AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Alex Dudick is a mechanical engineer in his mid-twenties working in Auburn Hills, Mich. He has an overwhelming desire to feel free and independent — and this means saving money.
"Whenever I was indebted," he says, "it always felt like it weighs on me."
So Dudick saves. He saves a "nominal" percentage of his take-home pay and stashes some, matched by his company, in his 401(k).
And he has a budget — a loose one, he says, but enough that he won't make frivolous or unreasonable purchases.
This makes him, however, different from most of his millennial peers — or so it seems to him.
Turns out, he may just be typical of his generation.
Respondents age 65 and over had the least amount of interest in saving, with 56 percent showing interest. This shouldn't be too much of a surprise because retirement is the reason many people are saving. Ages 55 to 64 had 68 percent interest in saving for the future. Those 35 to 54 had 73 percent interest in savings.
The group with the highest interest was Americans 18 to 35, with 77 percent interest, according to the survey.
Ebbs and cash flows
Paul Golden, a spokesman for the National Endowment for Financial Education based in Denver, says savings rates ebb and flow based on downturns in the economy. "When the economy has a downturn, savings spikes up," he says. "Even if people are not directly impacted, they see stories of people around them. People who lost jobs or had trouble meeting unexpected expenses. People pay more attention to their finances when times are tough."
When Dudick graduated in 2009 from Kettering University, in Flint, Mich., he could see how the recession affected job prospects for both himself and his friends.
"If you can't get a job as an engineer, the economy must not be doing too good," he says. "Normally you'd get a job in no time at all."
He became more frugal and more aware of savings.
Some of his friends also started saving money. Other friends, not so much. Dudick says he can't understand how some friends can still have so much student loan debt after working for 4 years.
Timothy Flacke, executive director of Doorways to Dreams, an organization based in Allston, Mass., that encourages savings among lower-income people, agrees the recession had a big impact on savings habits. He also says the interest young people have in savings may be influenced by provisions of the Credit CARD Act of 2009, which restricts how credit cards can be offered to consumers under the age of 21. With less easy credit, young people may have to think more about saving money to get what they want.
Golden says one of the benefits of saving is confidence. "Even if people save up as little as $500 in an emergency," he says, "their feelings of security and confidence go up. There is a correlation with confidence with even a minor bit of savings."
Dudick notices this feeling in his own life.
"I feel definitely more comfortable not living paycheck to paycheck," he says. "I feel like I have more options available."
Flacke sees increased personal responsibility. But companies aren't providing the same retirement plans and pensions they once did. Flacke also says life is generally more volatile, with layoffs and job changes more likely than before.
For those who want to start saving, Flacke says a first step is to create a place to put the money — something as simple as a savings account makes a difference. He also says starting early develops good habits and allows long-term savings to grow.
Dudick says much the same thing. His parents were a model of good financial behavior, which has helped him save a lot of money. He says he has enough to hold him over for a year if he needed it.
"It gives me a deep feeling of freedom and confidence," he says.