During the summer of 2020, I picked up a weird, new habit: binge-watching “Millennial Money” Youtube videos. I was fascinated by everyone’s personal spending habits — from the copious amounts of coffee purchases that amassed to thousands, to bloated rental prices in big cities. At the time, I was living at home in South Florida, taking my University of Florida classes remotely as the world first reckoned with the pandemic. I was in the fortunate position to be saving money living with my family, but knew that once graduation came, my expenses will quickly take an uptick.
Now, as I have moved out to New York City, I soon realized I grossly underestimated how much it costs to live.
My relationship with money
Growing up, I was raised by two immigrant parents who valued frugality. In a suburb where many families came from affluent backgrounds, I always felt out of place when I didn’t wear head-to-toe Abercrombie & Fitch. (My parents always protested the price points, especially since I would grow out of the clothing within the next few years.) Once I left for college, I recognized that my perspective on money was greatly skewed by my surroundings: it was not normal for 16 year olds to receive luxury gifts from their significant others! Why did I feel less than for thrifting clothing?
Money can feel like a taboo topic, especially given how Generation Z is so cognizant of privilege. Despite how I felt growing up, I was immensely privileged: My parents owned a home. My parents were able to support me through college until I found consistent income. My parents were able to invest in their education. My parents took me and my brother to Disney World every few years.
These privileges allowed me the mental energy to invest in my personal education with money.
How was money discussed growing up?
I was eight years old when the housing bubble burst. It was all I heard about on the news. People lost their homes, businesses foreclosed, and I had questions. I remember going to church with my mom and seeing her give her usual weekly donation as the priest discussed the financial struggles of the parish.
While conversations about money were more accessible than ever, I still felt like it was too ‘adult’ of a conversation for me to engage in. So, I made my first purchase to invest in my financial health: “A Smart Girl’s Guide: Money,” an American Girl book.
I spent my days fascinated with trying to open up a financially viable lemonade stand, only to realize that I had zero foot traffic outside my door. What about babysitting? At 10 years old, I still felt like too much of a baby to do that. I became curious about making money, but kept hitting a dead-end.
As I reached my teens, I needed to find finance discussions elsewhere. How much is too much for rent? How much should I be saving for college? What even is a 401(k)? When should I open up a credit card?
Off to the internet, I went.
The “What I Spend in a Week” Trend
My dad always says that you can learn anything on Youtube, so it was my first stop in learning more about money. During quarantine, the lifestyle Youtube circle exploded with a big, new trend: “What I Spend in a Week.”
Finally! I could peer into the finances of people in various income brackets, and see how I measure up. From big content creators who make income off of Youtube, to smaller creators who have other income streams that don’t rely on content creation, I learned how some people managed their money.
I found three consistent patterns in my research (also known as binge-watching):
People have different priorities in allocating their money, and that is okay.
Money is a deeply personal topic. Opening up about your finances, especially online, can make you subject for ridicule. But ultimately, each of us have individual priorities. My personal priorities means I will spend less on rent in exchange for the ability to buy airplane tickets to visit my long-distance boyfriend. I don’t mind the longer commute to work or close quarters at home if that means I can travel within my means. While it is easy to point fingers and say, “That’s a waste of money,” it is a much more productive use of time to figure out what is the biggest priority in your life, and allocate the appropriate amount of money there.
If you can, start saving for retirement immediately.
I know — retirement feels like a million years away. But in researching about Roth IRAs, 401(k)s and other investments, the earlier you invest in your future, the more at ease you will be later on. In a culture that feels like I need to treat myself every payday, I learned the biggest treat I can give myself is a worthwhile retirement fund.
Don’t be afraid to talk about money with your peers.
As graduation neared for me at the end of 2021, my friends and I started opening up about job opportunities. We were all entering the same field of advertising/marketing, but received drastically different salary offers. It did us no favors to be cagey about our first career steps, especially as a Latina. (“Latinas, on average, are earning $0.57 for every dollar paid to White, non-Hispanic men, according to the National Women’s Law Center.”) Learning more about what companies are offering allowed my friends and I to be smart within the negotiation process, especially when women tend to be more timid when advocating for themselves in work settings.
Gen Z needs help with managing money.
Anecdotally, I know my friends and peers are not financial gurus. Across various backgrounds, I have yet to meet a person who felt secure in their finances. This is not unique: every generation feels turmoil once they reach their 20s, trying to find stability in that transition to young adulthood.
But I’m personally worried about the future of Gen Z’s financial health. When our climate anxiety makes us feel like the world will flood any minute now, retirement feels like the last thing on our mind. Why not buy that avocado toast? And when we want to satisfy our need to show off our personality through our clothing, but sustainable fashion poses a financial barrier, buying that fast fashion haul does not seem too bad on our wallet.
Not every Gen Zer has been afforded the opportunities I have to learn more about managing money. Some juggle multiple jobs to support their families, to afford college tuition or to funnel into medical debt. The time and energy needed to learn about how to handle money is frankly too much for some. Time is money, after all.
Gen Z controls over $143 billion in spending power, but do we know what we are doing? Absolutely not.
Let’s change that.
JUV Consulting is a Gen Z collective that works with companies to create purpose-driven and authentic marketing campaigns that engage young audiences. Contact us at email@example.com if you would like to learn how to reach Gen Z, or sign up for our weekly newsletter, The Screenshot, to get Gen Z insights straight to your inbox.