Lane: Why don't millennials save?

BY JOE LANE | NOVEMBER 20, 2014 5:00 AM

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“Millennials aren’t saving a dime,” was the headline of a CNNMoney piece published last week that presented a horrifying statistic: the current savings rate of individuals under 35 in this country is negative 2 percent. Simply put, on average, individuals in the United States under the age of 35 are spending more money than they have.

But maybe it isn’t millennials’ faults that their savings rate is so abysmal. In some respects, millennials have drawn a short straw. But in others, we’ve deliberately picked the straw we’ve got.

Take, for example, the fact that according to CNN, wages have remained nearly stagnant since the 90s. Or that there are 7 million people working part-time jobs who seek full-time employment or worse still, that 2.9 million individuals have been unemployed for more than 6 months.

Furthermore, a savings rate below that of their older counterparts isn’t particularly uncommon for the youngest generation no matter what year you take the data — going back to the early ’90s (with a brief lapse in this trend during the 2008 recession) — according to the Washington Post. With expensive life milestones occurring in this age group — college, first apartments, weddings, first children, and homes — it may be understandable that my age group has a relatively low savings rate.

Relatively low, however, is quite different from absolutely low. I can understand that early in one’s independent life, expenses are sudden and large. However, to consistently have a negative savings rate is unacceptable.

Since the recession of 2008, the stock market and the unemployment rate (as well as the savings rate of other age groups) have recovered nicely. But, unlike the other age groups, since that initial recovery of the savings rate following 2008, there has been a slow decline in the under-35 rate.

Consumerism runs rampant in American society and, for the most part, this is a good thing. But if spending outweighs savings, then something’s got to give.

Of course, there are such necessities as student loans, rent, and groceries. But in order to create a negative savings rate, there has to be some using of nonexistent funds to finance unnecessary endeavors, which leads to the accumulation of debt.

So while it is true that millennials have drawn a short straw in terms of our age group and the miniscule increase in wages, we haven’t really jumped at the opportunities given to work with what we’ve got.

Something must be done to instill the importance of saving from a young age. Although interest rates for savings accounts are comparatively low at the present, some interest is better than no interest. Beginning to save at a young age is one of the greatest things an individual can do to prepare him or herself for the future.

The equation is upside down. It shouldn’t be that in your early twenties you spend a lot of money because you don’t have any dependents; you should be saving money because you don’t have a lot of obligations. It isn’t a matter of putting away a large amount of money in college or even in the years immediately after graduation. It’s about getting in the habit of paying yourself first—even if all that means is dropping $5 in your savings account once in a while; a lesson that every age group could benefit from learning.

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