Millennials turn to parents for money talk

Andrea Januta

Amanda Farris got an ATM card from her father when she was about 13. Her dad told her to treat it like cash and taught her how to tap her allowance and the money she made working odd jobs.

Now, at 25, Farris and her husband are fully independent financially from their parents. But Farris, who works in branding and marketing for a Missouri bar association, has not stopped asking her father for guidance. When she bought her first home a year ago, he gave extensive advice.

As millennials navigate financial milestones - like buying real estate or switching jobs - the advice of those who raised them continues to guide their decisions. Despite being so-called digital natives, many millennials continue to rely on their parents and mentors more than on online information.

According to a 2017 Instamotor survey, 78.5 per cent of US millennials say their parents have given them financial advice, and more than half feel their parents prepared them well to make good financial decisions.

While Farris welcomes information from many sources, the advice she gets from her parents has a special advantage: trust.

"Those two people, especially, will always have my best interests at heart," she said.

What is the best way for parents to give money advice? "Look for opportunities to create conversations about topics - rather than delivering lectures," said Rich Ramassini, senior vice president at PNC Investments.

In addition to decades in the financial industry, Ramassini has first-hand experience with his millennial son.

Many financial principles prove applicable across generations - like the power of compounding interest.

"That is an eternal truth that remains true today. Time is your biggest ally when it comes to investing," said Ramassini.

But Ramassini also noted differences between millennials - often defined as those born between 1980 and 2000 - and other generations.

When Ramassini began in the business a few decades ago, he said, you had to go to a financial adviser to get any information.

But now, with the proliferation of online data and advice, the opposite problem exists - too much information. "People have trouble turning that information into knowledge," he said.

Technology has also opened up new ways of saving and investing, he added, such as through financial apps.

Besides having to deal with an abundance of technology and data, millennials also face different economic challenges than the baby boomers before them.

A 2017 Credit Suisse study found that millennials face tougher borrowing rules, rising home prices and lower income mobility than their parents' generation.

Additionally, Americans now owe over a trillion dollars in student debt.

These concerns are reflected in the topics on which millennials seek advice.

The most popular subject was saving, with 72 per cent discussing it with their parents, followed by budgeting at 59 per cent, according to the Instamotor survey. Half had discussed debt with their parents.

Millennials are twice as likely as the overall investor population to target social or environmental goals while making investments, according to a 2017 report by the Institute for Sustainable Investing.

Experienced mentors can fill the void when parents are not available.

Tarah Rupp, who is an independent caregiver in Los Angeles, does not discuss money with her mother, and her father is deceased.

The most useful advice has come through her church and her in-laws.

Before Rupp turned 21, an older friend from church sat her down to discuss budgeting, and before she bought her first car, her father-in-law taught her how to negotiate and to avoid high interest rates.

Katy Neylon, 27, said she is "pretty much an open book" when it comes to talking about money with her parents, although the conversations are mostly one direction.

While Neylon does share salary and investing habits with her parents, she does not ask them about their own finances.

Beyond asking for money and job-hunting guidance, Neylon, a marketing administrator at a private golf community, also turns to her father for advice on more philosophical aspects of consumption, like how to maintain a basic level of happiness - specifically, how to avoid ratcheting up one's desires and expectations with every rise on the career and salary ladder.

Working in Durango, Colorado, a "really tiny mountain town" focused on hospitality, gives her a lifestyle where she can ski nearly every weekend, she said.

But it also required giving up a potentially more lucrative career path elsewhere.

She and her father often share their feelings on the balance between happiness and financial success. "We come to the conclusion that sometimes we pick lifestyle over pay, which is definitely what I'm doing," she said.