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53% of Gen Z see high cost of living as a barrier to financial success. They’re ‘buckling down,’ expert says

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Gen Zers are cutting back on spending.

More than half — 53% — say a high cost of living is a barrier to their financial success, according to a new survey from Bank America.

Nearly 3 in 4 young adults surveyed — 73% — have changed their spending habits amid record high inflation.

“Many of them are buckling down,” said AJ Barkley, head of neighborhood and community lending at Bank of America, calling the results “good news.”

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Among the changes they are making include cooking at home more frequently, with 43%; spending less on clothes, 40%; and limiting grocery shopping to essentials, 33%.

Most plan to keep up those changes in the next year, according to the firm’s August survey of almost 1,200 young adults ages 18 to 26.

Gen Z faces unique financial challenges

Yet more than a third of young Gen Zers have also faced setbacks in the past year, the survey found, which may have led them to stop saving or take on more debt.

Gen Z faces unique financial challenges compared to older generations. College graduates make 10% earn 10% less compared to their parents, recent research found.

High inflation — and affordability concerns among Gen Zers — extend beyond U.S. borders. A Deloitte survey released earlier this year that included about 14,500 members of Gen Z in 44 countries found living paycheck to paycheck was a concern cited by about half of that generation, with 51%; followed by needing to take on a side job, 46%; and cost of living, 35%.

‘This is really the time to build a solid foundation’

But there is good news, according to Bank of America’s research.  Most respondents feel confident they can manage their day-to-day expenses, budget and credit. Yet they show less confidence when it comes to saving for retirement or investing in the stock market, the results found.

“This is really the time to build a solid foundation that is going to allow you to be successful throughout the many next decades of your financial life,” said Douglas Boneparth, a certified financial planner and president of Bone Fide Wealth in New York. Boneparth is also a member of the CNBC FA Council.

Experts say these three tips can help members of Gen Z learn to manage their money wisely.

1. Make saving a habit

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More than half of Gen Z — 56% — do not have enough emergency savings to cover three months’ worth of expenses, Bank of America’s survey found.

It’s a good idea to sock away any extra cash you can, said Boneparth, and to think about what’s important to you to stay motivated.

“Get in the habit of being a consistent saver,” Boneparth said.

Having that cash cushion set aside can help you continue to pursue your goals, even as life throws surprises your way. “It’s never a straight line,” Boneparth said.

2. Start investing for retirement now

While retirement may seem like a far-off goal, especially in the early years of your career, it’s actually when you have your biggest advantage to accumulate wealth, according to Barkley.

Any money you invest now will have more time to accumulate gains that compound over time.

“They should be thinking about retirement now,” Barkley said.

To get started, an employer-provided 401(k) may help with those initial contributions and may even include an extra boost from a company match, if offered.

Young investors may also open an individual retirement account on their own. Experts often recommend making post-tax contributions to a Roth IRA early on, as you may be prohibited from contributing to those accounts later in your career when your income is higher.

3. Resist the urge to give into FOMO

Gen Z women are more apt to feel pressured to spend to keep up with their social circles, Bank of America found.

Social media is a big driver of those feelings, with 41% of women Gen Zers saying their feeds make them wish they had more money for non-essential spending, versus just 24% of men.

All Gen Zers would be wise to avoid that FOMO, according to Ted Jenkin, a CFP and CEO of oXYGen Financial in Atlanta. Jenkin is also a member of the CNBC FA Council.

“Your friends are not posting their net worth on Instagram and TikTok, so be wary that people may not be doing as well as they appear on social media,” Jenkin said.

It also doesn’t hurt to avoid credit card debt and to check your credit score regularly, Jenkin said.

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