It’s time to talk: young people and money regrets

Evidence type: Insight


As young people gradually take on responsibility for managing their money, perhaps as they go to college or start living independently for the first time, they are particularly vulnerable to making poor financial decisions which will affect them in the long term. This research was a response to the finding that one in five young adults are in some difficulty financially. Young people are defined as 16 to 29 year olds, and the research was premised on the idea that, after age 16, the influence of parents on young adults’ attitudes and behaviours is likely to diminish and that 16-21 year-olds might instead learn from the financial experience and, in particular, regrets of 22-29 year-olds.

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The study

The study focuses on young people (ages 16-29), and was commissioned to understand:

  • The financial regrets of young people;
  • How their regrets influence their money attitudes;
  • The impact of learning from the regrets of people slightly older than them; and
  • The implications of this on interventions to help them manage their money better.

The research involved moderated group sessions in all four nations of the UK. These encompassed:

  • Initial workshops with 22-29 year olds;
  • ‘Exposure’ sessions which enabled 16-21 year-olds and 22-29 year-olds to listen to each other; and
  • Final cross-age group sessions to discuss how younger adults might learn from older ones.

The research was commissioned by the Money Advice Service to explore why young adults get into difficulty and how they might be prevented from getting into bad money habits

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Key findings

The findings do not directly address all of the research questions, but identify:

  • The financial regrets of young people: These constitute everyday bad decisions which spiral out of control.
  • The role of independence: Very important to 16-21 year olds, but rarely acknowledged as including financial responsibility; the desire for experience is a greater priority than a concern for how much it costs.
  • A myopic attitude to money: ‘Spend today, worry tomorrow’, with credit regarded as ‘free money’; being ‘good with money’ is perceived to be boring and restrictive.
  • Difficulty discerning bad decisions from good: A desire to be socially acceptable makes saying ‘yes’ to opportunities more appealing than ‘no’; restraint and sacrifice can appear ‘bad’ in the moment.
  • Naïve optimism: Even a ‘bad’ decision is assumed to get better with time.
  • Scope for opportunity: Money remains a taboo subject which friends and family do not discuss openly; many lack opportunities to ‘practice’ money management when growing up when the stakes are lower.
  • The impact of learning from the regrets of people slightly older than them: Involving older peers in interventions appears to be beneficial; in particular, they learned that current decisions might turn out badly, things may get harder as they get older and of even small decisions and taking action early are important.

The research concluded by emphasising the importance of: reframing the idea of ‘being good with money’; the role of parents, schools and financial institutions in supporting the financial skills and knowledge of young people; and providing young people with timely opportunities to practice these. Next steps will be to test whether older peers can influence younger adults in real environments.

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Points to consider

  • Methodological strengths or limitations: The research presents the results of primary qualitative research. However, it does not specify how the participants were sampled or how the analysis was undertaken. Therefore it is difficult to assess the robustness of the findings or their conclusions. Illustrative case studies are offered to help validate the findings, although they cannot do this in isolation.
  • Generalisability/ transferability: As the authors point out, the research so far has been in an artificial setting and it is not clear how well this will transfer to real situations.
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Full report

It’s time to talk: young people and money regrets - full report