Erin Lowry is the author of Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together, a personal finance book based on Lowry’s blog of the same name. Lowry founded Broke Millennial in 2013 to fill a gap in how the finance industry talked to her peers. Coming from a financially literate household, Lowry was surprised by how few millennials were comfortable discussing money, and how few content platforms catered to their specific circumstances.
Below, Lowry and the Innovation Group discuss personal finance, outdated stereotypes, and how millennials are reshaping the finance industry.
How did Broke Millennial start?
I started Broke Millennial to educate millennials, but in a very different manner than was currently being done. And that was through storytelling. It was funny and irreverent and sarcastic, and that’s what I was using to “trick” people into learning about money. My big selling point is that I wasn’t from a finance background. The point was that if I can master it, so can you.
After the site took off, people were relating to it and I ended up getting a book deal to write Broke Millennial. It’s all unique material, but I wrote it a way that is pick-your-own-financial-path. The personal financial journey is personal. I encourage you to jump around; it’s not meant to be read cover-to-cover. I’m not lecturing, I’m not finger-wagging, I’m not condescending. It is a real departure from a lot of the books currently on the shelves.
Few books out there were specific to millennial pain points when it comes to finance. Not many books talked about student loans. They weren’t addressing the fact that a lot of millennials were co-habitating before getting married, so it’s not just the traditional mindset of getting married, buying a house, having kids. We’re not that patterned anymore.
Why does storytelling resonate so well with your audience, compared to other styles?
That storytelling angle is very rarely done when it comes to money. I think people liked it partly because it was different. But that also makes it relatable. Millennials also crave authenticity and transparency, and that’s another thing I’m bringing to the table. I’m sharing a lot about myself. My friends who have read the book say, “It’s like you’re narrating it in the room near me.” Which makes it easier for the reader to identify, and even if they don’t share my life experience, it’s interesting to hear about it.
What other financial hurdles for millennials do other platforms tend to overlook?
Generic personal finance books have focused on getting rid of debt or on how to become a millionaire by retirement. Those are the two main tracks. There’s not as much focus on figuring out the emotional side of money. Money is not remotely rational. We are not rational in our behavior toward money, so it’s really important to address the psychology as well.
The second chapter of the book is about getting people to unearth their psychological and emotional relationship to money before they continue, so that it becomes easier to figure out what your pain points are going to be. Navigating friendship and finances is one chapter. What happens when you go back home after college? I call it “paying rent to your rents.” I talk about the financial and emotional issues of living back at home after you’ve graduated.
What is the typical Broke Millennial audience?
Everyone from 20-year-olds still in college up to Boomers, because of parents keeping an eye on what I’m doing and sharing it with their kids. The average reader of the actual blog is mid-20s to early-30s, slightly female-skewed but not too much. I write pretty gender-neutral. This isn’t finance for women; I want it to be finance for millennials.
In your experience working with millennials, have you found the stereotypes to be accurate?
The stereotypes are antiquated at this point. We’re talking about stereotypes that were created around 2008, when the world was basically crumbling around everybody. So yeah, it was harder to get a job. A lot of people went back home. A lot of people went to grad school instead.
But I get aggravated by a lot of the rhetoric that is out there about millennials. What I see are millennials that are heads of major companies, entrepreneurs, or solving global problems. None of my friends live in their parents’ basement. My peers are self-sufficient; they’re earning a decent income, they’ve taking care of their debt. So, I don’t see those stereotypes as being largely true anymore. We have grown up.
We’re going through that phase. Things are slightly different for us. We have technology. The way we do things looks different. But how is what we’re going through now any different from the hippie era, or the disco era? Soon enough, people will be picking on generation Z.
How are finance brands doing right now in trying to reach millennials?
The bar is really so low. You don’t have to do much to seem awesome. Very few of the big name, traditional brick-and-mortar type banks have upped their game in terms of technology, user experience, and customer service. So it’s not hard then for the new kid on the block to come in with their internet-only bank, which is streamlined to function for user experience and have great customer service, and kick their ass. Because they’re not investing.
In terms of wealth management, the wealth transfer is coming. And I think it’s sooner than people think. Millennials are starting to earn more—I have friends who, as a married couple, went from earning maybe just over $100,000 as a couple to $250,000 in two years. Eventually we will start inheriting a lot of the wealth. And I think it’s fascinating how few wealth managers are courting millennials. You’re going to get a lot of people who think they can DIY it, because you have robo-advisors and on-demand financial advice.
You see how the market starts to reflect new values. I just got a pitch from Fidelity yesterday about more sustainable-focused index funds. It speaks to the fact that millennials are interested in investing on places that they value. They don’t necessarily want to be investing in companies that use sweatshops or child labor, or anything they feel is misappropriating different cultures or societies. So Fidelity saw that as a demand, and they’re trying to fill that need.
In terms of some of the old guard, I am pretty impressed with Chase in terms of keeping up with the times. In terms of their UX experience, they’ve done a much better job of investing in tech. Tech is not a phase. You’d think it would behoove most of the major guys to play ball, and invest.