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How Much Money Does It Take To Make A Millennial Happy?


The old mentality of compensation is dead. Have you read the news lately? Millennial employees have high expectations of their salary and financial future, more than any other generation in history. Millennial optimism and goal-setting have contributed to a strong correlation between their relationship to their job and the self-actualizing society that surrounds them. Do not blame social media, though!

Blame Tim Ferriss. Blame Chris Guillebeau and Tai Lopez. Blame the 'lifestyle gurus’ that curate ideation. This curation lends to fantastical thinking, thoughts that are ungrounded in reality.

It is our responsibility as business leaders to help bring Millennial understanding back to Planet Earth. The amount of work that it takes to become a Gary Vaynerchuk is significant. These influencers utilized virtual assistants before it was posh. They were early adopters of technology which could assist their automation. And, their timing was paramount.  

What young adults don’t know is that for all of these overnight successes that were 10 years in the making, there are thousands of other well-intentioned attempts that failed.

Reality-based in actual experience is sobering.

Ameritrade, Millennials and Work, 2018

A recent TD Ameritrade study of over 1500 millennials showed that there are 69 million millennials in the United States, who on average hold approximately $14, 780 in debt. This represents about $1 trillion dollars of debt.

Despite this:

  • More than half of millennials expect to be millionaires at some point.
  • 20% of them expect to default on their student loans
  • Nearly one in five haven’t received financial independence from their parents
  • 25% do not expect to get married
  • 30% do not expect to have kids

Historically, financial independence and being a millionaire has been a standard definition for wealth and success in the United States. Without the miracle of compounding interest from savings and real estate investments, how does the Millennial Generation expect to reach those lofty goals?

Maybe the robots will save us all.

Lead to Success.

As leaders of the next generation, we have to ground millennial salary expectations while they are employed. We may need to even play the role that traditionally is the role of parenting. An insightful Forbes’ article, outlines strategies for millennials to utilize to understand the basics of financial literacy.  

We all know the first step to tracking finances is tracking expenses. Meanwhile, millennials think in terms of what is coming in, not what is going out.  Millennial money is spent in ways you cannot even imagine.

  • 60% are willing to spend $4 on coffee, while baby boomers will mostly not (29% will)
  • 79% will spend money on a hot restaurant
  • 69% will buy clothes they don’t need
  • 76% will spend it on tech, while less than half of their boomer counterparts will do that same (49%)

As leaders, it has become a necessity to provide some insight into millennial money management. A strategy to offer classes that teach financial literacy could be helpful as millennials often only see the outside of the business, and the money coming in, but rarely do they understand the complicated expenses and capital expenditures.  


Knowledge is power when it comes to your millennial employees. A piece of happiness is derived from empowerment, not from a number. Communicate realistically with your employees.  Millennials hold a lot of anxiety in their salaries and work arrangements, and this can impact performance.

Relate to their Lifestyle Choices.

Allow yourself to be available to discuss certain (non-proprietary) aspects of the business you are in, to a millennial’s lifestyle.  What expenses does the business have and how can it relate to the expense a millennial has?

Scary examples that you might need to explain:

  • Phones and internet cost for a commercial business are a higher than they are for a personal cell phone.
  • Just because you have a $40,000 contract with one company, doesn’t mean that $40,000 is going to the owners pocket.
  • Providing lunch for a meeting of 10 people every other week is a lot more expensive than making your own lunch at home and bringing it to work.
  • That $15,000 payment the business received from a customer isn’t buying the owner a new Lambo.

See what I mean?  Relate your business to a millennials lifestyle choices.

As leaders of young teams, we have to understand that the old way of management is dead. Particularly, leadership functions have become less about explaining a business strategy and more about explaining the ways of the world.  

Also, in business, simply letting employees bide their time to receive a promotion, or having a ‘standard structure’ of employment advancement, is antiquated. It is also antiquated to let employees receive a raise, and keep their old jobs if they are not improving their performances, or learning new skills that add value, which ascertains and justifies their increased financial incentives. This IS something that millennials understand.

If you’ve done your part to educate financial literacy with the millennials on your team, and they still have the expectation of getting rich, here’s what to tell them:

  • Work your ass off in your current job, side hustle AND work weekends.  
  • Start your own business and handle all of that.  

“It’s a big world and someone’s going to make a lot of money! But it might not be you. And it probably won’t make you happy.”

Check out the TD Ameritrade Report on "Millennials and Work"

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