When our parents were young, this is how it went: First you graduate, then get a steady job, open a retirement account, get married, buy a house, have babies, and — finally — invest in the stock market. These financial boxes were usually ticked by the time you hit 30.
These days? Don't count on it. “These things essentially are ‘the American Dream,’ which hasn't changed," says Cliff Courtney, chief marketing officer of Zimmerman Advertising, a group that does research into millennials’ dreams and desires. “What has changed is how fast and how focused. While baby boomers didn't have college debt, millennials have a lot of debt. So, saving up became saving up and paying off. Getting married gets pushed back; buying a house get pushed back.”
Stagnant wages and a weak job market are just part of the problem. Some people with graduate degrees hit the workforce with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt — and monthly payments to match. Add to that an influx of the well-educated into barista-level jobs, and it's no surprise that getting ahead seems nearly impossible — especially for those who are just out of school. “Recent college graduates have come of age in the worst economy since the Great Depression,” says Jason Bushey, editor of Creditnet.com. “They've seen their parents and family members lose their jobs, had their houses foreclosed on, and their savings wiped clean. The feeling surrounding a lot of the young adults I know is, ‘What is the point?’”
Still, we've all gotta grow up sometime, at least when it comes to money. So, we talked to a few experts to figure out: How important are these money milestones, really? And if they are such a big deal, how can you get there?
Illustrated by Zhang Qingyun