Despite the need for flexibility, purpose, meaningful experiences and personal relationships that Millennials notoriously prioritize, according a 2014 study from UBS, Millennials still define financial freedom as the hallmark of individual success.
And how do they define financial freedom? According to UBS’ study, 78 percent cite income as a primary measure. The ideal salary needed to achieve the “success threshold”? $220k.
A survey from MoneyTips.com supports the suggestion that young adult satisfaction stems from financial wellness. Those who describe themselves as successful or satisfied with their current lifestyle not only have more income, but less debt more savings, and more confidence in their ability to retire comfortably.
None of this is to say that Millennials no longer include relationships, experiences, and meaningful career contributions in their definitions of success – it’s simply to suggest that financial security may have more of a place in those definitions than GenX-ers, Boomers, and the media have long implied.
With a money mindset shaped by distrust in a market that contributed to the dismal economic conditions of their career beginnings, Millennials appear to rely on factors within their control for building their financial success – namely, hard work and savings. While previous generations name long-term investing as a key element in attaining financial freedom, only 28 percent of Millennials share that view.
Rather than using the advantage of their young age to invest aggressively, Millennials adopt a conservative approach- choosing safer investments and relying largely on savings vehicles. According to the UBS Survey, Millennials hold more than half of their assets in cash and less than one-third of their assets in equities- counter to long-term investment asset allocation advice. Even among older Millennials (ages 30-36), who presumably have more assets and fewer immediate cash flow needs, the average cash allocation still stands at 42 percent.
While these studies show that Millennials recognize the powerful role of personal finance in shaping success, I worry that the Millennial approach to achieving it is flawed.
In October 2014, CNN reported the average annual percentage yield on savings accounts at a measly 0.06 percent. Today, the best savings rates hover at or around 1 percent APY. Even with high income and aggressive savings, that small return is no recipe for financial freedom.
By contrast, Standard & Poor recently reported that for the 10 years ending December 1st, 2014, the annual compounded rate of return of the S&P500 was 8.06 percent, including reinvestment of dividends. Extend that timeline all the way back to 1970, and the average annual compounded rate of return including reinvestment of dividends jumps even higher to around 10.7 percent.
If Millennials continue to keep the majority of their assets in savings vehicles returning 1 percent and away from investment vehicles with historic returns of 8 percent, they will miss out on their best shot of actually achieving the financial freedom so prominent in their definitions of success.
While I’m glad to discover my generational counterparts’ recognition of financial freedom in shaping success, I hope they take the time to rethink their strategy for achieving it- maximizing returns with asset allocation that serves their need for growth, rather than remaining overly cautious and missing out on the returns that can help create that successful reality.