Real World Insight

Millennials: Making it on Their Own

With more college debt, a lower employment rate upon graduation and an economy that’s slowly recovering from the Great Recession, millennials (born after 1980) face a different set of financial realities than previous generations. For an up-close look at what it’s like for today’s young adults, we talked with a group of recent BECU Foundation Scholarship recipients.

Making saving part of the plan

Zachary G., 23, offers simple advice for those who will be on their own soon: “Start saving now.” This BECU Foundation Scholar, who's also a firefighter and paramedic, knows it isn't always easy. “Saving when you're just starting out is difficult, and it feels like it's not the highest priority.…but I still made a habit of setting money aside to set the precedent...So that when I did have a more steady income I'd already be in the mindset of putting money away into savings.”

A generation of savers

Having grown up in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 financial crisis, millennials tend to be thriftier and have more desire for security than previous generations. And according to a study by T.Rowe Price,  they're practicing relatively good financial habits. More millennials than baby boomers track expenses carefully (75% vs. 64%). Similarly, 67% of millennials say they stick to a spending budget, compared with 55% of baby boomers. What's more, 88% of millennials say they're pretty good at living within their means. 67% say they save by any means necessary.

Managing Challenges

Since going to college and taking on more responsibility for her finances, BECU Scholar and college sophomore, Tiffany C., 19, says her biggest challenge has been “learning to prioritize how I want to spend my money. Every weekend, my friends seem to want to go out to eat, or to a concert or the movies. After a couple weeks of doing that, you realize how much money you're spending.”

Quick Facts On Students And Their Debt

Higher education may be a solid investment in the future, but it also accounts for one of the biggest expenses for millennials.

  • Median debt for a student upon graduation: $23,300
  • Percentage of students who are unemployed at graduation: 18%
  • Median starting salary for those who do have jobs: $45,327
  • Standard loan repayment plan: 10 years
  • Average yearly loan repayment: $2,858
  • Number of college grads currently estimated to be in default: Over 7 million 

SOURCE: nerdwallet.com

Dollars and Percents
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Giving back when you're first starting out

Like a lot of millennials, volunteering is part of life for Emily S., (age 19), BECU Foundation Scholar and college sophomore. “I'm thrilled to be at a point in my life where I can give back to the community.” Nationally, millennials are helping others in a big way, with 73% volunteering for a nonprofit in 2012.

Why millennials get involved:

Millennials aren't interested in structures, institutions, and organizations, but are driven to help people, support issues and become part of a community that wants to make a difference. Their motivations for getting involved?

  • 79%: passion for a cause 
  • 56%: to meet people   
  • 46%: to share and build professional skills
Get Involved
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Best Advice

I try to keep my debt small,” explains BECU scholarship recipient and college sophomore Neil C., 19. “Some people call it being frugal, but for me it's just as simple as not spending money on what you don't need at the moment.” For those beginning to manage more of their own finances, Neil's best advice is “Learn to cook your own food because it will save you a lot of money!

Where do teens learn financial skills?

A vast majority of teens (84%) say they look to their parents for information, money management, but many parents (34%) say they don't discuss family-finance topics with their teens. In part, there seems to be a desire to “let kids be kids,” but parents may also feel some discomfort about discussing finances, or around their own financial missteps. 

School is another place kids are building financial literacy, and BECU is right there to help. In October 2015, we hosted Closing For Good  – a volunteer day when we closed our doors for part of the day and all BECU employees volunteered at local high schools throughout Western Washington. At Financial Reality Fairs, students learned smart money management and got to experience real-life budgeting decisions.

BECU Scholarship Survey Snapshot

In July 2015, BECU conducted an informal survey of 31 recent BECU Foundation Scholarship recipients. Students were asked a wide range of questions related to their current situation as well as their increasing financial independence. Here's a highlight of some of the questions and responses.


How would you describe the transition to managing your own finances?

  • "Surprisingly difficult"

  • "Eye opening"
  • "Steep learning curve"
  • "Challenging but rewarding"
  • "Manageable but tricky"
Transition to Managing Finances
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 What does 'financial freedom' mean to you?

  • "Not having to live paycheck to paycheck"

  • "Having the money to pay bills and still have fun"
  • "Debt-free"
  • "It means I don't have to rely on others to get by"
Financial Freedom
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Where did you get the financial management skills you're currently using?

Most scholarship recipients (92.3%) say they learn money management from their parents. Other sources include self-study (61.5%), BECU (33.3%), school (28.2%) and friends (15.4%).

Financial Management
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How are you covering your expenses for school and daily life?

Tuition, books, housing and having fun with friends can add up. Our survey shows scholarship recipients are using a variety of resources to make ends meet. Students were asked to include all resources that apply.

  • Paid employment: 76%
  • Student loans: 41.9%
  • Scholarship and/or grants: 95.3%
Covering Expenses
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How much student debt do you estimate you'll have when you graduate?

The bulk of respondents will graduate with more than $10,000 in student debt, while the debt of a small percentage will exceed $100,ooo.

  • Less than $10,000: 10%
  • $10,000- $24,999: 48%
  • $25,000 - $49,999: 29%
  • $50,000 - $99,999: 10%
  • More than $100,000: 5%

Source: BECU Financial Snapshot Survey of past scholarship winners. Conducted July 2015.

Student Debt
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