Managing money can be a full-time job for anybody who wasn’t born into an abundance of it. This will always be true, no matter how the social and political winds might shift. However, studying how people of different ages demonstrate their financial literacy is a fascinating exercise — one made only more interesting by the coming-of-age of millennials.
Modern life has brought new challenges, and millennials are feeling some of those challenges more keenly than others. There now appears to be a significant gulf between real financial literacy and financial confidence. Millennials don’t really want for confidence, on average, but a surprising number of them do lack a basic understanding of finance.
The “why” and “what now” is more difficult, but we do have some practical advice for young people who feel these trends describe their current approach to money-wrangling. Before we get to that, though, let’s get honest about the scope of the problem and what might be responsible for this widening generational knowledge gap.
Why Millennials Aren’t So Great With Finances
It’s true that millennials have to divide their time and attention among more distractions than any previous generation: They’re busy juggling one or more jobs, paying down lingering student debt, renting responsibly or contemplating home ownership, maintaining relationships and saving for retirement. About 34% of millennials are unsatisfied with their financial standing at the moment and 18% are “not at all” satisfied. More than half of them are worried they won’t be able to pay back their student loans, including 34% who earn a household income of more than $75,000 per year.
Despite these many challenges, too many millennials still lack basic personal finance knowledge. Thanks to a survey furnished by George Washington University, only about 8% of the millennials polled had what the researchers were comfortable calling a high level of knowledge about personal finance. About one-quarter of the respondents demonstrated a basic understanding. All this, despite the fact that almost 70% of folks who took part in the study believed their money savviness was high-level.
For a concrete example of the kinds of knowledge gaps revealed by this study, consider for yourself how you’d answer this question: “True or false: Buying a single company’s stock usually provides a safer return than a stock mutual fund.” There’s only one correct answer to this questions, but when asked, 40% of millennials got it wrong.
The first and easiest explanation for millennials’ relative lack of knowledge about personal finance has to do with the sheer complexity of modern life. As we’ve mentioned, millennials have to worry about staying employed, growing their skillset, managing debt, courting a partner, potentially having children and remaining a responsible renter or property owner. Two-thirds of millennials owe some kind of long-term debt, and 53% claim that debt is overwhelming. However, if that was the only demand on their time, it would be far less of an issue.