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Avocado Toast Isn’t Dooming Millennials, But Conventional Financial Advice Might Be

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Avocado Toast Isn’t Dooming Millennials, But Conventional Financial Advice Might Be

Alivia McAtee

Alivia McAtee

Contributing Writer

5 min. read

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Fifty-three percent of Americans hope to live to be 100, but 51% aren’t sure their savings will last that long, a recent Business Wire report found. Nearly 60% of people actually feared running out of money more than they feared death itself.

For millennials, living to 100 appears to be an increasingly attainable goal, even if the financial aspect is still a bit less certain; researchers are racing toward the solution for radical life extension, motivated in part by a million-dollar competition called the Longevity Prize.

While increased life expectancy should be reason for celebration, millennials have reason to be wary. The older half of the cohort entered the workforce during the subprime mortgage crisis and the Wall Street bailout. Now, millennials face a wealth gap, an economy in flux, crippling student loan debt, and a constant flood of people saying they’re doing everything wrong. Living to 100 could sound more like an annoying chore than a century-long party, but we’re here to pop the Champagne.

Buy the latte

You’ve probably heard the advice that to kickstart your savings, the first thing you should do is skip your daily latte. Supposedly, a steadily increasing bank account balance will be so exhilarating you’ll forget all about your caffeine withdrawal. If that’s not enough, conventional wisdom also holds that millennials should cut down on nonessential expenses, like your gym membership and lunch. By skipping your mid-day meal, you won’t even need to go to the gym after work to burn it off – it’s a win-win! Oh and that $12 avocado toast at brunch – forget about it.

If you disagree with this kind of chastising advice, you’re not the only one. Tara Siegel Bernard, a personal finance reporter for the New York Times, explained to Tim Herrera for the Smarter Living newsletter, “maybe it’s just easier to blame people for overspending on coffee because it’s a lot more difficult to give advice on the many things they cannot control.” But instead of making millennials feel guilty for spending money on little things that make them happy, finance experts should instead encourage them to make meaningful budget cuts. Joshua Hastings, founder of Money Life Wax, told Reviews.com that most people spend 50% of their income on their housing and car, so chipping away at those expenses will have a bigger impact on your ability to save than cutting small things. Skipping your $4 latte for an entire year will save you $1,460. Going with the less-flashy model of your car will usually save you at least $2,000 – and you won’t have to fall asleep at your desk every day.

Get the subscription

The subscription economy has taken off, thanks in part to the millennial generation. Companies that were just product-based have started unrolling services that are billed on a regular basis. If you can think of it, someone has probably tried to turn it into a service. Millennials are renting just about everything and use streaming services to access books, music, TV, and movies.

Some warn the subscription economy is draining millennial’s bank accounts because it encourages passive spending. While it’s true most people underestimate how much they spend on subscriptions, that doesn’t mean monthly boxes have doomed us all.

A lot of subscriptions add value to a customer’s life, either because they’re more convenient or less expensive than purchasing the items outright. Jeff Wilkins, CEO of Motili and a member of the Forbes Technology Council, feels that “in cases where you have something that’s a depreciable or a consumable, that’s something where – appropriately structured – a subscription can make a lot of sense.” Subscriptions can also help cut down on unexpected expenses. “I think that it makes for a more predictable monthly budget that is more affordable for most millennials,” said Laurice Wardini of subscriptionly.net.

Beyond subscription boxes, millennials often rent their homes and the furniture to fill them with. While home ownership can be a valuable investment, it isn’t a possibility for everyone.

“I’m not convinced that being a renter for life is necessarily the best course, but it may be an economic necessity because you don’t have a lot of options. I think millennials, in that case, might not be doing it as a matter of choice, but as a matter of necessity,” Wilkins said.

As for furniture rental, it seems like it’s here to stay. Wardini said “it’s quickly becoming a popular choice for young families in this economy. Even IKEA will be launching a subscription-based furniture rental service, acknowledging the shift in consumer behavior. If you need to spend half a year in a city several thousand miles away for work, it is more cost effective and practical to just rent the furniture! Not only that but from an environmental perspective, it just makes more sense.” For a generation that prioritizes mobility and sustainability, furniture rental fits the millennial lifestyle.

Netflix can be a low-cost alternative to cable, and Dollar Shave Club automates a mundane purchase. Cutting all of your subscriptions might save you some cash, but you’d probably be spending time, energy, and even money to replace them. According to Hastings, it’s fine to have multiple subscriptions as long as they’re not redundant (so no, you probably don’t need six TV streaming services) and you stay on top of your finances and cancel things you no longer use.

Still Save for Retirement

For those with an eye toward living to 100, millennials might consider delaying retirement past the age of 65. Research from Boston College suggests that despite challenging external circumstances, millennials will be fine if they plan to retire later. Any earlier and you may have to support yourself through 35+ years of retirement, which would take $1.4 million if you live modestly on $40,000 a year. Financial advantages aside, millennials will benefit from working longer as work can improve health and well-being in old age.

Delaying retirement also provides a buffer in case millennials are late to the savings game. Hastings recommends that millennials focus on paying off any debt they have first, and then really focusing on retirement savings by the time they’re 30 (but don’t completely put if off until then).

One savings technique that has gained popularity is the FIRE method, which stands for financial independence, retire early. Proponents of the method claim that by living far below your means and sticking to modest withdrawals from your portfolio, you can retire in your 30s or 40s. Hastings feels the method has its merits and that there’s nothing wrong with living frugally and saving as much as possible. However, he thinks millennials should be realistic about what “financial independence” really means. “What people don’t realize is that people don’t quit working after they retire early, but they’re just working on their own time. They have that freedom,” Hastings said.

From avocado toast to their own shade of pink, millennials have always been a trendsetting generation, even with their life expectancy. Now, they have the opportunity to set new personal finance trends by overcoming student debt, subscribing instead of buying, and delaying retirement.

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