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 can be particularly vulnerable to making poor financial decisions that will affect them in the long term. This research was a response to the finding that one in five young adults are in some financial difficulty and hypothesised that, after age 16, the influence of parents on attitudes and behaviours is likely to diminish and that 16-21 year-olds might instead learn from the financial experience and regrets of 22-29 year-olds.

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The study

The Money Advice Service (MAS) and its research partner 2CV conducted this study with  young people (aged 16-29),  in order to understand:

  • Young people’s financial regrets
  • How their regrets influence their attitudes to money;
  • The impact of hearing about the regrets of people slightly older than them;
  • 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 to discuss their experiences of - and attitudes to - money;
  • ‘Exposure’ sessions which enabled 16-21 year-olds and 22-29 year-olds to listen to each other and discuss their reactions; and
  • Final cross-age group sessions to discuss how younger adults might learn from older ones.

The overarching aim of the study was to explore why young adults get into financial difficulty and how they can prevent 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 that spiral out of control.

The role of independence:

  • Independence is very important to 16-21 year olds, but rarely acknowledged as including financial responsibility. Often, the desire for experience is a greater priority than a concern for how much it costs.

A narrow-minded attitude to money:

  • ‘Spend today, worry tomorrow’ is a common attitude, with credit regarded as ‘free money’. Often they perceive being ‘good with money’ is boring and restrictive.

Difficulty discerning bad decisions from good:

  • Young people’s 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:

  • Often, young people assume that even a ‘bad’ decision will get better with time.

Scope for opportunity:

  • Money remains a taboo subject that friends and family do not discuss openly. Many young people 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, the young people learned that current decisions might turn out badly; things may get harder as they get older; even small decisions can have implications; and taking action early is important.

The research concluded by emphasising the importance of reframing the idea of ‘being good with money’ so that money management is seen as less of a restrictive activity and more of an essential step towards transitioning to independence. The research also highlighted the role of parents, schools and financial institutions in supporting young people to develop and practice their financial skills and knowledge.

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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. The research draws on illustrative case studies 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