Millennials and Money


This summer, I’ve posted 10 columns on this blog and have had 817 visitors. I know, baby steps in the big, bold world of blogging, but I’m pleased with the early results. Readers span the demographics and today I’d like to focus the discussion on Millennials.

I love Millennials for many reasons, including my daughters and sons-in-law in this group, and also because of the hundreds of students I’ve known since joining the faculty at Lasell College seven years ago. So, if you were born between the early 1980s to the early 2000s, I’m talking to you.

What benefits would you notice if you started saving $5s?

For starters, it might help you use plastic less and cash more, giving you a super start on understanding where your money goes. It’s different spending five $20 bills than making a $100 purchase with a debit card. When cash leaves your hands, you feel it more than when you swipe a card, you know there’s been a loss. You’ll also get a charge when you get a $5 back as change knowing you’ve added to your nest egg.
Let’s address another issue—student loan debt—because for many Millennials, this is driving them either to credit card debt or moving back home with their parents. What if you started saving your $5s and at the end of every month, use your stash to pay down a little more of your principal.

According to a recent story in USA Today,, Millennials want to save but can’t. In a survey of 1,001 people, 18-34 years old, Millennials say they do a good job living within their means, yet more than one-third still get financial support from parents, live pay check-to-pay check, and don’t save. In another article, The Wall Street Journal reported that Millennials are saving at a rate of -2 percent.

To be fair, there’s good reason people under 35 feel strapped, including trying to pay off student loans, on average around $30,000. Add the expensive cost of rentals in large urban areas, groceries, health care, credit card and auto loan debt, and you can see why so many people say there’s nothing left at the end of the month.

This is where saving $5s comes in. What if you started using more cash for discretionary spending, if for no other reason than you are motivated to save money and you promised yourself you were going to give it the old college try. I promise, pay for a $3.50 latte with a $10 instead of your debit card, and you’ll get a double rush—the joe and the $5 back as change. Do the same thing when you buy a magazine at the kiosk on your way to work, or at the corner wine shop on your way home. The $5s will add up and with a bit of easy, forced savings, you might even get a more detailed picture of where your discretionary income goes. Might you buy the bottle of wine that costs $11.99, instead of the one for $16.99 just to get a $5 back if you paid with a $20? And what would be wrong about making a more frugal choice and foregoing a little luxury now and then?

I’m not asking you to cut up all your plastic, although the time I did it more than 20 years ago, my husband and I were burdened by credit card debt. We have some cards again today, which we use for big purchases, like appliances and airline tickets. But here’s the difference. We now pay the balances off every month, have no credit card debt, and since we use a lot of cash for discretionary spending, have saved more than $35,000 just in $5 bills.

Talk to me, Millennials. Are you making ends meet? Are you saving any money? Are you willing to take one tiny step forward by using a bit more cash and saving every $5 bill you get in return? Leave a comment and get the discussion going.

Happy Monday. Wishing everyone a great week.

Yours in fives,


7 thoughts on “Millennials and Money

  1. I started my career right after graduation and am making ends meet, but still struggling to get any momentum in a savings account. I began paying for my own health insurance last month and felt the deduction from my paycheck in a big way. I am proud to say that I pay my rent, bills, loans and target credit card all on my own. I got the target card for small things like toiletries/ light groceries and every month, I pay my full target balance before the due date. I have no problem paying all these things and sticking to a weekly cash budget, but the temptation and convenience of swiping my debit card without even thinking about the amount is always there.

    With that said, Marie, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts regarding how to really save beyond cash. Is there similar value to contributing $5 a week to a savings account?

    • Hi Ashley,
      You’re doing really well without my advice, but since you asked. If you really want to save money, put away the Target card, take out a certain amount of cash in $20s every week for those small purchases, and you’ll save more than $5 a week. It’s wonderful that you’re paying off your cards, your rent, and your health insurance. You’re way ahead of many Millennials already. But if saving is a priority, I’m pretty confident that using cash for those small purchases will pay big dividends in the years ahead. I also advise making small, regular contributions to an employee savings program if you have it. You’re young; you’ll be amazed at how much you can save for retirement by starting now, at the start of your career! Thanks for your comments….Marie

  2. Up to $250! As a young professional, the worst thing about saving money for me, is that it often takes too long to see the dividends from the amount i am able to put away each month. With this method I am able receive instant gratification knowing that I am able to save a bit of money on almost every purchase, and add to my savings. Thank you again for sharing your story and being an inspiration to many!

    • Antonio, That’s amazing! $250 is one month. This is the best news of my day. You’ll be a millionaire, all in $5s, by the time you’re my age. 🙂
      Thanks for your thoughts.


  3. Hi Marie! Great post! I just posted on my blog about how I’m trying to save money, and I did mention you and your $5 bill method! I remember you telling us about your method when I was your student, but at the time, I paid for EVERYTHING with my debit card and never had cash. I am definitely seeing the benefits of withdrawing money and using that my main source of making purchases. Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

    • Thanks so much, cjoki! Really proud of you. As a young professional who’s going places, so happy to see you’re starting to save $ and rely as much on cash as plastic. It has always been my pleasure to share knowledge with you…..because you are so receptive to learning new things and ideas.Good luck always!

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