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Millennials prioritize down payment funds and debt repayment

Millennial woman doing work at a desk

In the old-school board game, “Game of Life,” players travel around the board attending college, getting jobs, finding a partner, buying a home, possibly having children and finally, planning their retirement.

Real life isn’t much different — especially when it comes to big milestones like buying a home and retiring. Even for millennials.

Given how millennials are portrayed in the media, you might be surprised to hear that this generational cohort have financial goals and even more focused on saving money for their future. Don’t be fooled. The youngest millennials are now 25, which means the majority of them have graduated from post-secondary. This means they are beyond sitting in coffee houses or pubs philosophizing on what they will do someday.  Most are now well into their careers. The question is: What are they doing with their money?

Based on data gathered from a 2019 Zolo survey, millennials are prioritizing their financial futures very similar to the generations before them. Their main priorities, when it comes to money, is to save up for their first home, repay debts owed and build up an emergency fund.

Millennials want homes — badly

Of the surveyed millennials, 60% have started to save for a home and a majority 63% plan to buy in the next five to 10 years.

The main incentive? Millennials want permanence and stability. This once dubbed “me-me-me” generation is ready to plan for their future family and to use homeownership as a wealth-building tool.

Unsurprisingly, nearly 10% of millennials want to jump into homeownership to check off a milestone and show their peers how successful they are.

Regardless of their desire to break into the housing market, 66% of millennials found the two biggest barriers to purchase homes are the cost and the inability to save up a large enough down payment. It’s easy to see why this is difficult in major city markets like Vancouver and Toronto, where the average sold home price is $1.3 million and $940,000 respectively.

“More people competing for a house makes prices rise,” said Ron Roy, Alberta-based broker for Zolo. “For a first-time buyer, it can be very difficult and sometimes daunting.”

Buying a home is not possible until the debt is under control

In a Northwestern Mutual survey, over 20% of millennials think they will die with debt. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t in the midst of paying off their student loans and credit cards.

Second only to their down payment fund, 25% of millennials rank debt repayment their No. 1 focus. To secure a mortgage, their debt-to-income ratio needs to be manageable, which is a key reason these millennials are focused on debt first.

Retirement not at the forefront

Turns out millennials prioritize short-term goals over long-term goals. How do we know? A whopping 73% of millennials would hold off on saving for retirement if it meant they could buy a home sooner. In fact, retirement was ranked the second last financial priority only ahead of saving for travel, even though 48% plan to retire between age 45 and 65.

Given these aspirations, it’s easy to argue the points that millennials should prioritize saving for their retirement, but in their mind, they already are, since 55% of millennials plan to use their future property as part of their retirement plan.

millennials financial priorities

The findings of the Zolo Millennials & Savings Survey 2019 are based on an online survey conducted by in May 2019 of 3,173 survey respondents who live in North America. The estimated margin of error is +/-1.75 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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Alyssa Davies

Alyssa is an award-winning personal finance blogger and founder of She writes about being a mom, overcoming personal debts, and how to get away with affording your ridiculously expensive latte habit. A new homeowner, Alyssa brings her real-life knowledge of the Canadian real estate market and smart money matters to this growing brand.