We interviewed The Globe and Mail’s Rob Carrick, one of Canada’s most trusted, and highly read, personal finance experts on Ratehub.ca’s brand-new podcast – Real Money Talk.
Rob has written, or co-written, five books on personal finance including his latest, “How Not To Move Back In With Your Parents – The Young Person’s Guide to Financial Empowerment.”
Personal finance for Millennials is his passion. If you’re one of them, or even if you’re not, his interview is full of great points on achieving financial freedom. We took the podcast, transcribed, edited, and below – we present to you a paraphrased version of our chat with Rob on Millennial money.
Do you think Millennials have it harder than previous generations?
I do, I actually wrote a column about it, which resulted in me pairing up with a programmer at the Globe & Mail. We created an online tool that helps people compare financial conditions of previous generations to the current state. We looked at house prices, tuition fees, and a few other factors. It painted a pretty definitive picture that it is tougher today.
I’m a late generation boomer. I have two sons aged 25 and 22, I’ve got nieces and nephews, and I’ve got lots of Globe readers who are Millennials and keep me informed with what’s going on. With all this perspective, I have no trouble saying that I think I had it much easier.
Houses are more expensive compared to incomes today. School tuitions have gone up. We have roughly double the inflation rates, and we have the gig economy. So many companies when they’re hiring Millennials are saying it’s a contract – they’re not giving away a pension. Millennials aren’t getting benefits, they’re being told the job will end in six months. It’s so hard to build a financial foundation on temporary work.
I live in Ottawa. It’s a hot housing market, and the rental market is starting to firm up, but it’s nothing like Toronto. When I hear how much it costs to rent a semi-decent place in Toronto I wonder how someone can even plan to pay rent? Their weekly costs are expensive to live. If someone wants to build up an emergency fund to cover their rent in between jobs, it’s extremely difficult.
I think it’s really hard to reach financial independence when you’ve got a temporary job, with no credentials, and no contacts. I think that’s a major challenge in the economy for young people today.
What do you say to the 58% of people between 36 and 54 who think Millennials are soft?
I think if you were to have done similar polls throughout history, the generation just ahead, who are slightly older than the current cohort of young adults, will always look at the younger people and criticize them. I think there’s something about maturing in life that makes you sour on young people, and it’s a sad commentary on society.
I have had so much pushback on all the writing I’ve done about Millennials over the years. The boomers are telling me they had it way harder, based on one single person’s experience.
I find that anybody who has Millennial kids or grandkids gets this storyline, but if they don’t have that direct pipeline to the voices of people who are in the situation, they don’t have a clue.
What are the big mistakes Millennials make with their money?
Millennials who are fortunate enough to be in company pension plans, where their employer will match any contribution they make, aren’t joining the plan. They are passing up on employer contributions. They’re saying no to a part of their salary. They’re leaving money on the table. Their employer is saying here, this is for you, and all you have to do is put a buck in and we’ll match it, but they’re not doing it.
Another thing – Millennials are super keen to get into the housing market. The polls I see say
their level of enthusiasm for housing may even exceed the average for the entire population. I really wish some of them would just cool it a bit. I think they need to take a look at their finances and see if they can afford it. If you can, great, buy that house, enjoy it, but if you can’t, rent.
Don’t get yourself into a financially precarious situation of homeownership just because you bought all the “propaganda”.
According to an Abacus Data study, only 41% of Millennials who have some savings are investing their money in stocks, while 57% regard stocks as risky. They’d rather put their money into housing. What do you think?
I think a lot of Millennials became financially aware after the financial crisis. The stock market meltdown caused them to see stocks as a crapshoot.
There are some Millennials who are really enthusiastic and find hot stocks and make a lot of
money off cannabis or artificial intelligence. But, those that aren’t, don’t really want any part of that stock market thing. Housing makes more sense to them.
They think, “my parents made a bunch of money and I’ll focus my financial resources there.” I think that’s a mistake. I think you need to have a balanced portfolio of assets in your life. You want to have a house, great, but you also need liquid investments in the stock market and the bond market. You need diversified portfolios. Your parents most likely had both and you’re gonna need both, too.
What would you recommend as a first step in starting an investment portfolio?
We (The Globe and Mail) actually designed a tool that’s available online for our Millennial readers. it’s called the real life money launcher. It helps Millennials decide, based on their financial goals, where to put their money – short term and long term.
