Millennials aren't the young, jobless generation they used to be. The oldest in the cohort are now immersed in their careers and nearing their 40s, a decade when people start thinking more seriously about building their wealth.
To accumulate enough to eventually retire, most of them will need to invest. But a TD Bank survey released last fall says millennials have "mixed views" when it comes to investing, and more than a third, or 37 per cent, don't invest at all.
Some millennials are spooked by the market crash they either witnessed or experienced during the 2008-09 global financial crisis, says Brandon Hill, a certified financial planner with Etobicoke, Ont.-based Ironshield Financial Planning.
"It painted a dark picture of the financial industry," says Mr. Hill, himself a millennial.
Still, he points to the more than doubling of North American markets since then as a good reason why his generation should be thinking seriously about investing, especially as they hit their 40s, considered a person's peak earnings years. Mr. Hill also points to the benefits of compound investing, which millennials should try to take advantage of while they're still young.
Here are four investing lessons millennials should master by their 40s if they want to retire comfortably in the decades to come:
Make strategic money decisions
No more throwing money into random savings and investment accounts and figuring out what to do with it later. Investors need to be more strategic, says Susan Daley, associate portfolio manager at PWL Capital Inc. in Waterloo, Ont.
At least by the time they are 40, millennials should be socking away money into either a tax-free savings account (TFSA), a registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) – or both – and taking full advantage of any employee pension or stock plans when available. And those with defined contribution (DC) pension plans, where employees have some choice about where the money is invested, should make sure the funds are being properly invested, Ms. Daley says.
"Once you enroll in your employer's DC plan, ensure that you don't simply go with the default option," she says, which can often be high-interest savings or high-fee mutual fund accounts.
Some millennials just starting out with investing aren't sure whether to first put their money into a TFSA or an RRSP, if they can't do both.
Broadly speaking, Mr. Hill says investors with a lower income should go with a TFSA, where their money can grow tax-free, while higher-income investors should take advantage of the tax-deductible RRSP, which helps to reduce income tax in a given year.
"The main goal of the RRSP is that you want to contribute in a higher tax bracket than when you withdraw," Mr. Hill says.
Figure out the right asset mix, and tolerance for risk
For most investors, the pain of the 2008-09 market crash is starting to fade. "They're starting to forget the pain of losing a large chunk of assets," says Ms. Daley.
Many millennials didn't own stocks at that time, or their assets were so small they didn't lose a lot of money. Still, they likely saw what their parents or older siblings with more money went through, and read a lot about the fallout on social media.
The lesson, Ms. Daley says, is to have a mix of investments, such as cash, bonds and stocks, based on an investor's personal risk tolerance. That can help them prepare both financially and emotionally for a downturn.
"Nobody likes to lose money, but if you understand that it's part of the process of investing and embrace that, then you'll actually do better over the long term," Ms. Daley says.
The right asset allocation is especially important for older millennials as they reach their 40s and build up more assets, which also means they potentially lose more in a market downturn.
"They will also have less time to recover before retirement," Ms. Daley says.
Still, she cautions millennials about being too conservative by putting too much of their long-term savings into low-interest savings accounts or guaranteed investment certificates, something she sees a lot of, including with RRSPs and TFSAs.
"Investors need to understand that investing in stocks and bonds in these accounts is possible, and really a requirement to earn a return on their money," says Ms. Daley. "The sooner you learn this lesson the better off you'll be because of compound returns."
Mr. Hill agrees some millennials are too conservative with their long-term savings.
"It's great on paper, but when you look at the bigger picture they are technically losing money due to inflation," he says. "As time goes on, they lose purchasing power."
Don't forget to diversify
Once you've determined an asset mix you're comfortable with, it's time to start mixing up the stocks and bonds into different regions and sectors, says Mr. Hill.
"Some hedge fund managers will disagree, saying diversification can take away from returns," Mr. Hill says. "While that may be true for some specific professional managers … for the other 99 per cent of us, being diversified is important so you don't live or die with one specific stock, company or asset class."
Canadian investors focused on the energy sector learned this lesson when oil prices tanked in 2014, dipping below $50 (U.S.) per barrel from above $100.
"There's a saying that 'diversification is the only free lunch in investing,' " says Ms. Daley. "That means, by diversifying, you're reducing your risk without sacrificing your expected return."
Resist temptation to time the market
Donald Trump's election as U.S. President last November is now a textbook example of why investors shouldn't try to guess which way the markets will go, Ms. Daley says.
Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average were down more than 900 points in the hours after Mr. Trump's surprise win. They rebounded shortly after markets opened the next day and North American indexes have since hit record highs.
The lesson for millennials, and all investors, is to not try to predict what the markets will do. Instead, both Mr. Hill and Ms. Daley recommend sticking with a financial plan – paying attention to goals, asset allocation and diversification – and sit tight.
"When I talk to millennials and they find out what I do for a living they say, 'oh what stock should I buy, where are the markets going?' " says Ms. Daley. "I have to tell them, nobody can predict the future."