A lot has been written about millennials and their money. The 18 to 34 age group is under the microscope. Are they like Gen X or the Boomers, their parents and grandparents, in terms of how they handle money?
Their financial picture is often painted with a broad brush. They’re underemployed, drowning in student debt, not saving enough for retirement, not using credit cards (good on one hand, but not building a credit history on the other).
There have been countless surveys of millennials. Take, for example, a recent Wells Fargo survey: 41 percent weren’t saving for retirement, with many saying they weren’t making enough to do so. Thirty-four percent had student loan debt; 75 percent called that debt “unmanageable.” (Median debt was $19,978.) Thirty-two percent were fully employed, but not in their preferred career.
On Long Island, of course, the key question is how are local millennials doing? The Island has 511,000 residents ages 20 to 34, according to U.S. Census figures. While these six individuals don’t define the local generation, their stories offer a starting point for sorting out fact and fiction when it comes to millennials and their money.
Jennifer Millard and Paul Enzinger, Centereach
It’s no small thing that Jennifer Millard, 30, and her husband, Paul Enzinger, 28, bought a house last year. After nearly a decade, even doubling payments in the last several years, Millard has $4,000 still to pay of her $60,000 student loan debt. The program manager was able to get a job as a software engineer right out of college. Enzinger didn’t fare as well. It took three years after finishing his master’s in applied mathematics and statistics to find a job. Now he’s teaching at a private high school and makes one-third less than Millard. He still has $11,000 to pay on his $22,000 student debt.
“Debt has very much impacted how much I can save,” said Millard. “I constantly think, Am I saving enough?”
Enzinger talks about the debt monkey on their back. “We want to get rid of this debt as fast as possible. Right now we’re not able to live our lives to the fullest potential, to have a better lifestyle.”
The advice: Saving for retirement and other goals can seem to be in conflict. Michael Kresh, a certified financial planner with Creative Wealth Management in Islandia, said Millard and Enzinger should first figure out the total they can save from each paycheck.
If that’s $200, he recommends putting $100 of it to work in a 401(k), to qualify for the company match. Plus, each dollar that goes in is tax deductible. So that $100 might earn a $50 match, plus netting you a $20 tax deduction — like getting that money back. So instead of another $100 to put in personal savings, you’ve effectively now got $120. By taking advantage of employer matching and tax deductions, “your $200 savings could stretch to $270,” Kresh said.
Leslie Tayne, a Melville attorney specializing in debt issues, said the couple should create a budget to see what they can afford in terms of extra payments for Enzinger’s student loans. Extra payments are critical. Millard said if she hadn’t doubled up she probably would still owe $20,000.
Daniel Skaritka, Coram
Daniel Skaritka, 28, lives at home with his parents. While he could afford an apartment with the income from his job as a marketing coordinator, he wants to own rather than rent. In this economy, raises and promotions still aren’t plentiful.
“Having a stagnant income has delayed me purchasing a home,” said Skaritka, who also coaches basketball for extra money, as well as for the enjoyment of working with kids.
He counts himself lucky that his aunt left him money to pay for much of his college. Skaritka said he would be better off had it not been for a company reorganization at a previous job that left him scrambling and having to live off his savings for seven months.
He’s again building his savings so he can come up with a 20 percent down payment. He is thrifty, working out at a gym that costs $10 a month. When he goes out, it’s cheap; he’s the designated driver.
For Skaritka, it’s about waiting, both for the house he hopes to buy this year and to move forward in his career. “I expected to be in a more managerial/strategic planning role by now,” he said.
The advice: “If you haven’t been offered a promotion or raise, it doesn’t mean you can’t get one. Daniel should meet with his supervisors to discuss opportunities and pitch them on why he believes he deserves a raise and/or promotion,” Tayne said. He should be prepared to demonstrate his value to the company and have research to back up the salary he proposes.
Lauren Graham, Melville
Lauren Graham said life is about trade-offs. At 30, she’s trading financial security for creativity and professional freedom. In 2015, she launched Velvet Frame, a consulting firm that serves individuals and companies focused on social change. Last week, she launched approachingcollege.com, an online course for students preparing for college.
