You may have seen alarming headlines predicting that millennials will approach middle age in worse financial shape than any generation before them. They’ll struggle to pay off college debt, buy a house or start a family. How do their elders guide them? Twin Cities financial planner Monica Eckberg counsels a thoroughly pragmatic approach: Save. Work hard. And don’t panic. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Eckberg was encouraged to choose a profession that offered security: doctor, lawyer, engineer. She did none of them, instead working her way to a successful wealth-management practice, always keeping her own financial future in mind. She shares her philosophy about money, that daily cup of java and why she remains optimistic for our kids.
Q: You take an unusually calm approach to recent news about the financial futures of young adults. How do you manage that?
A: Articles are intended to share an overarching trend or discovery. I don’t believe it serves us to buy into a pessimistic outlook.
Q: But so many young people have heavy debt loads. How do they get out from under them?
A: Start where you are. Establish a mind-set of save first and work hard. It’s OK to work two or three jobs to make ends meet. Sometimes our salaries when we are building our careers are not enough. Many people are Uber/Lyft drivers or restaurant servers in the evening to gain financial stability. Figure out what you can do and do it. While it can feel like a slow process, it does add up.
Q: Why might millennials consider financial planning? They’re probably thinking, “What finances?”
A: It is important to start the process. We can always afford to save something, the same way we can find the money to spend on something. Many people spend $3 on coffee every day, which adds up to $1,100 a year. Small modifications can have a big impact. Warren Buffett says, “Do not save what is left after spending. Spend what is left after saving.” This is basic, but many people do not follow this simple rule.
Q: Small modifications in how we pay for things, too?
A: The millennial generation’s relationship with money is learned behavior. There are basic financial concepts that millennials were not naturally exposed to as they were growing up because of the electronic nature of how we exchange money today. Debit/credit cards and apps have made it so that the connection between what we spend and what we have is not palpable. Older generations remember using cash or balancing a check book. This kept older generations close to their budget and helped develop a tangible relationship with money. Encouraging millennials to align their spending with their cash flow can help to bridge this gap. This may mean using a debit card, instead of a credit card, or paying with cash to make sure they can afford it in real time.
Q: You have an interesting philosophy about money.
A: It starts with how we think. For example, if you believe you don’t have enough, then you will always feel like you are struggling to create more. Another approach is, if you believe that what you have is enough, then you will always be grateful for what you do have. With anything, mind-set is critical in creating different outcomes.
Q: You call college “an evolving topic.” Please say more.
A: There will likely be a continued expectation around a college degree for certain career tracks. My hope is that the price point of college will become more affordable. I’d love to see colleges and universities offer courses online or that students consider getting their generals done at a less expensive school and then transfer to finish their degree at the school they want. I think it is important to make sure that the amount of tuition paid by parents or taken out in loans is in line with the earning power of the degree being pursued. In other words, it may not make sense to spend $60,000 a year at an elite private school if the degree earned is in a field that has a starting salary of $30,000 a year.
Q: Do money worries play into the decreasing number of young people getting married? Having kids?
A: Strong financial footing continues to be a pillar of healthy marriages. It’s smart to talk about your financial situation and communicate with each other to be on the same page about your approach to your finances. Rising child care costs can be a stress point for many families. If a single person or newly married couple wants children, current cash flow needs to consider the future “affordability” of children. The budget should be able to afford saving the right amount, current living expenses and future child care. Considering the future cost of day care will help inform the right decision on what to pay for a home or a car.
Q: Bottom line: Will this generation ever be able to retire?
A: Yes, of course. They will have to earn it with the resources that are available to them, just like generations before them. A great step toward saving for retirement can be saving 20% of their income and living on the remaining 80% today.
Q: What makes you hopeful about and for millennials?
A: I love the quote, “Be what you expect of yourself, not what others expect of you.” Millennials are driven to make an impact by being unapologetic about what they want. I respect that. I think millennials believe they can make a difference. This means that we should be optimistic and inspired by what they want to contribute to our society.