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And they're more stressed about money than their parents and grandparents

3 minute read

Going out for dinner, or stashing that money for a down payment on a house? That’s the question the youngest working generation is facing, and it’s causing them anxiety.

The decision between long-term financial aspirations and the lure of spending now is putting stress on the physical, professional, and social well-being of millennials, says a new study from life insurance company Northwestern Mutual.

“Finding the right balance between living for today and saving for tomorrow is the proverbial brass ring of financial planning,” says Rebekah Barsch with Northwestern Mutual. “While this is a challenge that crosses generations and income levels, it may be a more strenuous juggling act for millennials with less financial flexibility.”  

Money habits

Having a flexible financial plan is valued by more millennials than their older counterparts. Sixty-four percent of millennials understand they need a flexible financial plan. Close to half of the people in the Generation X and Baby Boomer generations realize the importance of a flexible financial plan at 55 and 43 percent respectively.

Almost a quarter of millennials even label themselves as highly disciplined financial planners, higher than baby boomers at 19 percent and Generation Xers at 15 percent.

“It’s encouraging to see that this generation is committed to thinking ahead and takes pride in establishing positive financial habits,” says Barsch.

This type of behavior isn’t the case for all millennials, though. Sometimes that new iPhone is just too appealing.

One-third say they’re prone to excessive or frivolous spending, as well as spending money budgeted for other things on themselves, the study says.

Millennials are much more guilty of needless spending than older generations. Only 26 and 19 percent of Generation X and baby boomers respectively have admitted to excessive spending. Even less, at 15 percent of Generation X and four percent of baby boomers, have used the money they budgeted on themselves.  

Sometimes — 23 percent of the time to be exact — millennials feel so guilty about their foolish spending, they hid it from their spouse or partner. That’s much more often than baby boomers at eight percent of the time.

Eating them alive

These habits aren’t healthy.

The pressure of competing priorities makes millennials more anxious about their jobs than any other age group.

More than a quarter say money stress impacts their job performance. That’s more than double the toll it takes on the general population.

More than half (53 percent) of millennials experience high to moderate anxiety about losing their job, the study says. That’s compared to less than a third of the average American at 29 percent.

The same is true when it comes to worrying about savings. Sixty-seven percent of millennials experience stress over their savings versus 50 percent of the general population.  The numbers are similar as far as income: 69 percent millennials versus 48 percent of the general population.

The stress even makes 23 percent of millennials physically ill, too, the study says. On top of that, nearly 20 percent feel depressed about their finances on a weekly basis.

Hiding spending isn’t good for relationships either. Almost a quarter — 24 percent — say financial anxiety affects their relationship with a spouse or partner hourly, daily, or weekly. That’s more than double the toll it has on the general population at 10 percent.

It doesn’t have to be so stressful though, Barsch says.

“One way to ease the stress is to always have a pulse on your financial situation — income, assets, liabilities,” she says. “That clarity allows you to feel confident about your financial decisions whether spending, saving, investing, etc. Yet, our research shows that more than half of Millennials don’t have a clear view of their whole financial picture, which may be contributing to the disconnect we’re seeing between instincts and actions.

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About the Author

Gregory Cox

Gregory Cox

Cox is a freelance writer for

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