There are plenty of reasons millennials and Gen Zers aren’t saving for retirement in large numbers: They want to enjoy life while they’re young. They view their golden years as unimaginably far away. And they’re burdened by student debt.
Here’s another: They see social media posts of their friends enjoying extravagant cars, dinners and vacations, and they want in on it.
Call it keeping up with Instagram.
Thirty-five percent of Americans admit they feel pressured to spend more than they can afford after seeing images of their friends’ lives on sites like Facebook and Instagram, according to Schwab’s 2019 modern wealth survey. The FOMO effect is most dramatic for young adults. About half of millennials and 44% of Generation Z (those born approximately between 1995 to 2015) acknowledge their spending habits are at least partly shaped by social media.
“That’s clearly having an influence on one the most important issues, which is balancing between spending today and… accumulating wealth for later,” says Rob Williams, vice president of financial planning for the Schwab Center for Financial Research.
The urge to “keep up with the Joneses” is not new, Williams says. And 35% of Americans also concede to spending too much, not out of envy but to take part in experiences with friends, the survey shows. But social media and the fear of missing out have ratcheted up the pressure to splurge, says Terry Kallsen, executive vice president of Schwab Investor Services.
Yet the images, videos and descriptions posted on social media sites don’t necessarily reflect reality. “We see the public face of our friends,” Williams says. “We don’t have a full picture of their financial life.”
Sixty percent of those surveyed -- including 72% of millennials and 74% of Gen Zers – wonder how their friends can afford the expensive escapades they depict online.
On average, the Americans polled spend nearly $500 a month on nonessential items. The online survey of 1,000 people aged 21-75 was conducted by Logica Research in February.
Williams says there’s nothing inherently wrong with splurging, whatever the reason, but it should be offset by saving and investing for retirement. Yet 59% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck; 44% typically carry a credit card; and only 38% have an emergency fund, the survey shows.
A Navient survey last year found just three in 10 adults aged 22 to 35 have retirement savings.
Asked what they would do with a $1 million windfall, 54% of Schwab survey respondents said they would spend it, largely on a house, cars and travel. Twenty-eight percent said they would pay down debt while just 21% said they would save it and 23% would invest it.
At the same time, 59% of Americans consider themselves savers and 65% say they’re willing to sacrifice spending on experiences now to save money for later in life, according to the Schwab survey.
“There’s the aspiration but when life gets in the way, it’s very difficult,” Williams says of the disparity between Americans' self-image and reality.
Adults who draw up financial plans are in better shape. Just 28% of Americans have such a written road map. But 60% of those who do feel financially stable compared to just a third of those with no plan, the survey shows.
Americans on average believe it takes $2.3 million in net worth to be considered wealthy – more than 20 times the actual median net worth of U.S. households, according to the survey.
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