I found a Prudential print ad in Tuesday’s New York Times—two words caught my eye: College and tuition. Pretty much, all millennials do one of two things when thinking about the glorious price tag we attach to college: Cringe or shiver. Our student loan debt can be linked to the decreasing percentage of home ownership. We are the generation that graduated college around the time of the Great Recession. Our outlook, despite the looming student loan payments we make each month or have repeatedly deferred—strangely—still has not soured.
What is it that keeps millennials optimistic about their chances even when by all other metrics their lot in life, likely is no better or worse off than their parents?
First, here are the stats:
While we have grime stories about our time on “the market,” eccentric resumes and vivid memories of crashing on our friend’s couch, millennials, I found, tend to be garishly optimistic about their chances for success. This can be due to the fact…well, because we went to college.
Education has a particular effect on the outlook on the individual. It opens our minds to new possibilities and skillsets. Our sense of optimism is connected to the new kinds of access that learning and technological platforms have afforded us.
Also millennials have other millennials against whom to measure themselves. Notions of success are socially defined. Our lot in life socially marks us as belonging to one class or another. For millennials, we are the kids of the Great Recession. So, every day for us is boom or bust. We have developed either a taste for or a way to manage through—risk.
We know risk. What my post-30 millennial self is now learning and putting into practice: Building portable wealth.
"We are the kids of the Great Recession"
Fun fact: According to that Prudential ad, “18 years from now parents will need up to $200,000 for college tuition,” . While it is an insurance and financial management, Fortune 500 company, I found it somehow speaking to me—in tune with my millennial insecurities. Prudential’s initiatives, of late, are seeking to reach out to historically underserved populations who may have been unintentionally excluded from certain market segments . Communities of color, for example, like millennials have been stymied due to life circumstances in their attempts to create a retirement portfolio.
Access to housing is connected to wealth generation. Historically and presently, disenfranchised populations during downturns in the economy either lose their only form of wealth—their homes—or their savings that helps prepare them to purchase a home at a later date. That’s why the trillion dollar student debt crisis for millennials is tied to their inability to access economic prosperity and much needed stability.
In an initiative that brings together “a coalition of organizations in more than 30 states to pass legislation that requires companies to enroll eligible workers in retirement plans,” Prudential is pushing for greater racial equity since “nearly two-thirds of households of color do not have retirement savings” . What that means is that for intersectional millennials like me who are women and of color, a company leveraging its resources to reach out to marginal populations and assist them with financial stability is like a siren song.
I tell you, I, up until two years ago—when I was 30—never before spoke to a financial investor, let alone visited a money management site. The last couple of years changed things.
After being batted back and forth in the workplace and in graduate school for the last ten years, I wanted to put down roots. I said to myself, “I have enough work experience and schooling to create a job for myself.” I started a company—a very small business (PluralityPress.com). That got me thinking about the protections afforded to those already employed—such as some accountant to file business taxes and—a retirement plan.
This year, I called a financial advisor, one of those ones that offer a free consultation: TD Ameritrade. I was stunned to find such a compassionate voice willing to enthusiastically and gently answer my rookie questions.
I learned about IRAs and Roth IRAs, 401Ks attached to IRAs, investment limits and index options. Most of all, I learned that becacuse I had a small business, I could take my retirement plan with me. The person on the phone wasn’t bothered by my questions and provided me a strategy for how to speak to the next financial manager, even if it wasn’t with him, about what a millennial small business owners needs to consider. He said, “You got time.”
“I got time?” I thought. I was so behind the ball from where my parents were at my age. My mom already had three kids and a small stint at EY, when it was called Ernst and Young, and my father had a famed savings account that got our family out of several jams—and then some. I had time, the financial adviser told me.
Millennials are the “latest generation to suffer the scorn of their elders,” according to David Roos, a blogger for HowStuffWorks.com . “Generation blaming,” Roos explains, for millennials, has meant that nearly a third of the American population (30%) routinely has a blanket thrown over them before they even walk into an employer’s office—typifying them as “narcissistic, lazy, overly entitled, addicted to social media, and coddled by their helicopter parents,” . Great employee material, huh? Yes, once the blanket it thrown off—once we start speaking to both employer and millennial fears.
Prudential’s mission is to “assist its clients with financial prosperity and peace of mind” . Letting millennials know that they are okay matters—and, that most importantly, irrespective of what happened in 2008—the most valuable things they have is—time.