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A BMO Wealth Management survey found that 26 per cent of respondents between 18 and 34 considered ‘saving more’ to be their most important financial priority. (Tomwang112/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
A BMO Wealth Management survey found that 26 per cent of respondents between 18 and 34 considered ‘saving more’ to be their most important financial priority. (Tomwang112/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Managing Your Wealth

Millennials feel angst in juggling financial priorities Add to ...

Even with a good job and bright prospects, Peter Rotenberg finds it still takes effort to juggle his financial priorities.

“I’m about a year into my career right now. I don’t have any student loans, no large debt,” says Mr. Rotenberg, 25, who sells software to corporate clients for a Mississauga technology company.

“I have an RRSP [registered retirement savings plan] and a TFSA [tax-free savings account] and I’m talking with my financial adviser,” he adds.

Still, “certain sacrifices have to be made.”

The challenge for Mr. Rotenberg is that while it’s relatively easy to cope with his finances how, it’s his financial future that requires the balancing act.

“I’d like to have enough for a down payment in Toronto,” he says. “I want to live in Toronto but it’s incredibly expensive.”

While Mr. Rotenberg himself is debt-free, his girlfriend, a law student, will have student loans to pay once she completes her studies.

“We’re in a serious relationship, so paying off that debt will be a factor,” he says. “At some point I’d also like to do my MBA, so I’ll need to save for that.”

His feelings are not uncommon. Millennials like Mr. Rotenberg – those born in the 1980s or ’90s – worry about financial matters more than many people think, says Sandra Foster, Toronto-based financial author and president of Headspring Consulting Inc.

“Millennials are highly affected by 2008 [when global markets crashed]. It’s like the Great Depression for them,” she says.

Although the trough that followed the 2008 crash was not as long lasting as the deep valley of the 1930s, the recovery has been long, uneven and unnerving for the millennial work force.

“In any study of behavioural finance, 2008 would be called a reference point or an anchor,” Ms. Foster says. “Many millennials may end up making financial decisions based on their experience of 2008 – even though it may not apply to today’s decisions.”

A survey last year found that millennials in Canada were more concerned about saving than any other age group.

The survey, released by BMO Wealth Management, found that 26 per cent of respondents between 18 and 34 considered “saving more” to be their most important financial priority.

The millennials’ next highest priorities were reducing and eliminating debt (25 per cent), investing effectively (20 per cent), budgeting (17 per cent) and spending on personal needs or goals (5 per cent).

“The 20s and 30s are actually the best time to start working on finances,” says Paul Shelestowsky, senior wealth adviser at Meridian Credit Union in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

A big challenge for that generation is that housing prices in many parts of Canada are unprecedentedly high, Mr. Shelestowsky says.

“When people are looking to buy houses that are three to four times their incomes, it’s hard to get out from under,” he says. It may not always be readily apparent, but “people in their 20s and 30s have more strain on their cash flow than ever before.”

Expert opinion suggests that Mr. Rotenberg is taking the right steps by focusing on saving and avoiding short-term debt.

“I don’t live in the apartment of my dreams,” he says. “And I don’t own a car – even though a car would be nice since I commute by public transit to work in Mississauga.”

The key to juggling is, well, not to juggle, Mr. Shelestowsky says. It takes planning.

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Hoping for the best doesn’t usually work out.”

Mr. Rotenberg says he divides his planning into short-term and longer-term objectives.

“In the short term my priority is to keep six months’ savings in hand, because you never know. In the longer term I’d like to be in the property market [with a down payment] by age 30,” he says.

Financial planning might seem intimidating at first, but there are lots of easy ways to start, Mr. Shelestowsky says.

Even before talking to an adviser there are steps that can be taken, to make sure the right questions are asked.

Here are a few tips:

Keep saving, stop worrying

“If you are a millennial and not able to pay down your debts, save for short-term expenses and retirement and earn more all at once, stop beating yourself up,” Ms. Foster says. “Some people prefer to increase their assets, some prefer to pay down debt before they start saving. Others do a little bit of everything. Set your own goals.”

Goals-based investing

This is a technique that helps savers focus on what they’re saving for. With goals-based investing, investors identify their specific objectives. Then they create an investment program for each goal. Focusing helps encourage sticking with the plan.

Look online

Websites such as the Ontario Securities Commission’s getsmarteraboutmoney.ca and free versions of financial apps such as Mint can help track day-to-day spending and saving – and help you juggle.

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