Don’t Let Millennial Anxiety Ruin Your Money

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African-American woman with dreads dyed green and pulled up in a pony tail on top of her head sitting on a chair in front of a Home Depot or like store. She is wearing a white shirt, silver necklace and yellow and black patterned pants as she sits in a chair, holding her head in concern. Below this is white space and then bold black lettering reading, "don't let millennial anxiety ruin your money femmefrugality.com"

Millennial anxiety.

It’s a real thing. If you were given participation trophies and told you could do anything you wanted when you grew up if you just worked hard enough, your parents’ self-confidence-inducing plans may have backfired.

It has been well established that millennials are the most anxious generation, especially in the realms of health, safety and personal finances. This is a PF site, so we’re going to focus on the latter today.

But before we delve into all this, let’s talk about who you’ll actually find in the millennial generation.

Who are millennials?

The millennial generation spans births from the years 1981-1996. The oldest of us grew up with Saturday morning cartoons back when you couldn’t watch whatever you wanted whenever you wanted, before the internet was a big thing, before most people had PCs, even before AOL and Juno.

We remember these things because they unfolded before us in our conscious lives. We grew up knocking on our neighborhood friends’ doors to see if they could come out to play, but by the time we graduated high school a lot of us had cell phones or used AIM on our PCs to get in touch with our friends. That PC was too heavy for one person to pick up safely, and was usually kept in the basement or guest room next to the only dial-up line in the house.

But we’d still pick up and call each other for the most part.

Facetime wasn’t a thing for most of us in high school, though the younger portion of the generation may disagree on that point. Neither were smartphones until the vast majority of us had already entered our 20s.

Millennial Young Adulthood

My middle-of-the-Millennial-pack class in particular was slated to graduate college at the height of the Great Recession.

When we entered college and picked our majors, we assumed the world would go on just the way it had been as our parents raised us: With jobs that paid us enough to comfortably pay back our student loans, a country that raised us in apparent peace during the 90s–though there was a lot going on behind the scenes–and with strong military force after we saw the Twin Towers fall in college, high school or even middle or elementary school for some of the younger amongst us, and with a relatively stable economy which was largely able to bounce back from what we previously viewed as disasters–examples include the crash after 9/11 and the dot com boom and subsequent bust.

So while some of us are younger, really we’re the last generation to remember a time before the tech boom. Before we socialized digitally. And before there was such uncertainty about America’s future.

Why do millennials have anxiety?

Science isn’t 100% on this yet, though UC Berkley is currently conducting a study looking into it. I do want to get into some of the potential reasons, though, noting that without data, it’s all speculation.

Career-induced anxiety

First, let’s look at the big thing we touched on in the last section: The Recession.

It came at a real bad time for us Millennials. Just as we were starting out our careers, jobs were scarce and experience was valued. Without experience, it was hard to hop on the employment train.

When people started hiring again, they didn’t want people in their mid to late twenties with no experience as their new hires. They wanted college students. While some of the younger millennials may have been spared the worst of this, for many, that jolt at the beginning of our careers would leave its mark. Our career paths were uncertain, and that was something our parents hadn’t readily prepared us for as a whole.

Recession-induced anxiety

We also got scared off from the stock market. It seemed like a risky thing to young people. We watched it go down as our parents’ generation freaked out over their retirement savings or even just keeping their home. We watched jobs dry up. We watched opportunities shrink and doors shut. Our childhood was based upon a relative stability that was irrevocably breached. And we remember.

Student Loan-induced anxiety

We also have taken on a massive amount of student loans. This is in part due to the rising cost of college, which was only accelerated through state budget austerity policies after the Recession. Those of us who were lucky enough to dodge the student loan bullet often do so at the expense of our own education and often our salaries–especially if you never returned to school.

Of course, there were some mommies and daddies paying for college, but far less than you may assume.

Millennials don’t feel secure. And maybe they shouldn’t.

Because loyalty isn’t as imperative of a quality in employees anymore, nor can it be expected from employers, we job hop more than any other generation. We’re also starting out or hitting the highest earning points in our careers with the growing gig economy, which is really just a way for companies to get around workers rights and sometimes even paying a fair wage.

No wonder we have a lot of financial anxiety. With rising prices, stagnant wages and a disappearing middle class, our worries are well justified.

Other sources of anxiety.

A lot of us grew up in religious households, but abandoned those religions as we grew up. Millennials are still into community; just not dogma. Ironically enough, we struggle to find that community as adults, even when it was the part of the religious experience we valued.

Instead, we put a lot of faith in our public institutions. Then things like 9/11 happen and the world changes. The economy crashes. We have a president who fixes it. And then he leaves because we used to have presidents who followed decorum, and then Trump is elected president.

The very things we tend to put our faith in have been shaking under our feet since adolescence.

Another problem is that when you’re told you can grow up to do anything you want, you feel like a letdown if you don’t reach your goals. With a lot of barriers placed in our paths early on in our careers, some realized they couldn’t achieve their potential.

Many more continue fighting a battle which feels like it’s in vain. We have more aspirations towards individual success than any other generation, and the fact that we can’t always achieve makes us feel like failures. Like we’re not working hard enough. Even though wages have stayed relatively stagnant while workforce productivity has gone up since we joined in the game.

The ironic thing is that when anxiety gets bad enough, it can affect how much you can work or the efficiency of that work. So let’s look at some solutions to common millennial anxiety problems.

