When you think about it, Americans have been managing their personal spending in the same way for generations – placing more emphasis on the practical side of financial planning and less on the things they value the most. However, a recent study by Cambridge University found that when people spend their money on purchases that match their personality, they report higher levels of life satisfaction. While this may seem like an obvious sentiment, it’s easy to forget in the chaotic course of our financial day-to-day.

In fact, we millennials may understand this correlation better than the generations before us because of the economic environment in which we were raised. Many of us saw our parents struggle with mortgages they could barely afford – or worse, lose a home to foreclosure. Hefty car payments and never-ending home maintenance projects seemed like an inevitable part of our family’s lives.

So, when it was our turn to make the financial decisions, it should be of little surprise that we made starkly different choices. We often choose renting apartments over homeownership, Uber rides over car purchases, and saving for travel versus saving for down payments. Simply put, we choose financial flexibility. We chose experiences and adventure. We place more value on what we value, versus on material things.

And here’s the kicker – we may actually be wiser than previously suspected. In light of the Cambridge study, millennials seem to be doing what everybody should be doing to achieve a happier, more meaningful life: Figuring out what it is you value and applying your money there. While those values vary from one person to another, the principle remains true.

Spending should reflect your values

Aligning spending with your principles isn’t the easiest thing to do. Even though three months of eating out might cost the same as tickets to Coachella, making that connection might be hard as you’re swiping your credit card for a seemingly harmless $10 lunch. So, let’s take a step back and recalibrate where we are spending our paychecks by considering these simple steps:

  1. Define your values. You won’t spend wisely until you decide what is most important to you. This is a good conversation to have with friends because their beliefs are likely similar to yours. Afterwards, write down the themes that emerged from the conversation and identify what it says about the things that are important to you. Make a list and put it somewhere you will see it each day.
  1. Create a money management plan that reflects “you.” Once you define your values, look for spending that doesn’t match your priorities. For example, if you enjoy biking to work but find yourself in an apartment that’s too far away to do that on a regular basis, consider moving closer to your job. Even if you pay more in rent, you could make it up in gas and car maintenance costs. In addition, seek out online resources like SunTrust’s onUp.com site that can help you create a budget and stick to it. The onUp movement is inspiring people and providing tips to move from stress toward financial confidence – one step at a time.
  1. Involve your friends. Make plans with friends and hold each other accountable. If your dining out budget is consuming your travel fund, plan a trip with friends and set financial goals to save. If they are putting money aside for the same thing, it will be easier to explain why you are getting the side salad at dinner and ordering one drink instead of two.
  1. Chat with your elders. This may sound passé, but the older generation can teach millennials a lot about regret. Ask a parent or mentor what their financial regrets are, and then adjust your financial habits so you don’t make the same mistakes.

It’s fair to say our generation can’t take full credit for creating the concept of spending money purposefully, but we may have rediscovered it as a result of our own financial situations. The job market is still relatively anemic and some recent college graduates are still finding it a challenge to be self-sufficient. As a result, many are focusing more on personal priorities with the resources we have at our disposal. But it’s encouraging to know research suggests we are on the right path, and time will tell how successful our generation will be in matching our financial journey to a meaningful, happy life.

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Chris Colon


Orlando, FL

Christopher Colon is a treasury sales analyst at SunTrust Banks in Orlando, Florida. He graduated from Florida State University with a degree in economics and is now pursing his Master of Business Administration at Rollins College. For more information about SunTrust’s onUp movement to help people move from financial stress to confidence, visit onUp.com.

All posts by Chris Colon

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