If you’re saving for anything that means you probably want to buy whatever you’re saving for in the next five or so years. That means you want something super safe like a high interest savings account. The returns are not the greatest, between 2.3 and 2.8 percent, but your money is kept super safe and stable (perfect for short-term investments or emergency funds).
If you’re investing for the long term I think Robo-Advisors are an awesome option. But, they’re for investing money that you won’t need for ten years or more. Don’t use a Robo advisor or rely on stocks or ETFs to invest money you need access to in the short-term, like for a down payment on a home, or if you’re saving for a wedding, or if you want to get your MBA. If we’re talking about the long term though, Robo advisors are a great, cheap, and efficient way to go from doing nothing with your money to having a properly-managed investment portfolio.
I think if you give your money to a Robo-Advisor you will be well served as long as you have that 10 year horizon.
What are some of the common questions you receive from Millennials?
A lot of Millenials are wondering about strategizing for the housing market. So, what I’m trying to tell them is to look ahead at the other costs as well. Don’t be lulled into thinking you’re in good shape because the bank says you qualify to borrow $750,000, and you only need $500,000.
Do you understand property taxes, and home maintenance, and upkeep, and the cost of renovations? Are you planning to have kids (daycare costs are a big expense)? Are you going to be driving a car? If you move to the suburbs maybe you’ll need an extra car. I’m trying to get them to understand that there’s a lot more to home ownership than just the lowest mortgage rates.
I know you have high rent. I know you think, “Well, a mortgage payment is a little cheaper,” but that’s not necessarily the full package of home ownership. Costs are way higher than renting even when rents are at their most expensive.
“How do I get started investing?” I often recommend Robo-advisors, or ETFs, that are that are becoming more popular right now.
Paying off debt
“Should I invest or make extra payments on my student debt?” This is for the person who has enough money to go beyond the mandatory minimum payment for their student debt on a month-by-month basis.
I’m big on paying down the debt. Some people say, “But, I can make a better return investing.” I’m kind of skeptical that they can may be possible but on a consistent basis, I think you are guaranteed to have a great return on your money from paying down the debt.
Student debt is not quite as cheap as many people think. Interest rates have gone up a little bit in the last eighteen months or so. I think it is a great return on your buck to pay that debt down, get it cleared, and then you’ve got a whole other level of financial freedom.
Because if you were paying $300 or $400 a month to service your debt, all of a sudden you’re richer by that amount per month. Paying down that debt is increasing your net worth.
How much of a role do you think FOMO and social media play into a Millennial’s money decisions?
It’s interesting you mention FOMO. I think it adds a huge amount of pressure, but you know where I think the number one pressure point is for Millennials? Parents.
Their parents tell them, “Oh, you’re paying your landlord’s rent. It’s a big waste of money. You should own.” I think that really weighs on them.
But, a close number two in terms of social pressure is social media. You see everybody else bragging about their lifestyle. You feel inadequate because of that.
I don’t really have a perfect solution for that, but I think people have to take ownership of your financial position – whatever it is – and wear it well. “I’m renting for now. I’m saving up. I plan to buy in “X” number of years. But, for now it suits me to rent. It gives me flexibility and affordability.”
All our financial choices are valid, as long as we’ve reasoned out why we’re doing them. Buying a house later on is a perfectly valid situation. I’ve actually mapped out how a Millennial could buy a house at age 40, and still be fine financially.
Renting has a lot of things going for it. You’re not wasting a lot of money on new roofs, fixing foundations, and paving driveways. You have no obligations. If you get a better job somewhere else, you just give your landlord notice, and you go. Homeowners are tied down. They’re never going to tell you that part of the story on social media – about all the spending they’re doing is just to keep their house running.
My wife and I have owned homes since the early 90’s. One thing I’ve learned is that they never stop costing you money. Whenever we get a tax refund or any big amount of money – it’s like the house is sucking it up out of our wallets. Your house is never in a state of utter perfection, and if it is, just wait, because something bad is going to happen. That part of homeownership is never reported. It’s a continual, never-ending cash drain.
Have you noticed any advantages Millennials have over previous generations?
