We Surveyed Millennials About Their Money, and You’ll Never Believe What Happened Next

If you’re anything like me, you’ve read every headline about Millennials that you can get your hands on and found only one consistent takeaway: America is confused.

First, there’s “Most Millennials Want to Own Homes” and then there’s “Young People Can Afford Homes, They Just Don’t Want to be Homeowners.” You can read “Millennials are Saving for Retirement at a Much Earlier Age” one day, and then the next see “Why Millennials Aren’t Saving More for Retirement.”

I nearly gave up after “Understanding Millennials––How Do Potatoes Fit into Their Lives?

With so many contradictory messages, it’s nearly impossible to get a sense of how this generation spends money and accumulates wealth without doing your own research. So that’s what we did.

Foundation partnered with Chadwick Martin Bailey’s financial services research team to conduct an in-depth consumer survey of Millennials and their finances. We structured it so that we could compare it against the longitudinal view offered by the Fed’s Survey of Consumer Finances. In the process, we uncovered some useful insights that will help demystify this demographic – not only today, but also as we take additional snapshots in the years to come.

I’m discussing our preliminary findings at Money 2020 in a presentation called “Millennials: Mainstream or Martians?” You can take a look at thepresentation here.

In the talk, I explore the data behind a few of the fundamental truths that we’ll be building on as we explore more of what the new dataset has to offer, including:

  • Millennials are, in fact, human: They use banks, they pay for things, and, despite what conflicting media headlines might have you think (see above), they’re not all that different from the rest of us – at least, when it comes to their financial lives.
  • Millennials are in debt: Student debt especially. Debt is keeping them from building savings and making major purchases. So if your revenue model revolves around a wealth accumulation product, you’re in for a long slog unless you can completely reimagine the product itself.
  • Millennials are apt with apps: We all already knew Millennials live on their mobile devices, but we were surprised to learn just how much they rely on their financial apps. This could be a significant path in for companies that combine frictionless signup with a phenomenal mobile experience.

Even though this generation has more debt and less income than their parents did, it’s easy to see why entrepreneurs are so interested in Millennials. There are 83.1 million of them. They’re ahead of every big trend. And they stand to inherit the wealth of the Baby Boomer generation.

Given what we’ve learned so far, emerging companies should consider jumping to light/speed – lightweight products with quickly built functionality – in order to gain distribution. It’s a slightly non-linear interpretation of our data, but, then again, those are usually the sorts of ideas that disrupt and win.

Of course, we’re not done learning from this new dataset, and we’re not done sharing what we learn. We’ll be posting new data and insights on a regular basis for the next few months. Don’t hesitate to reach out with questions or comments through our contact page.

As much as some people would like to think Millennials are living on another planet, I’m looking forward to bringing this conversation back down to Earth.