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Millennials And Money: How 2 Young Adults Are Figuring Out Personal Finance

Rebecca Boyle (left) and Sam Giangrasso (right) got two very different sets of lessons about money growing up. (Courtesy)
Rebecca Boyle (left) and Sam Giangrasso (right) got two very different sets of lessons about money growing up. (Courtesy)

How are young people learning about personal finance these days?

For those with debt, it’s a huge mountain to climb. A recent study finds that the average millennial with debt has racked up an average of $36,000 in the hole, and spends about a third of their monthly income paying it off. But there are some lucky ones with little or no debt, who say they learned from their parents about how to live a frugal life.

Here & Now‘s Peter O’Dowd talks with two young adults about what they learned — or wish they’d learned — about money growing up: Sam Giangrasso, 25, an elementary special education teacher in the Boston area who’s coming to terms with her own debt, and 21-year-old Rebecca Boyle, a debt-free University of North Texas student largely paying her own way through college.

Interview Highlights

On their families’ differing approaches to talking about finances before they went to college

Sam Giangrasso: “I was raised by my grandparents and not by my parents, and I wonder, if I was raised from someone from a younger generation, if we would have had a conversation about this. But my grandmother, when I started college, it was basically like, ‘Yeah you’re going to college, don’t worry, it’s taken care of.’ And it was more like no conversations were had, anywhere really, about managing my money in college, or having money outside of college or managing debt.

“It wasn’t a huge rude awakening initially, right out of college, because I started my master’s pretty soon after … and thought it was great, because I could defer my loans, and then I’m like, ‘I don’t have to pay anything ever!’ And like, ‘By the way, here’s a credit card.’ ”

Rebecca Boyle: “The big thing was that, when I was looking at colleges, my mom had one rule for me: She said, ‘You can go anywhere in the country you want to go, as long as you can do it debt-free.’ She probably thought that that would keep me close to home, since my grandparents did have some money saved up in order to help me out. But I found the University of North Texas’ program, and they had the largest scholarship I was eligible for in the country, so it just seemed to make sense to move to Texas and have the opportunity to go to college debt-free.”

Giangrasso, on why her grandparents didn’t discuss these issues with her

“I really don’t know why. I actually was recently talking to my grandmother about this. I didn’t ask her why she never talked to me about it, but I was pretty upset. I was like, ‘This feels out of my control. It feels like I’m spiraling, I don’t know what to do, I don’t even know how to begin to tackle this.’ And it was basically like, ‘I’ve had those problems my whole life.’ So I feel like a lot of people think that debt is kind of inevitable — everyone has it, and somehow we’re supposed to be OK with it. That was something I found out the hard way.

“And I also kind of compared myself to lots of other people my age — a lot of going out frequently and taking these trips and doing all these great things, and I thought that I should be keeping up with that. So that also, I kind of racked up a lot of credit card debt trying to keep up with everyone else, too.”

Boyle, on how her parents tried to teach her about money from an early age

“From the time that me — and I have a younger sister — from the time that we were very young, they would give us an allowance every two weeks, based on, I think we got 50 cents for every year old we were. And they would be very intentional in saying, ‘All right, here’s your money. We need one piggy bank where 10 percent goes to savings, one piggy bank where 10 percent goes to giving and then the rest of it you can spend however you want.’ So from the time I was probably less than 10, they had started to ingrain in me the habits of, ‘All right, when you get money, some of it’s for saving and some of it’s for spending.’

“But as I got older, my mom was also a very big fan of [personal finance guru] Dave Ramsey. So every time I was in the car with my mom, Dave Ramsey was always on the radio, so it was just kind of always there present in my life. And that actually got me really interested in it on my own, too, hearing those stories and seeing the impact of having debt versus not having debt has in people’s lives, got me to have a bit more of an intrinsic interest in it that got even bigger.

“Somewhere in college I stumbled upon early retirement blogs, too, that just gave me a sense of how much is possible beyond just getting by every month or beyond saving 15 percent of your income so one day you could retire. There was this whole group of people that were saying, ‘All right, why don’t we save half of our income, and then be done at 30 or 40 instead of 70?’ ”

Giangrasso, on what she’s doing to try to fix her situation

“I’ve started budgeting. Like, really budgeting. And on top of teaching, I’m babysitting outside of teaching. … Which is tiring, and I think of people who have kids or who have other people to be responsible for, and that’s a really scary thing and I want to get it taken care of before I have to take care of anyone else eventually.”

Boyle, on when she plans to retire

“I’m not sure entirely. At first, when I first stumbled upon those [early retirement blogs], I was like, ‘Yes, I’m doing it. I’m going to be out at 30.’ But now thinking about it, it’s not so much for me about, ‘I want to be able to retire and never have to work again.’ But I would like to be at the point, maybe 10 years out of school, where I can either quit and start my own business or move to a lower-paying job that is more something that I enjoy versus something that’s going to make me a lot of money. So I don’t see myself retiring super young, but I do want to have savings habits that will let me have the freedom in life to do the work that I want, and not do the work that I need to do to pay the bills.”

On splurging from time to time

Boyle: “I have kind of an unwritten rule for myself where it’s OK to splurge on things that are going to be one-time, but nothing that’s going to create a recurring expense. … So I could buy like a nice pair of sunglasses once in a while, but I can’t move to a fancier apartment.”

Ashley Bailey produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Jack Mitchell adapted it for the web.

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