Headshots of Lindsey Bell, Ally Invest Chief Strategist and Callie Cox, Senior Investment Strategist

Millennials are a unique generation, one that grew up in a time of rapid technological advances and immense change. This age group, typically thought of as those born between 1981 and 1996, is often critiqued by other generations for their finances, professions, and lifestyle choices. But what separates millennials from their older counterparts is they’ve faced two financial crises before the age of 40, weathering some significant economic ups and downs that have impacted the way they approach their money.

As an older millennial myself, I sat down with Ally Invest Senior Investment Strategist, Callie Cox, a younger millennial, to chat about how we view the market, savings, retirement, and more these days from our opposite ends of the generational spectrum.

Lindsey: What was the 2008 financial crisis like for you? Have you been able to apply lessons from that time period to this year?

Callie: I was in high school during that time, so I watched my parents go through the Great Recession and that was really tough. We had to cut back and save and I saw the importance of having an emergency fund and a flexible budget.

Lindsey: It’s tough, because people in general aren’t wired to save. We have studies that show more than 80% of people aren’t natural savers, and less than 25% use direct deposit to bolster their savings. But deep down we all know we should have something set aside.

One savings motivation tip I like is to name your emergency fund (which is possible with Ally Bank’s Online Savings Account buckets) something tied to an emotional need — like “Never Miss a Rent Payment.” Personally, I like “No Hollaback Girl.” You know, referencing the song. Am I straddling the millennial-Gen X line too much right now?

Callie: Oh, I know that song. I danced to it at my eighth-grade dance! But I completely agree. You have to prioritize your emergency fund, especially these days. My husband and I are lucky to have our jobs in the midst of this period of economic uncertainty, but we’ve still really focused on saving because, honestly, we don’t know what could happen. And that’s true at any point — but it’s especially true these days.

Lindsey: Speaking of “these days,” there has been so much excitement and volatility in the market this year. Has that affected your investing strategy?

Callie: I am a “set-it-and-forget-it” investor. I like to put my money in securities like ETFs or mutual funds and let it sit through market ups and market downs. It sounds kind of lame, but the first stock I bought in my mid-20s was SPY, or the SPDR S&P 500 ETF. By continuing to passively invest, it’s worked well for me. What kind of strategy do you like to use? Are you a more active trader?

Lindsey: I don’t like to call myself a “set-it-and-forget-it” type, but I am a long-term holder. I like to check in on my investments on a regular basis and see how those companies are performing. I particularly feel that as people get closer to retirement, even if you prefer to be more hands off, you have to keep up with your portfolio and make sure your plan is still working for you. A big lesson we’ve learned over the past few months is that drastic changes, such as those we’ve seen in the market, can throw off your retirement plan and you may need to rebalance.

Callie: It’s interesting you say that, because as stocks fell earlier this year during the COVID selloff in March, I think it was seen as a big opportunity for younger investors to jump in the market and take advantage of lower prices. And that’s not a bad thing, because if you’re a younger millennial like I am — in your 20s — you have time on your side. You probably have 30 to 40 years until retirement, which is a lot of time for your savings to compound and grow.

Lindsey: Even five extra years in the market can make a huge difference. For those older millennials and the generations above them, market volatility can make you feel a little more scared in terms of retirement preparedness. That’s why as you get closer to those retirement years, you might want to start thinking about different strategies you can use to keep your plan on track — whether that’s cutting back on your lifestyle spending or working with a financial professional for some guidance.

Callie: That’s great advice, and it reminds me of why it’s so important to prioritize retirement right now, as a millennial, even though I know it’s really hard because things are uncertain. You can say, “I’ll deal with it tomorrow,” but time is money in investing.

Time is still on millennials’ side

While we see some things differently from our individual sides of the millennial generation, Callie and I can agree that for everyone in this cohort, there’s still plenty of time and opportunity to save. Retirement may feel far away for 20-somethings, but the sooner you begin investing, the better you can withstand market volatility — or even recessions like we saw in 2008 as well as this year. And whether you tend to lean toward the “set-it-and-forget-it” investing mentality or take a more hands-on approach, the most important choice you can make is the one to get started.

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Speech bubble icon next to text "Expert Take"

Headshot of Lindsey BellLindsey Bell is Ally’s Chief Investment Strategist, responsible for shaping the company’s point of view on investing and the global markets. She is also President of Ally Invest Advisors, responsible for its robo-advisory offerings. Lindsey has a broad background in finance, with experience on the buy-side and sell-side, in research and in investment banking and has held roles at JPMorgan, Deutsche Bank, Jefferies, and CFRA Research.

Lindsey holds a passion for teaching individuals how to become successful long-term investors. She is a contributor at CNBC, and frequently shares her insights with various publications including the Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, MarketWatch, BusinessInsider, etc. She also serves on the board of Better Investing, a non-profit organization focused on investment education.

Headshot of Callie CoxCallie Cox is Ally Invest’s Senior Investment Strategist. In her role, she helps educate Ally Invest customers about the financial markets through engaging content and strategic initiatives. Callie has worked in financial research for her entire career, with stints at LPL Research, TABB Group and Bloomberg. Her work has been featured in Bloomberg, the Financial Times, Yahoo Finance, and Barron’s (among other publications). You can also find her on Twitter at @callieabost.