The One Thing Millennials Don't Get About Money

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — More than three-quarters of young adults (78%) are establishing their financial habits by mimicking their friends' strategy, according to a survey from the new survey from the American Institute of CPAs and the Ad Council.

A majority of people aged 25 to 34 years old (66) want to keep pace with their peers in terms of where they live, while 64% say the same thing about what they wear. Nearly two-thirds of Millenials experience pressure to keep up with the types of places they eat and the gadgets they carry.

"As the old saying goes: Be careful about the company you keep," said Ernie Almonte, CPA and chair of the AICPA's National Financial Literacy Commission. "Many young adults are building financial foundations with the wrong blueprints. They need to make sure they're modeling the best behavior for their long-term financial stability."

The survey found that nearly half of the nearly half of the Millenials said they had to use a credit card to pay for necessities like food or utilities and more than a quarter missed a bill payment or were contacted by a bill collector. Sixty-one percent still get financial help from their family. Financial stability means paying all the bills each month for 70% of the Millenials.

The survey also highlighted the difference between women and men with women feeling more financially stable than men while men found it more important than women to keep up with their friends. Natalie Lima, who is 27 and lives in Los Angeles, readily admits to being a terrible saver, but bows to peer pressure. "Money comes and money goes, but it makes life easier if you have it," she said. "I'm terrible at saving and admire my friends who talk about their savings. My parents were never good at saving and I've never been good at it."

Lima, who works in college admissions at an art and design college, said she is good at showing restraint if she is shopping alone, but tends to follow the spending pace of her friends.

"The older I get, the less my friends' spending habit seem to effect mine, although I often take notice of where my peers seem to be financially in terms of their lifestyle and stage in their careers," Lima said.

Dan Morey, 29, who is an associate with Quantum Real Estate Advisors in Chicago, said the temptation of "keeping up with the Joneses" is much stronger due to social media.

"Keeping pace with my peers is getting more difficult because the cost of living continues to rise, but the employment outlook has not improved for most fields," he said.

Sarah Jones, 28, a public relations account executive in Atlanta, said since most of her friends are 27 to 32 years old, there is more peer pressure to save money and to spend less money going out.

"Most of my friends are at a point in life where we have stable jobs, some savings and are now working on our 401(k)s or beefing up current savings," she said. "While we like to go out and have fun, we also have no problem telling each other when we need to have dinner at home or skip out on an activity."

Some of her friends have also cut down other expenses by choosing a cheaper cell phone plan.

"A couple of my friends have traded their smart phones down for 'dumb' phones to save on a monthly plan and we don't begrudge them for it," said Jones. "I've found that surrounding myself with people who are trying to save makes it easier for me to save."

Many Millenials are unaware of how much they spend each month, said Raad Mobrem, 26, cofounder and CEO of Lettuce, a Venice, Calif. inventory management software company which consolidates multiple back-end processes into a single click.

"They think they understand how much money they are making each month and how much money they are spending, but after doing a quick analysis with them, they quickly realize they spend more than they think," he said.

"For example, many of my friends have learned that they need to actually spend way less on food, because each meal that costs $15 to $20 adds up quick. Decreasing that by $4 a day can save you over $1,400 a year."

Too many Millenials have an attitude that they will focus on saving later on, Mobrem said.

"They are not saving enough and live a little more in the 'moment' versus thinking about the future," he said. "This is a clear difference that I have noticed between Millenials and the generation before us. We think to ourselves, 'It's okay. We will just cut back somewhere else, but most of us never do.'"

Proactive financial planning can start with some simple tips such as knowing the "28/36" rule. Allocate 28% of your monthly budget on housing and keep total debt costs such as student loans and credit card payments within 36% of your monthly income.

Start by saving at least $50 a week because "stuff" happens. Save this money in an account that's strictly for emergencies.

"As the economy evolves, it's more important than ever for millenials to plan for their futures and understand the 'time value' of this preparation," said Jeff Tulloch, vice president, MetLife. "Simple tips like creating a budget, starting an emergency fund and developing distinct saving goals can help young adults be better positioned for a bright financial future."

--Written by Ellen Chang for MainStreet

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