I think Millennials are far more wired into the importance of financial literacy and personal finance than any previous generation. To me, they seem to get the idea that there’s more on their shoulders than previous generations might have thought.
In my day, you learned by doing. You made a lot of mistakes, and you moved on. Millennials seem to understand that they need to get this right. They need to get their head in the game and study some of this stuff.
I’ve seen a report on credit card default rates a few years ago, and it showed that millennials actually have a lower default rate on their credit cards than the broader population.
I’m seeing critical thinking about personal finance. I see the openness to using alternatives to
the big banks that previous generations didn’t. Millennials are unwilling to take dictation from financial advisors telling them how it is and what they should invest in. They’re getting educated online for free.
I often hear there’s too much information out there, or “I don’t know who to trust”, and “there are too many competing viewpoints.” But, as I think about it on the fly, I think it’s mostly, maybe older generations who are saying that. I think young people are better able to just sort of surf the top of this and find something that they trust and go with it.
How should Millennials plan for retirement?
One advantage that Millennials have is time.
Lifespans are ever increasing. I think Millennials today will probably live well into their nineties. They’ll probably work into their seventies, and I don’t say that as a punishment. I say that as a fact. They’re going to find a career they like and they’re going to develop contacts. They’re going to want to stay active, and busy, and think, “I don’t want to retire at age sixty and have thirty-five years of playing shuffleboard and bridge. I want to stay active.”
So, you’re going to retire at seventy, and that’s gonna give you a lot of flexibility in the life cycle of personal finance. You don’t have to have a full-time job and have a big salary at age twenty-five, you can wait until you’re thirty. You don’t have to have a big house by your early thirties, you can wait until you’re late thirties or even your forties. You can try to pay it off in twenty odd years, still have a good time for power saving, and just glide into retirement. If you pick the right career, you can work half-days later on in life.
I think millennials need to get smart about retirement, and stop stressing about meeting all these
checkpoints early on in life – which some of them are definitely doing. I think Millennials will find that life’s pretty comfortable because there’s this long life span that will give them more flexibility all along the way.
Maybe you won’t retire at sixty-five and have thirty years left. But, you can retire at seventy-five and have twenty years to go, and you can say “man, did I ever take it easy and destress my life while I was working.”
I also think they have to be aware of their lack of pension. I think it’s understood, but it means Millennials need to be pretty consistent retirement savers over their lives. The younger they start, the less stress they’ll have throughout their entire life when it comes to retirement savings.
Once you’re in the routine of putting a little bit away, you just live by the real life money mantras. List all your goals, divide up your savings, and decide how much money goes where, and make sure to have a slot for retirement savings.
I think it’s a great idea to get used to the routine and the discipline of putting a little bit of money away on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis for retirement. It could be just a little bit, a token amount at first and then you ramp it up as time goes by. If you do that you’ll be fine. But, if you procrastinate, well, the longer you wait, the more you’re going to have to really shovel in later on – without pensions there’s a lot on your shoulders. Yes, the government is improving the Canada Pension Plan for younger people. And by the time Millennials retire it will be a bigger piece of the puzzle for them. But, you’re still going to need to do some heavy lifting on your own.
There’s this notion a lot of Millennials have that renting is a sunk cost. They don’t own a home so they don’t do anything. But, scheduling money and having a forced savings plan (like a Mortgage), where you put 10-15% of your income into an investment account, automatically. It’s smart.
It’s the single most important behaviour for financial success – taking a chunk of your pay and putting it into savings or an investment, electronically on the day you get paid. You never see the money. Your paycheque comes in on one line of your bank account, and the next is the
debit for your savings, and your investing. You do that, and you ramp it up as you make more money through your life – that’s that’s the whole foundation to financial success.
I don’t want people to be out there stressing if they’re still establishing themselves in the workforce. I know it’s tough out there. I know that there are people who are working jobs that don’t pay a lot of money because they can’t find something in their area. I know there are people with temporary contracts who are worried about when the next contract is coming along.
There is no rush. You have time, things will work out. You may have to invest a few years of scrambling until you get comfortable, but I think even if it all comes together in your early thirties or mid thirties that’s still fine, you have time, it will work out.
Have question for Rob? You can reach him anytime on the following channels.
Email: [email protected]
DM on Twitter: @rcarrick
Facebook personal finance page: https://www.facebook.com/robcarrickpf/