Don't go calling Millennials flighty and irresponsible: they're not the ones going into the red for a Samsung S8.
A survey by Voya Financial found that nearly half (45%) of Americans surveyed were willing to give up their financial security if it meant keeping either their smartphones, cars or vacations. But that isn't the frivolity of youth at work. Roughly 56% of Millennials (ages 18-32) said they were less willing to give up financial security to keep their smartphones, cars or vacations. Only 53% of Generation X (ages 33 to 52) and 50% of Baby Boomers (53 through 71) responded in kind.
In fact, 20% of Baby Boomers surveyed choose to keep their smartphone and forgo their financial security — more than any other generation (including 15% of Millennials and 14% of Gen X-ers). Meanwhile, 20% of Gen X would cling to their vacation in lieu of financial security, compared to 14% of Boomers and 13% of the younger generation.
"We all value the things that make our lives easier, more productive and give us joy — like spending vacation time with family and friends," says Carolyn Johnson, CEO of annuities and individual life at Voya Financial. "And while the goal of achieving financial security may feel daunting or perhaps even unreachable, Americans recognize its importance."
On the whole, Americans would rather be financially stable than flush with belongings or vacations. Only 16% would rather have their smartphones than financial stability, with vacations (15%) and cars (14%) also coming up short. However, there are signs that U.S. workers may be cheating on their retirement savings a bit by splurging now. According to a recent RBC Wealth Management poll, 63% of Americans age 50 and older say travel is an important retirement goal. However, about half say the high cost of travel could prevent them from achieving that goal.
That isn't incredibly surprising, even to non-retirees. Another survey by The Principal found that 20% of U.S. workers said travel blew their budget for 2016, putting its cost on par with food and groceries (20%) and just below dining out (25%). Financial firm UBS, meanwhile, discovered that 73% of Millennials (ages 18-34) focus on short-term needs and goals, such as homes and travel and believe that retirement is too far away to worry about. Nearly 30% have traveled the world for a month or more, more than half with retirement accounts have or would consider dipping into them to make a large purchase and with 25% have already raided their retirement savings for those purchases.
"Everyone is worried about whether they will have saved enough to fund a comfortable retirement," said Tom Sagissor, president of RBC Wealth Management-U.S. "The closer people get to retirement age, the more they begin to look at needs vs. wants. Often times, because of fear, the needs win out, putting bigger dreams like a trip to Greece or Beijing on hold. But there are many ways to rebalance assets to make travel, if that is indeed a goal, a reality."
Vacation spending isn't the only place U.S. consumers are compromising their financial security. Back in February, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York announced that total household debt increased by $226 billion (or 1.8%) to $12.58 trillion during the fourth quarter of 2016. That's the largest quarterly increase in total household debt since the fourth quarter of 2013 and $460 billion in debt more than U.S. consumers had amassed a year earlier. It also put debt just 0.8% below its peak of $12.68 trillion in the third quarter of 2008.
Almost every form of debt increased from the same time in 2015. Mortgage debt is up $231 billion to $8.48 trillion. Student loan debt increased $78 billion to $1.31 trillion. Auto loan debt is up $93 billion to $1.16 trillion. Credit card debt climbed by $46 billion to $779 billion. Even all of those figure may be low. According to the Federal Reserve in Washington, D.C., revolving debt of all kinds exceeded $1 billion in the fourth quarter of 2016 for the first time since 2008 and returned to that mark again in February.
"Debt held by Americans is approaching its previous peak, yet its composition today is vastly different as the growth in balances has been driven by non-housing debt," says Wilbert van der Klaauw, senior vice president at the New York Fed. "Since reaching a trough in mid-2013, the rebound in household debt has been led by student debt and auto debt, with only sluggish growth in mortgage debt."
But it isn't Millennials getting into that debt: it's their overly friendly parents. According to UBS survey, a majority of Millennials see their parents as peers, mentors and friends, where Boomers saw their parents as authorities. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of Millennials say they spoke, texted or video chatted with their parents more than once a week during college, compared to 34% of Boomers who called or wrote their parents. However, Millennials are putting off marriage and children later than Boomers did, with 28% saying they have traveled the world for six months or more, compared to 12% of Baby Boomers.
Though a survey by The Principal Financial Group last year found that 84% of Millennials believe that they should be independent by age 25, they acknowledge that expenses such as their phone bill (12%), car insurance (8%), health insurance (7%) and rent (7%) are still being covered by parents. UBS, meanwhile, found that nearly three-quarters of Millennials (73%) still receive some sort of support from their parents. While 80% of parents are happy to provide it, those expenses include their adult children's health insurance (29%), rent/mortgage (28%), auto insurance (26%), utilities (23%), vacations (19%) and spending money (21%). According to investment firm Investec Wealth and Investment, that's led overgenerous parents and grandparents include to cut back on meals out (42%), home improvement plans (39%), clothes (24%), hobbies (21%), food shopping (11%) and, unfortunately, travel (50%).
"It's understandable that many grandparents want to give their grown-up children and grandchildren a helping hand financially, particularly with big ticket items such as house deposits and education fees," say Chris Aitken, head of financial planning at Investec Wealth & Investment said. "But generosity has its limits and we would strongly advise people to stick to what they can afford without if affecting their own quality of life."
Millennials themselves not only avoid debt but are less tolerant of credit-card debt overall. As credit agency Equifax discovered, about 70% of college students have one or more credit cards, but a slightly higher percentage pay their balances in full each month. In a survey of more than 600 college students ages 18 to 24, 16% of respondents using credit cards for emergencies only and 72% pay off their credit card balances each month on their own -- while only 18% said their parents helped pay off their balances every month.
Even if they haven't paid their balances of within the month, more than half with outstanding balance (59%) plan to pay it off within a year. They're one of the biggest reasons why the percentage of U.S. households with credit cards carrying revolving debt has decreased from 44% in 2009 to just 34% today, according to the National Foundation For Credit Counseling.
Though 67% of Millennials hold a credit card, according to Experian, 71% have never maxed one out a credit card, 77% have never had their credit card interest rate increased and 58% pay the full balance instead of the minimum each month. That isn't exactly surprising, considering that the average 2016 college graduate is carrying $37,172 in student loan debt, according to college and scholarship site Cappex. That up 6% from last year, with debt carried by 70.1% of all graduates. That's also up from $12,759 two decades ago, when just 54% of all students graduated with debt. If there's a way to bite into that debt and avoid its repercussions, they're going to ask about it. Their elders need to think about doing the same.
"We understand no one wants to sacrifice modern conveniences like our smartphones and cars to plan for retirement," says Voya's Johnson. "Fortunately, this is where closely working with a financial professional can help every generation create a holistic plan that works for their lifestyle today, while also preparing them for tomorrow."