Research

STUDY: Parents are the biggest financial influence for 1 in 3 young adults

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Introduction

Today’s young adults are making headlines for being the “kids” who are trading in skinny jeans for mom jeans and who are blowing up on TikTok. But these “kids” aren’t really that young. They’re entering adulthood and the next phases of their lives (the oldest Gen Zers were born in 1997 and are turning 24 this year!). Whether they are graduating, joining the workforce or getting their first promotion, 18-26-year-olds are at that life stage where finances can seem....confusing. 

Or do they? Maybe this new generation is much more knowledgeable about finances than the ones before because of the internet, social media, roboadvisors and all the other information that’s easily accessible today. In fact, according to recent McKinsey report, almost 40% of adult Gen Zers (age 18 to 23) say their purchasing decisions are most influenced by social media. 

To understand more about how young people are earning, spending and managing their finances right now, The Zebra surveyed 1,000+ U.S. adults aged 18-26 about all things money.

 

Key Findings

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    1 in 3 young adults say their parents were the biggest influence on personal finance habits.

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    79% of young adults get help from their parents to manage their finances.

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    Young adults are more likely to save than spend extra money.

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    52% of young adults work more than one job.

Key finding 1

1 in 3 young adults say their parents were the biggest influence on personal finance habits.

Thirty-six percent of young adults said that their parents had a big influence on how they manage money today, which was the most popular answer in our survey. However, it seems like parents aren’t totally comfortable talking with their kids about money yet. In T. Rowe Price’s 12th annual Parents, Kids & Money Survey, 40% of parents said they don’t always know the best way to talk to their kids about financial topics, and 53% of parents expect their kids to bring up the topic of money if they have questions or want to learn. But, whether parents are talking to their kids or not, our survey shows that young adults still learn from their parents’ behaviors.

Things like loans, credit scores and debt are confusing since nobody really sat me down and told me what they meant when I was young. - An 18-year-old female from Iowa

How else are young people being influenced?  Six percent of survey respondents said that social media influencers had the biggest influence on their financial habits, beating out teachers, professional advisors, money management apps and publications. 

While parents may not have been the biggest influence for every young adult, 91% still told us that their parents or guardians influenced their financial habits in at least one way. Spending (39%) and saving (38%) habits were where parents had the most influence. Twenty-nine percent of young adults said that they actually learned from their parents’ mistakes so now they know what NOT to do with their money. 

Key finding 2

79% of young adults get help from their parents to manage their finances.

The majority of young adults are getting some form of help from their parents when it comes to finances, however, the amount of help they get decreases as they get older. Only 32% of 18-year-olds said they managed most or all of their finances without help, while 54% of 26-year-olds said they managed most or all of their finances without help.

They’re also getting help from other resources. Eighty-five percent of young adults use at least one personal finance tool or app. The most popular apps/tools are banking apps (44%) like Ally, Varo, Bank of America and Chase; credit monitoring apps (24%) like Credit Karma and NerdWallet; investment apps (20%); and bill payment apps (20%). A recent study by Chase confirms these findings. Gen Z and Millennials use personal finance tools and apps more than Gen X and Boomers. 

I think it can be really frustrating to make sure you're getting everything right when you're trying to plan out your finances. - A 25-year-old male from Wisconsin

Less than half of young adults (47%) have had some formal education around personal finance and budgeting, and 38% have a financial advisor or planner to help with their money. But even without formal education or professional help, over half of respondents know their credit score (54%) and its impact on car insurance or home insurance (56%) and loans (59%). Fifty-seven percent of young adults said they also know exactly how much debt they carry.

Key finding 3

Young adults are more likely to save than spend extra money.

When they have some extra cash in their pockets, 52% of young adults say they’re more likely to save it than spend it (41%) or invest it (36%). This was even true with the 2020 stimulus payments. Fifty-six percent of respondents said they received a stimulus in 2020, and 41% of those who got the stimulus either saved or invested it. 

Speaking of investing, about two in three young adults have at least one monetary investment, and one in five have started saving for retirement. Cryptocurrency is an emerging way to invest with the under-26 crowd. Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Etherium are as popular as high-yield savings accounts among this age group.

What else are young adults spending money on? Homes, cars and bills. 

Thirty-two percent of young adults 18-26 own a home or condo (The U.S. Census Bureau states the national homeownership rate is 65.6%) and 35% rent their place. 12% of young adults live alone. 

When it comes to cars, 63% of young adults own one. Car expenses contribute to the bills young adults have to pay, as well as other common expenses like groceries, cell phones and streaming services.

The most frustrating part of financial planning is not having enough money for my personal needs. Three-quarters of my money goes to rent, phone and wifi bills, and I barely have any money left for furniture, decor, personal needs, etc. - A 24-year-old female from New York

We asked homeowners and renters which bills they personally paid with their own money, and found that their bills were pretty comparable. Because so few young adults live alone, we can assume that they’re sharing living expenses with their parents, partners, roommates or others in the household.

Key finding 4

52% of young adults work more than one job.

The younger generation is hustling. Seventy-one percent of young adults say they have a full-time or part-time job and 52% of them have two or more jobs. 

Seventy-nine percent of those who work had at least one gig economy job last year, like working for food/drink delivery apps; making art, music or crafts to sell online; freelance, consulting or tutoring work; or nannying. We also found that 48% of gig workers and 38% of young adults rely on this gig work as their primary source of income. 

In 2020, 56% of young adults earned less than $10,000-$50,000 in income. Nineteen percent earned $50,001-$100K, and 10% earned $100,001 or more. 

When we asked what personal income level would be “enough” for them right now, 51% of respondents said $50,000 or less fits their current needs. However, when we asked what personal income level would be enough for them five years from now, one in five young adults told us that they feel they’ll need to cross the six-figure threshold of $100,001. This is double the number of respondents who told us six figures is enough right now (11%). 

How are they going to get there? They don’t really know.

It’s hard to plan anything when the cost of living is so high and income is so low. - A 25-year-old female from Ohio

Nine in 10 young adults have at least one financial barrier to wealth, with school demands/expenses serving as the biggest barriers. Not knowing how to save, living in a high cost-of-living location and not earning enough at their current job are close behind.

They’re also struggling with financial planning for the future. Eighty-eight percent of young adults told us that they struggle with financial planning in at least one way. Saving for a home is the biggest struggle, but not by much.

 


 

Young adults today are facing a diversity of challenges, and the 2020 pandemic didn’t help. Fifty-one percent of young adults were personally financially impacted by the pandemic. According to the Pew Research Center, non-retired adults affected by the pandemic aren’t very hopeful about the future. They found that among those who say their financial situation has gotten worse during the pandemic, 44% think it will take them three years or more to get back to where they were a year ago, and one in 10 don’t think their finances will ever recover.  

Our survey shows that there isn’t really one common way that today’s young adults are managing their finances. Some have financial advisors, some work two or three jobs, some are content with the money they currently make and others aren’t. While there aren’t clear answers about how the entire generation feels about finances as a whole because everyone has different circumstances, it’s obvious that their ideas about money are still influenced by the world around them—whether that’s their parents, teachers, or financial gurus on TikTok.

Methodology

This report presents the findings of an online quantitative survey of 1,154 U.S. residents ages 18-26 with Census-based population balancing by region. The margin of error for the sample is +/-3% at a 95% level of confidence. The survey was developed by The Zebra and executed by independent research firm Maru/Blue from April 5-8, 2021.

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