Why millennials relate to bats this Halloween – financially speaking

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If millennials were to dress up like a Halloween character that represents their financial situation, you would see a lot of bat costumes this year. At least that’s what SunTrust’s National Financial Confidence Poll suggests. The recent survey queried Americans about which Halloween character best represents their financial state of mind, and more than 27 percent of millennial respondents chose a bat because they would “rather sleep than think about their finances.”

Millennials also identified with several other scary financial scenarios:

  • Vampire: because just paying the bills sucks the life out of my paychecks (23 percent)
  • Ghost: because unexpected expenses keep making my savings disappear (18 percent)
  • Skeleton: because excessive spending habits are killing me financially (11 percent)

One positive finding: 20 percent of millennials feel like pirates because their “pockets are full of cash.” Unfortunately that’s still an aspirational situation for many people.

Sleeping through your financial life is a scary decision

The results of this off-beat survey are entertaining and fun to read, but they expose a potentially dangerous approach to managing money: Don’t think about problems and maybe they will go away. Over the long-term, this lack of purposefulness tends to magnify financial problems and puts their solutions further out of reach. Delaying saving for retirement, for example, dramatically increases the amount a person will need to save later in life to catch up.

Not surprisingly, the same survey found that the top financial regret for baby boomers is not saving for retirement when they were younger. “Bats” usually wake up to financial regret later in life.

It’s time to stop hitting the financial snooze button

Everybody has competing demands for their money, from paying off student loans to saving for a wedding or caring for young children. But nearly everyone can make changes – whether dramatic or incremental – to increase their savings, manage spending better and make steady progress financially. Those who get moving in the right direction find it incredibly empowering.

The trick – pun intended – is that feeling less like a bat and more like a pirate takes active involvement in your finances. And it’s totally doable with a little discipline and planning.

Pirates go looking for ways to save

There are signs that millennials have disposable income, they just need to focus on saving more of it. The same SunTrust survey asked millennials to list their top “scary financial mistake.” The most common one they identified was “running up a credit card balance or unimportant purchases,” suggesting that many of them are wasting money on things that don’t really matter to them. Their spending isn’t aligned with their priorities.

Another category of spending might be called “financial mistakes.” These are typically big ticket items that you can’t afford and weigh on your finances for months or years after the initial decision. Think of these financial fumbles like turnovers in a football game. They are entirely preventable and erase hard-fought progress. Eliminating costly mistakes – like taking a vacation you can’t afford or maxing out your credit card on luxury items – can help you generate sustained progress toward your goals and avoid major setbacks.

Focus on what you will gain by saving more

Experts often mistakenly encourage people to save by focusing on negative “what if” questions. What if your car breaks down and you owe $1,000 for a repair? What if you’re out of work for a month due to illness and miss a few paychecks? Counterintuitively, scenarios like these rarely motivate people and often make them feel helpless instead. Most people would rather sleep than think about potential financial challenges, so they keep doing what they’ve been doing.

What actually motivates people is focusing on what they will gain if they have money in the bank and a growing retirement fund. Instead of funding a “rainy day account,” more people should think of it as a “confidence account.” When presented with an opportunity to make a costly lifestyle purchase, they should compare the gratification they will receive from spending versus saving that money. Satisfaction from a new television diminishes almost immediately, but financial confidence offers a deeper feeling of accomplishment.

Wake up on Halloween and take action to change your financial situation

Scary past financial mistakes do not have to be repeated or remain a permanent situation. Make these tips your new mission and change your financial life:

  • Recognize that your financial situation will only improve if you take action. The first step is a mental decision to do something, even if it’s a small step such as signing up for your company’s 401k program.
  • Focus on positive financial goals. Instead of dreading an unexpected car repair, dream about the day that you will be able to afford your first house or an exotic vacation. Also, set rewards for reaching savings goals.
  • Meet with a financial advisor. Everybody can benefit from accountability on their journey to financial confidence. Set up a meeting with a financial advisor to talk about your goals and how to get there.
  • Calculate your net worth. While it might be scary at first sight, seeing your assets and debts on paper can quickly uncover any missteps to resolve. Then, as your assets increase and debts decrease, you will start to see yourself headed in the right direction.

You don’t have to be wealthy to feel like you have financial resources, but you do have to be smart about your spending and saving. The onUp movement is SunTrust’s answer to the obstacles that many people face when trying to make financial progress. The site provides practical tools and resources, but more importantly, it inspires with real-life stories about how people are achieving great things by taking definitive steps toward their goals. With so much great material, even a slumbering financial bat will be motivated to take action.

What do you think?

Written by Brian Nelson Ford

Brian Nelson Ford is SunTrust’s financial well-being executive. In this role, Brian is helping SunTrust to move people from financial stress to confidence through the onUp movement. Visit to join.

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