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Millennials Like to Treat Themselves, but It Comes at a Cost

By Maurie Backman – Updated Nov 1, 2018 at 7:44AM

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Younger adults know how to spend money -- but do they know how to save it as well?

Millennials tend to get a bad rap when it comes to being financially responsible, but the reality is that many younger adults are simply doing the best they can in the face of entry-level wages, high living costs, and outstanding student loans. At the same time, this oft-misunderstood generation seems to have no problem indulging from time to time.

An estimated 86% of millennials treat themselves at least once a month to a non-essential purchase -- meaning, one whose sole purpose is to deliver immediate gratification or joy, according to data from Fidelity Investments. But while the occasional low-cost treat isn't necessarily a budget-buster, millennials, on average, spend $110 a month on these rewarding yet unnecessary purchases. All told, that's $1,320 a year -- a sum many younger workers can't afford to be parting with.

Man in plaid shirt with crossed arms against a white background

Image source: Getty Images.

Compounding the problem is the pressure millennials feel to spend their money. When younger adults see their friends on social media showing off their new gadgets, they're apt to want to follow suit. In fact, 63% of millennials agree that social media has a negative impact on their financial well-being.

Let's be clear: millennials who can afford the occasional treat without compromising their bill-paying ability, falling behind on savings, or racking up debt should by all means continue to uphold that habit. Those who can't, though, need to rethink their spending and make changes before they wind up regretting it.

A better use for your money

No matter your age, it's never easy to deny yourself the things in life that make you happy -- especially when you work so hard to bring home a paycheck. At the same time, the snippets of joy those occasional treats bring about won't compensate for the financial stress you're apt to experience if you encounter a financial emergency and don't have the money to deal with it, or if you wind up retiring without enough money to cover your senior living expenses. Therefore, if you're behind on emergency or retirement savings, the bulk of your spare cash should go directly into the bank or your 401(k) or IRA, as opposed to paying for your indulgence du jour.

No matter your age, you should always aim to have a minimum of three months' worth of living expenses in an emergency fund, so if you're behind, you shouldn't be spending anywhere close to $110 a month on nonessentials. Similarly, if you're not yet saving for retirement, which is the case for 62% of millennials, that $110 could go a long way toward helping you establish your nest egg.

In fact, imagine that instead of spending that $110 a month, you were to start socking it away in either an IRA or a 401(k) for the next 40 years. If you were to then invest that money at an average annual 7% return (which is more than doable when you load up on stocks), you'd wind up with $263,000 in time for your golden years.

Striking a balance

You can't deny yourself every little luxury life has to offer. At the same time, you'll need to learn to be choosy if your savings aren't where they should be. This could mean buying yourself a $110 treat every few months, as opposed to doing so on a monthly basis, or setting aside, say, $40 a month for something fun as opposed to spending nearly three times as much.

It is possible to enjoy the good things in life while being financially responsible at the same time. You may just need to teach yourself to strike a better balance and reevaluate what's most important to you.

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