Millennials, Engage With Your Money

By: Kristi Mitchem
Kristi Mitchem is the CEO of Wells Fargo Asset Management.

Millennials – people born 1981-2001 – are a force to be reckoned with. Millennials, all 75 million of them, grew up in the midst of our country’s greatest financial crisis. The roles the Millennial generation now play – and will play – as consumers, workers, educators, and future leaders is what makes this group so interesting.

I believe that it is crucial to learn what Millennials think about their lives today, what they aspire to, if they are essentially happy and what, if any connection, money has to their sense of well-being. The results of our research recently appeared in the 2017 Wells Fargo Millennial Study.

Finding the Root of Millennial Happiness

Over 2,000 years ago, the philosopher Aristotle concluded that all people seek happiness. It’s true that some aim for wealth, fame, or power, but these objectives are not solely what drive millennials. In fact, our study found that 62% of U.S. Millennials say they are “very happy,” and this happiness is driven by love and relationships – not money. Moreover, 88% of Millennials say their success is more about “happiness” and less about “material prosperity.”

Money Causes Anxiety

Though the pursuit of money may not drive all Millennials, it does remain a source of worry. Over two-thirds of them (69%) say they wanted to “get over their anxiety” about money. In addition:

  • 46% said they have a “significant” amount of debt; and
  • 43% said they “can’t afford to pay for healthcare.”

While anxiety about money doesn’t diminish their current happiness, doing nothing about financial matters can undermine happiness in the long run.

The Solution is Action

One of the most interesting findings of our study – something we hadn’t expected – is that a set of five key questions proved to be a powerful driver of happiness. Millennials who affirmed all five statements below, which we call the Positive Financial Indicator (PFI), are actually happier. We call this group our “PFI group.”

Positive Financial Indicator
  • I have enough money to be able to save for future needs
  • I am saving enough for retirement
  • I feel in control of my financial life
  • I take an active role in setting and achieving goals for my financial life
  • I am able to pay for my monthly expenses

These statements all revolve around taking action and doing something with one’s money, along with feeling in control. People who affirmed all five questions are engaged: they save for retirement, plan for future needs, and actively set goals. Action in these domains translates into a more solid financial outlook and greater well-being.

Today, 36% of our respondents were in the PFI group, with slightly fewer women than men affirming the statements. One-third of the PFI group earned less than $50,000 a year, which shows that even millennials earning modest incomes can become active and engaged with their money.

Talking about money is difficult and it’s often hard to find a way into what can be an uncomfortable discussion. That’s why the PFI is such an important and potentially impactful discovery. Posing these five questions can help initiate a conversation with Millennials around the importance of engaging with their finances. The tie between affirmative responses to the PFI questions and happiness helps elucidate a connection that may not be apparent to many Millennials.

The lesson is that money doesn’t buy happiness, but engaging with what you have does. Want to be happier? Love, give, relate; but also plan, save, invest, and take control of your money.


Wells Fargo Asset Management (WFAM) is a trade name used by the asset management businesses of Wells Fargo & Company. Wells Fargo Funds Management, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Wells Fargo & Company, provides investment advisory and administrative services for Wells Fargo Funds. Other affiliates of Wells Fargo & Company provide subadvisory and other services for the funds. The funds are distributed by Wells Fargo Funds Distributor, LLC, Member FINRA, an affiliate of Wells Fargo & Company. Neither Wells Fargo Funds Distributor nor Wells Fargo Funds Management holds fund shareholder accounts or assets. This material is for general informational and educational purposes only and is NOT intended to provide investment advice or a recommendation of any kind—including a recommendation for any specific investment, strategy, or plan. 307568 12-17.

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This piece was originally posted on January 16, 2018, on the Pension Research Council’s curated Forbes blog. To view the original posting, click here.
Views of our Guest Bloggers are theirs alone, and not of the Pension Research Council, the Wharton School, or the University of Pennsylvania.