cent of millennials will prioritise travel during retirement, with only 48 per cent expected to own a home in retirement, according to Charles Schwab.

To sum it up, we millennials are not careless with our money — it is just that our spending priorities are different, compared with earlier generations.

Updated: November 14, 2022, 4:47 AM
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