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Think of the last expensive thing you bought—whether it’s a meal, a new pair of shoes, or a small fortune’s worth of BTS merch—and try, if you can, to ask yourself whether or not your parents would have bought the same thing when they were your age. 

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Yes? No?

Yeah, didn’t think so. With a few exceptions, the answer is probably no, and not just because the members of BTS were literally babies back then.

It’s also because sensibilities, especially where money is concerned, change over time and across generations. These changes tend to be accelerated by technology, and particularly by social and economic upheavals. As the world around us ebbs and flows, so too do the ways we use and value money.

Which brings us here, today: a tech-obsessed society in the middle of a global pandemic that has warped life as we know it. Among other things, COVID-19 shrank the Philippines’ economy by 9.6% in 2020, and caused unemployment to peak at a record high of 17.6%. By forcing us to stay at home, it also advanced our adoption of things like e-commerce and digital wallets. Clearly, money today isn’t what it used to be, and so we can’t expect the new generations—Filipino millennials and generation Z—who are making, spending, and investing it to do so in the same ways their parents did.

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So how exactly are millennials and gen-Z kids handling their money today?

To find out, we figured we’d just ask. In a survey of Filipinos of different ages and backgrounds, we posed simple questions about a not-so-simple topic: money. The answers offer a peek into the purses of Filipinos, especially young Filipinos, from different walks of life, and some insights about what we all have in common.

Here’s what we learned.

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Well duh, you think. Obviously, unemployment is hardly ever a good thing, and it’s only natural for people to feel attached to their sources of income. But when we say people can’t afford to lose their jobs, we mean it literally: Only 38.3% of respondents say they’d be able to cover at least six months of living expenses if they lost their source of income today. (Most of those respondents are millennials.)

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The remaining 61.7% simply don’t have enough saved up. And as you might expect, generation Z is in an especially precarious place: 82.6% of gen-Z respondents say they don’t have enough money in their savings to cover six months.

Thankfully, national unemployment is falling again in 2021, as the economy slowly rebounds. Still, the high percentages of people without that six-month safety net reveals widespread insecurity among many working Filipinos, especially as the uncertainties of the pandemic continue to loom large.

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When asked about financial goals they hope to achieve, 54.6% of respondents said they want to be debt-free. This suggests that more than half are carrying some form of debt that they would rather not have; or, at the very least, it suggests that people are concerned about falling into debt. Whichever the case, it’s clear that the threat of debt factors heavily into our financial woes and worries. 

That said, the picture looks a little different for generation Z: Only 47.8% consider freedom from debt as a goal. More popular goals among gen-Z kids are car ownership (69.6%), home ownership (86.9%), and traveling abroad (86.9%). But before you dismiss generation Z as having materialistic financial goals, know that the most popular financial goals among this cohort are still practical ones, and also the most popular ones across generations: having a substantial emergency fund (91.3% of gen-Z respondents) and a retirement fund (91.3% of gen-Z respondents).

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Still, for many, these goals are far off, because...

For many people, savings are an expectations-versus-reality meme: 16.3% of respondents want to save more than P15,000 a month, but only 8.2% of respondents actually do. The discrepancy is true of lower savings goals, too: 14.3% of respondents expect to save about P10,000 a month, but in reality, only 4.9% manage to shore up that amount. Almost all across the board, we’re falling short of our savings goals.

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The kids of generation Z are also having trouble saving. Of gen-Z respondents who disclosed their monthly savings, 71.4% save less than P3,000.

Despite that, and probably because we’ve all been stuck at home for so long, we’re all looking forward to fulfilling our hashtag-travel goals. In fact, more people agreed that “international travel” is a personal financial goal compared to “owning a car” or “completing a postgraduate degree.” More than half of respondents consider it a goal to travel abroad for leisure, and 78.7% envision themselves traveling as retirees.

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But the most popular financial goal of all? It’s saving up for retirement, with a concurrence of 90.4%. Nine in 10 respondents want to be able to save enough to quit their day jobs.

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That much, you could argue, is obvious. What’s interesting, though, is that not everyone is planning for retirement quite yet. Despite the consensus about the importance of saving for retirement, only 59.8% of respondents say they are currently planning for retirement, and only 8.7% say their retirement plans are already sorted out. Sure, that’s most people, but it’s not everyone—not even close to the 90.4%.

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So considering all the ways we’re falling short of our own expectations, it makes sense that we’d want to learn more about money. But the good news is that at the very least, Filipinos tend to be humble enough in that area.

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As it turns out, most people are neither too confident nor too insecure about their money minds. On the scale of one to five, 60.6% rate themselves a three in terms of financial literacy. Only 19.1% rated themselves higher than three, which suggests a degree of modesty, and perhaps also willingness to learn.

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Among gen-Z respondents, that figure is even lower: only 8.7% rated themselves a four, and none rated themselves a five. So let no one say that kids these days think they know everything.

But if people see room to improve their financial literacy, the question becomes: What exactly do we want to learn?

Naturally, saving more money is important to people (53.2% of respondents want to learn about it), and so is earning more money (56.4%). But even more people (84.0%) would like to learn more about how to grow their money. This makes it the most popular financial topic in a list that includes cryptocurrency, stocks, how to be debt-free, and how to start a business. This pattern tracks with generation Z as well, among whom growing money is also the most popular topic.

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From whom would people prefer to learn about these financial topics? Not from financial advisors, it turns out. Only 39.4% said they’d trust the advice of a financial advisor from a bank or insurance company.

Relatively speaking, that’s not a lot of people. So who, pray tell, would be in the best position to offer people financial advice? Well, the financially successful, of course.

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More people—86.2%, in fact—agree that they would trust real people who have achieved their financial goals. In fact, even loved ones are a more popular source of financial advice than advisors, as 63.8% of respondents agree that they’d take advice from their friends and family.

For generation Z, real people are also the most relied-upon source of financial knowledge and information, with 82.6% in agreement. However, versus the survey’s entire sample, a greater proportion of gen-Z kids say they would trust financial advisors: 60.9%, compared to the aforementioned 39.4%.

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Regardless, there’s a lot of willingness from people to learn more about finance. Anyone looking to reach them, though, would have to be particular and deliberate about the medium.

Well, write articles and post infographics, yes, but when teaching financial concepts, it’s more important to make videos. Across a range of different topics, people generally prefer to learn with videos: cryptocurrency, the stock market, maximizing credit cards, and starting a business. There are only two topics in which videos are not the most preferred mode of learning: mutual funds and loans. For both topics, people prefer to learn by reading articles.

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So despite the challenges, Filipinos today aren’t without financial goals and curiosities. The past year has been tough on our wallets, to say nothing of the pandemic’s many other great tolls. But with the right advice and a reliable stream of financial knowledge, there’s hope yet for young Filipinos to climb our way up towards greater financial wellness.

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The findings presented here are based on a survey of 94 Filipinos of different ages and backgrounds. Here’s an overview of who our respondents are:

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