Millennials Share Their Biggest Money Regrets for Gen Z To Learn From

Millennials (approximately ages 25 to 40) may seem young to Gen X and older generations, but the oldest of them are approaching midlife, at 40 this year. As such, many of them have already proceeded through the big milestones of life: going to college, buying a home, starting a family. And in the process, they’ve learned some hard lessons about making, managing and spending money that they can pass on to Gen Z (approximately ages 9 to 24).

Related: Surprising Ways Millennials and Gen Z Are Worlds Apart Financially
Read More: Gen Z: The Future of Finances

Here are some of millennials’ biggest money regrets they hope their younger counterparts will learn from.

Not Maxing Out the 401(k) or Saving For Retirement

One of the most common regrets among millennials is not maxing out their employer provided 401(k) or saving for retirement.

Kenny Senour, a certified financial planner, says, “Initially I had the mindset that I would start contributing once the match kicked in, but the reality is that the sooner you can leverage the power of compound interest in your 20s, the greater the growth potential. Starting your retirement early also makes it less likely you will have to contribute more money in your 40s and 50s to catch up.”

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That money does, indeed, add up. Jannese Torres-Rodriguez, creator of the “Yo Quiero Dinero” podcast, looks back to the several years after she graduated college. She lived at home for two years and earned $48,000 per year at her job with few expenses. In 2007, the contribution limit was $15,500. “If I had maxed out my contribution for those two years into an S&P 500 Index Fund, and not contributed anything else, it would have returned 10.32%,” she says. “That $31,000 would be worth $122,608.69 today or $1,574,911.48 in 40 years.”

Take a Look: Surprising Ways Gen X and Millennials Are Worlds Apart Financially

Not Saving Money

Scott Nelson, founder of Money Nerd, also urges Gen Z to save money that can be used to invest. “I would advise the next generation set aside a monthly amount to contribute to a savings account to either use to invest in themselves or to invest in financial growth. This could be in the stock market, ISAs (individual savings accounts) or in a side hustle. Find a second income early.”

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Paying For Out-of-State College Tuition

While college is certainly important for many careers (though not all: see technical and trade degrees and programs), accruing massive debt does nobody any favors, says Bethany McCarter, owner of She regrets having gone to an out-of-state college, which is much more expensive than staying in state. “I went out of state, accrued $50,000 in debt, dropped out and came back home to get certified as a teacher. I have more debt than what I make in a full year.”

“Don’t go to a university for its name brand. Don’t go to an expensive college unless your major will make you tons of money and you’ll be able to pay it off,” McCarter concludes.

Getting Ahead: 5 Financial Steps Gen Z Should Be Taking Now

Not Getting a Marketable College Degree

Though it can be hard to know up front when getting a college degree — undergraduate or graduate — many people later regret getting a degree that lacks any marketability or potential to earn good money, according to Blaine Thiederman, a CFP who operates a wealth management firm that specializes in helping millennials and other generations manage their finances. “I’ve worked with some people who graduate with degrees where there’s no job market for the skills and knowledge they’ve gained…they feel hopeless and like they’ve been robbed with adulthood slapping them in the face.”

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Research in advance of a program is a good idea. But if you have found yourself in this situation, he says there’s no shame in pivoting to a new direction or career, perhaps through a certification program.

Careers: 7 Remote Jobs Gen Z Will Love

Taking On Too Much Debt

Perhaps the second biggest regret after not saving for retirement is taking on too much debt, Thiederman says. “I’ve worked with veterinarians that have over $400,000 in student loan debt, and maybe expect to earn $90,000 after finishing their residency.” He warns that it can be difficult to get a mortgage or other loans with that much debt.

Keeping ahead of debt, be it loans or credit cards, is crucial, and typically requires making more than the minimum monthly payment.

Asking Friends, Not a Professional, for Financial Advice

When money concerns arise, people often turn to friends and family for advice, but Steffa Mantilla, a certified financial education instructor and creator of the blog Money Tamer, warns, “Unless you have a family member or friend who is great with money, getting advice from others who are broke or bad with money will only hurt you.”

Mantilla says it is worth it to pay a fee-only financial advisor to get on the track toward financial success.

Read: 4 Biggest Financial Hurdles for Gen Z That No One Else Has Faced


“Some millennials tend to fall into the trap of living in the moment and do not plan for the future,” cautions Olivia Tan, a personal finance coach and co-founder of CocoFax. That can lead to spending without concern for the future.

“Many people I’ve worked with graduate college and expect to be killing it by 30 years old,” says Thiederman. “Spending like there’s no tomorrow isn’t a prudent way to create the future you hope for. In all reality, this is basically building your plan on a hope and a dream.

The Financial Guide to Adulting: Real Money Advice From Successful Gen Zers

Not Budgeting

In order to avoid overspending, Thiederman urges Gen Z to learn how to budget, “So you know that you spend less than you earn.” Additionally, he says, “Save at least enough to get your full employer match (on a retirement account) and figure out a way to pay off your debt that still fits into the budget.”

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Last updated: Sept. 28, 2021

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About the Author

Jordan Rosenfeld is a freelance writer and author of nine books. She holds a B.A. from Sonoma State University and an MFA from Bennington College. Her articles and essays about finances and other topics has appeared in a wide range of publications and clients, including The Atlantic, The Billfold, Good Magazine, GoBanking Rates, Daily Worth, Quartz, Medical Economics, The New York Times, Ozy, Paypal, The Washington Post and for numerous business clients. As someone who had to learn many of her lessons about money the hard way, she enjoys writing about personal finance to empower and educate people on how to make the most of what they have and live a better quality of life.

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