The Millennial Report: Millennial Consumerism – Saving vs. Spending

My dress was ironed, shoes shined, and hair tucked neatly behind my ears for the first day of my first job. I walked confidently into the room, knowing that I was fit for the position and ready to confront challenges head on. I sat down in my chair with materials in hand and began my work. I did well, with a few minor errors that were quickly corrected, but I could barely make it to snack time without needing a nap, as I woefully underestimated the stamina required for my six year old self to be the visiting classroom reader at my little sister’s preschool. I was still paid a fair wage of $1, but in the long run I realized I wasn’t cut out for the job. 

From then on, I became something of a juvenile hustler, once attempting to scam a group of mothers into withdrawing their children from day camp and instead sending them to my house for an unbeatable summer camp experience for a minimal fee, of course. I later mastered the art of Swedish massage at ten years old to coax money from my sister with scoliosis in exchange for relief in the form of a back rub. But my first honest paycheck came when I became a preteen camp counselor earning roughly $250 biweekly. It felt like a substantial amount of money then — that is, until I realized all of the male counselors earned more than the girls, ultimately becoming my first foray into the world of gender wage gaps — but I was making enough money to start saving for things I desperately wanted: hoodies. Hoodies galore. Hoodies in every color of the rainbow. I quickly realized that if I wanted something badly enough, I could work to earn enough money to obtain it. My early savings habits evolved into an adult relationship with saving, as I am now hyper aware of the amount in my savings account.

In fact, I’m more conscious of that number than my phone number. I am scrupulous in my savings each month, not due to dire need — I do not live paycheck to paycheck —, but rather because I’m at a stage in life when my savings will soon determine my chances of leaving the apartment complex life behind me. 

Millennials are less likely to own a home than our Gen. X and baby boomer parents and grandparents, which may be due to a variety of factors. Some of my millennial peers don’t place particular value in home ownership, though others view it aspirationally, as if it’s something distantly attainable. I see it as necessary to avoid my neighbors’ wall smashing and late night jam sessions, nevermind the increasing rental costs. A house is important to me. But houses don’t come cheap these days, so I save knowing I’ll never reach into the cookie jar until it’s time to make that gingerbread into a house. 

Of course, that’s not to suggest that I’m stingy with my spending because I, like many other millennials, am not. Each month, I purposefully allocate my pay. Some of it goes toward the necessities: groceries, gas, rent, the cable/wifi bill that grows at an inexplicable rate, etc. Then, most months I have a little extra to spend that could have been placed into savings, but it’s not. So what motivates me to buy instead of save?

I will always spend some of my extra money on dining out on the weekends. Nothing extravagant (we’re not fancy eaters, here), but I’ll buy a burrito, a beer or two, maybe a smoothie. Activities also account for a portion of my monthly spending: tickets to watch a movie, covers for a bar, equipment rentals to do something active. Occasionally, I will spend on clothing. I am not someone who regularly purchases articles of clothing, accessories, or shoes. In fact, most of my Gen. Y peers are the same. Rather, we wait until we find ourselves mimicking Clueless protagonist Cher Horowitz, staring into our closet abysses crying, “I have nothing to wear!” This then prompts me to buy multiple items at once, occasionally resulting in a concerned call from my bank. Very rarely do I purchase a single clothing item. 

I am overly aware that the more I spend, the less I save, and the less progress I make toward purchasing a house. Sometimes I feel guilt when I buy, but that rarely stops me. If retailers are able to market guilt-free spending, they may be likely to reach a higher success rate with millennial buyers who are carefully tracking all of the money they don’t save. I would urge retailers to consider millennial consumerism when planning. If you find that many of your millennial customers are purchasing infrequently but in bulk (like me), there may be ways to seize on those opportunities. Could you offer product bundles or perhaps time strategic sales on commonly grouped items? Both are highly appealing to younger buyers. 

Saving is of immense importance to me right now, but that doesn’t mean I’m not regularly consuming goods. So if you’re able to appeal to the ever brand-loyal millennial buyers during their difficult times, they’ll be back to spend more once they no longer need a side-hustle and have reached greater financial security. 

-The Soph in Sophelle