She is able to take the entrepreneurial leap because she lives at home with her parents. Graham said she owes “under $50,000” from her master’s program at the Yale School of Forestry; her loans are on deferment. “In the early stages of business development, you’re always investing more money than you are generating,” she said.
While she is excited to be doing her own thing, she has concerns about when she will be in a position to purchase a house, start a family and save for retirement. “I don’t think anything is quite like I imagined. I’m in a different profession, and my financial focus is on what I can create and build for the future, and not what I can afford or consume in the present.”
The advice: Tayne said Graham should concentrate on getting her loans out of deferment and paying them down. “She should look into income-based repayment plans. If that’s not an option, consider making interest-only payments to keep them from increasing substantially.”
Another strategy: “Look at the interest rates . . . and tackle the loans with the highest rates first,” said Stacy Francis of Francis Financial in Manhattan.
Since Graham’s living at home, she should pay herself “rent” every month to save for a down payment, Tayne suggested.
Kresh warned that since she is self-employed, getting a mortgage will be harder than for someone with a traditional job. “She must know her credit score. When you’re self-employed, it’s especially important to have as high a score as possible,” he said.
Michael Rossetti, East Meadow
Michael Rossetti, 28, spent the last six years in finance and investment management and performed magic on the side. He recently switched to making magic his full-time profession.
“I’ve always loved what I do. As a financial planner, I was able to help people and use my knowledge to make a positive impact in their lives. As a magician, not only do I create incredible memories for people, but it’s fun to do. I consider myself very lucky that I’m doing something that pays my bills and I love doing it,” said Rossetti.
He and his fiancee, a pharmacy tech, are planning their wedding; they plan to bootstrap the costs as much as possible.
He’ll miss his company-provided health insurance, and realizes other adjustments will need to be made since he walked away from his paycheck. Life is costly, “between rent, car payments, phone payments, internet, Netflix/Hulu/Amazon.”
But he’s optimistic. “Coming from the financial world, I’m extremely motivated when it comes to saving and planning expenses. I’ve put a lot of effort into planning our financial lives.”
The advice: The key to keeping wedding costs down is compromise. Tayne suggested getting married in the off season, November to March, and choosing a Friday or Sunday to save.
Ric Edelman of Edelman Financial Services in Fairfax, Virginia, author of “Rescue Your Money,” doesn’t mince words: “The only way to meaningfully reduce the cost is to reduce the number of guests. I’d recommend an immediate-family-only affair, with a quiet celebration at home afterward. The alternative is to spend $30,000 on a four-hour party — expenses that will haunt them for years.”
Francis said the couple should schedule a monthly financial date night. “When it comes to marital money, consider a three-way: ours, mine and yours,” she said. For example, use individual accounts for savings and individual discretionary spending and a joint account for everything related to the household expenses.
“How you split this will come down to many factors,” Francis said. “What’s important is that you sit down with your partner, talk this through, and consider what the best approach is for you.”
Andrew Livoti, Long Beach
“We all have this pipe dream of being Gordon Gekko at 24 and walking into your posh penthouse in Manhattan at 10 p.m. after a long day at the office to a raging party, but that’s ludicrous,” said Andrew Livoti, 27, who works for Nikon Inc. in search engine optimization and web compliance.
For him reality is different: “The rent is too damn high,” said Livoti, who pays $2,300 for a two-bedroom apartment. The rent is hindering not only his ability to save, but to fund his side business — a marketing app he hopes to launch soon. He calls Chasr (chasr.tech) “a way for nightlifers to get rewarded for visiting their favorite bars.”
He is frustrated with the cost of living on Long Island. “I would have never been able to move out if I didn’t work full time and live at home for most of my college experience and the three years afterward,” he said.
The advice: Livoti has options: Get a roommate, downsize to a one-bedroom, or move to a less expensive area, said Bradford Pine, a wealth adviser in Garden City.
His current arrangement is a luxury he can’t afford, especially if he wants to launch a business. Edelman said Livoti should develop a business plan to determine how much his app can earn and how much capital it will take to generate those profits. With that in hand, he can talk to friends and family about loans or investments.