Collectively, Americans are struggling to set aside money for retirement: 21 percent have nothing saved at all for their golden years.
One Minneapolis-based millennial, who goes by the pseudonym Sean, is doing far better than average: The 28-year-old had managed to sock away $256,444 as of July 2018, he reports on his blog, and expects to have enough in the bank to retire comfortably by age 37.
CNBC Make It asked Sean, who sets aside more than 60 percent of his $80,000 salary, for his top money-saving tip. Besides tracking his spending, which he says is the most effective first step for anyone looking to take control of their finances, saving money boils down to a mindset shift: "Rid yourself from this idea that what everyone else does is what you also need to be doing."
Question the things you're spending your money on, he says, and "make sure that what you're spending on is actually what's making you happy and is not just the social norm." In other words, don't buy high-status items just because your friends do.
That's easier said than done, especially in today's social media-driven world. As one study found, social media can have a significant impact on spending habits, particularly those of young people: 90 percent of millennial respondents said social media creates a tendency to compare their own wealth or lifestyle to that of their peers.
About 60 percent of young people reported feeling "inadequate" about their own life because of something they saw on social media, like gadgets or vacations. And, as a result, 57 percent say they parted with money they hadn't planned to spend.
Even more alarming, about 40 percent of millennials are going into debt just to keep up with their friends.
To keep your spending in check and refrain from shelling out more than you should, think long and hard about your purchases, says Sean. "It's OK to splurge on things," he adds, "but make sure that whatever it is, is truly what you want to spend your money on."
Derek Sall, who eliminated $116,000 worth of debt before age 30, has a similar perspective. For him, the key to saving money started with changing his mentality and realizing that he didn't need to keep up with the Joneses.
The No. 1 way he found to avoid comparing his situation to anyone else's was to avoid social media altogether, he tells CNBC Make It: "The best tip I can give is just live your own life. The best way to just live simply and be content is just to turn it all off and hardly pay attention to it at all. Because that's what gets people in the most trouble. They see, 'Oh, my friend went on this great vacation, and I wish we could do that!'"
He chooses to focus on how full his life is without new and often unnecessary things. "It's easier for me now, just realizing how much fun I'm having without having all that stuff," he says. "I don't call myself a minimalist, but I realized that the more and more stuff you have, it almost makes you less happy."
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