This month, I’ll celebrate my birthday, but I’m not sure how much celebrating I’ll do. At 28, I’m back in my hometown in Oregon after two cross-country moves and more than one journalism career blip thanks to the economic downturn. Needless to say, I’m not quite where I planned to be.
My looming birthday also got me thinking about my finances. Are they where I’d hoped they’d be at 28? Not really.
I depleted most of my savings after buying a car and moving more than once, often without a job lined up. For retirement, I have maybe $2,000 stowed into a Roth IRA. I’ve never contributed to a 401(k), nor put money away to buy a house. Thankfully, I have no student loan or credit card debt.
I do have reachable short-term financial goals. I plan to pay off my car in December–about one year early–and can’t wait to pocket that extra $289.93 every month. I also strive to save as much as I can this year while living in a family-owned house rent-free.
When I ask myself why I haven’t thought more about my financial future, I say, well, I can’t think that far ahead. For me (and many other Gen Y-ers, I imagine) it’s all about the here and now. I have to be at that event, even though the tickets cost $150. I need a new designer handbag to bring out on Friday night. I must move to my dream city before I have kids and it’s too late. But I should know better than to spend frivolously. As a financial reporter, I know that the longer I wait to save for long-term financial goals or even retirement, the more I’ll have to put away each year.
Gen Y tends to be afraid of commitment. I personally love the freelance lifestyle because it gives me the freedom to be where I want, and a few of my fellow Gen Y-ers love it too. One friend of mine just took a part-time internship in New York City, and he plans to freelance on the side. Another left a full-time job to start up her own social media marketing firm. Of course, not knowing when your next paycheck is coming has its drawbacks. When the check finally does arrive, it’s tempting to spend it on necessities and a few luxuries and forego savings altogether.
That’s not to say my generation doesn’t have its share of savvy savers and planners–some of us have worked steadily at the same company for years, wouldn’t dream of taking financial risks and budget with specific goals in mind. But are today’s job market and high cost of living making it tough for Gen Y to achieve financial security? I’d certainly say so. Some of us made the choice to be financially unstable, while others simply didn’t have one.
This month, as I blow out my 28 candles (and set up my first automatic monthly checking-to-savings transfer in years), I ask credit unions this: What will you do to encourage Gen Y-ers to become better financial planners? How will you persuade someone like me to start paying into a retirement savings account? And how will you teach us the value of building a nest egg over making impulsive purchases?
Maybe that comes in the form of offering appealing retirement account options at your credit union. Or educating younger folks about what they can gain from planning ahead, perhaps through marketing materials, one-on-one sit-down sessions or group events. You might even offer planning and budgeting tools for those of us who don’t rely on a 401(k) and steady paycheck every two weeks.
I can speak for Gen Y when I say the help would be much appreciated. Because while we may enjoy living spontaneously now, we’d still love to retire at 65.