The Millennial generation, individuals born between 1981 and 1996, is experiencing its second major economic crisis. First, it was the Great Recession of 2008 and now it’s the COVID-19 pandemic. This time around, however, is much different. Today, the youngest Millennial is 24 years old, compared to age 12 in 2008, and the oldest of this generation is 39, compared to 27 in 2008. Today, every single Millennial is living in their adult years. That equates to more than 72 million Millennials, according to the most recent population estimate, making it the nation’s largest living adult generation.
There is no doubt that the most important priority this time around is our health and wellbeing. However, these are often being overshadowed by the fear – and reality – of losing our livelihood. As a Millennial financial advisor, I have been frequently asked by those in my generation, “what can I do proactively during this time to better my finances?” Here are some things Millennials should be thinking about – and doing – to help plan for a better financial future amid COVID-19.
Help plan for a better financial future amid COVID-19:
Prioritize your health.
This should be on the top of your financial to-do list. It means prioritizing your health, both mentally and physically, to help you better cope with today’s elevated stress levels and fear. This, in turn, will help you make better financial decisions. If you are taking care of yourself mentally and physically, you are less likely to make impulse buys to fill an emotional need or make rash financial decisions.
Set yourself up for a prosperous future.
Part of a health and wellness-focused lifestyle should be paying careful attention to your finances and ensuring that you’re setting yourself up for success. So, whether in a crisis like COVID-19, or any other time, you need to save for your future.
- Build your emergency fund. Utilize high interest savings accounts. Many of these continue to pay 1.4 percent, much more than your average checking or savings accounts. Also, if you don’t need the money for short-term expenses, consider using your stimulus check to start building an emergency fund. Aim to save three to six months of living expenses into the high interest savings account. You will never regret having back-up funds available for the next crisis (e.g. car repairs, medical bills).
- Jumpstart a savings plan. Most likely, your costs have gone down significantly. You’re spending habits have changed. You’re eating out less (or not at all), you have fewer trips planned this year, and gas is less expensive. As a result, re-evaluate your current budget to start a new savings plan. Determine a dollar amount that you can save on a monthly basis and set up automatic transfers from your checking to your high interest savings account.
Take advantage of 401(k) company match.
If you are still working and your company is offering a 401(k) match, make sure you are contributing enough to receive that free money. Now is a great time to “buy low” in the market by making these contributions. This strategy will pay off in the long run because you have many years ahead to let the money compound. Your future self will thank you.
Stay the course.
If you are already invested, stay the course. Timing the market is not a smart investment strategy. Rather, evaluate to make sure you are still in a well-balanced portfolio. If you are not, work with your financial advisor to do any necessary rebalancing. Study after study shows that trying to sell when the market is down leads to significantly worse long-term rates of return than just staying the course.
Utilize your HSA.
If you are eligible for a health savings account (HSA), take advantage of the tax savings. Since contributions are made with pre-tax dollars, those will not be subject to federal income taxes. Plus, any interest or other earnings on the account are tax-free as long as they are used for medical expenses. Utilize your HSA not only for tax savings, but also as an emergency fund to help cover any future medical expenses.
Buy into the market.
If you have the ability, now is a great time to buy in the market because stocks are “on sale.” But do not do so at the expense of your cash flow. Before you start looking for opportunities in the market, make sure your cash flow priorities are in line and that your basics are covered.
By focusing on your emergency fund, building your savings, staying the course and utilizing tax-free programs, Millennials can gain the confidence needed to pull through this crisis while supporting their long-term financial health. Let’s work together to come out of this as a stronger generation and nation.