Financial solutions to millennial anxiety.

NUMBER ONE: Seek mental health care. If you can get your brain worked out everything–including money–will be so much easier.

Career

Be kind to yourself. Cut yourself a break. You don’t have to have a job you love that fulfills your soul. Your parents likely didn’t. Their generation was largely able to expect steady work at one or two companies over the course of their career, and that was a good thing. Meaning be damned.

If you can find a position you love, awesome. But if you can’t, know that there are many other ways to find meaning in life as we talk about in The Feminist Financial Handbook. Your work can be something you do to pay the bills and save for retirement. You can find meaning outside the realm of dollars and cents.

Also, try to get comfortable with freelancing. Overall, the rise of freelancing is a negative cultural trend for American workers, but if you can run your business right, it can supply a varied source of income so that if one stream of revenue dries up, you’ve still got other clients to rely on. Having a thick emergency fund can be a huge sanity saver when you’re freelancing, too.

Invest

The stock market can be a scary thing, until you read JL Collins’ stock series.

If you get all TLDR on me, let me give you the main take away: Invest in index funds as preached by Bogle. Collins also wrote a book on getting started with investing which I highly recommend: The Simple Path to Wealth.

If you think investing is just for rich people, allow me to prove you wrong in a happy-for-all-of-us way:

With the advent of FinTech, or financial technology, you don’t need a big chunk of change to get invested in the market anymore. There are tons of roboadvisors out there who allow you to get started with $20-$25 minimums, and do all the asset allocation for you. Make sure you find one who is charging low fees by doing comparison shopping before committing to any one robo advisor.

You might not be able to do the index fund thing right off the bat if you use some of these roboadvisors. But it will get you started with the habit of investing, as you build up your nest egg until you meet that minimum opening balance requirement on a Vanguard or like account.

If you like the idea of investing, but are broke af and kind of need to know the money will be accessible if you need it, look into Roth IRAs as a potentially viable option outside of those traditionally offered by employers. You can’t withdraw interest you earn without incurring fees and tax penalties, but you can withdraw the money you contributed.

Take time off work

You know those vacation days you’ve been piling up in an effort to look like a dedicated employee?

Stop that. First of all, even if you have an employer who pays you to cash in days at the end of the year or end of your tenure, the payout pales in comparison to the value you gave to the company for free.

Secondly, taking breaks isn’t just good for you as a human being. It also makes you a more creative, focused and efficient employee.

Remember that this is true even if you’re a freelancer or business owner. That time that you invest in yourself, away from work and email and everything, is time you’re really investing in the efficiency of your business.

If you don’t have vacation days and you want them, you can try to negotiate them into your compensation package, or you can find ways to go back to school for cheap or even free so that you are able to find a job with benefits or gain the connections you’ll need to build your business.

Make sure you’re on the right student loan plan

Several years ago, we had a reader and fellow blogger contribute a piece on the proper way to pay off your loans if you wanted to qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). Essentially, if you want the government to actually forgive your loans because you entered the field of public service like they promised to in 2007, you had to make sure you had the right type of loans AND that you were on right type of repayment plan.

Most people weren’t familiar with the intricacies of the rules, and the government for its part did not make the process easy to navigate.

This resulted in suspiciously low forgiveness numbers in 2017–the first year the first applicants qualified for forgiveness. Many were turned away because they did not have the right loan or repayment plan for either a portion or the entirety of their loan.

Talk about questioning your career choices.

Budget for Convenience Spending

This is a tip I’m taking from Abigail Perry, who wrote the great book Frugality for Depressives. She recommends this method for those suffering from depression because some days you just can’t.

And to ignore that fact is to fail your budget from Day 1.

If you’re highly anxious or stressed out, odds are you’re going to have those “just can’t” days, too. Pretending it won’t happen is fiscal folly.

As we talked about a couple of weeks ago via Hasan Minhaj, millennials will pay for convenience, many times even if it means compromising on their values.

Automate your bills

When you can’t even, you’re probably going to have a hard time remembering to pay the bills. Automate them as much as possible so things will be taken care of even if you forget. You can do this with many bills, like utilities, health insurance, credit card bills, retirement savings and more.

Separately, you can set up an automatic transfer from your checking to savings account every payday to make sure you’re saving as much as you’d like to be for your emergency fund, vacation or whatever other goal you may have on the horizon. This makes the savings process a whole lot less painful and your goals more likely to become a reality.

Redefine Success

Millennials are very concerned with individualistic over familial success. This is often reflected via our careers or our perception of how much money we make or save as individuals.

If you can manage your money, great. It’ll help you achieve your goals that much easier.

But money is just a tool. It is not the end in and of itself. Your money story is not likely to be a straight line. Learn to embrace failure, and to recognize each step as a journey unto itself. When you start defining life more by the things that are important to you and your values rather than using monetary measurements, you’ll gain more peace than dollars and cents could alone confer.

Know you’re not alone.

We are Generation Anxiety. There are a lot of other people out there going through the same thing as you, wondering why it’s so hard to make plans when you have a rolodex of thousands of “friends” on social media. Wondering why despite all your hard work, you’re reaching a mental breaking point without achieving the success you had been aspiring towards.

Reach out. Budget for reality without scolding yourself for your lack of discipline. And know that we’re all messed up. You are not alone.

 

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