In the summer of 2020, Matt Choon sat in his Brooklyn apartment surrounded by piles of boxes of CBD gummies and bags of designer clothing. He spent years trying to turn his e-commerce business Potion from a passion project into a sustainable revenue source, trekking through snow to beg bodegas to sell his products and throwing house parties just to get photos of guests with his brand’s logo. But collaborators had come and gone, and now it was just 24-year-old Choon, his roommate and a recently laid-off neighbor he hired to help with shipping Potion orders.
In an effort to really ramp up the business, Choon turned to TikTok.
Choon’s story is one of many being told as Gen Z redefines what it means to be financially successful. Born between 1995 and 2010, this generation has come of age in a time of economic volatility and technological upheaval. They’re the first to have grown up with social media, and they’ve never known a world without the internet. As a result, they approach money and work differently than their parents or grandparents did.
For starters, Gen Z is comfortable with debt. A recent report from Experian found that millennials have an average credit score of 626, while Gen Zers have an average score of 658. That may be in part because this generation doesn’t see debt as inherently bad. “Debt is not a four-letter word,” says 26-year-old entrepreneur Christa Sidman. “There are good types of debt and bad types of debt. Student loans can be a good type of debt if they lead to a career that you love. Credit card debt can be a bad type of debt if it leads to overspending and you can’t afford the payments.”
Gen Zers are also comfortable with risk. A study by investment firm BlackRock found that 43% of Gen Z respondents said they were comfortable taking risks in order to achieve their financial goals, compared to only 27% of millennials. That may be because this generation has seen its parents struggle in the aftermath of the Great Recession. As 27-year-old entrepreneur Sahajak Boonthanakit puts it, “We watched our parents work hard and save money their whole lives, and then the stock market crashed and everything was gone. We don’t want to make the same mistake.”
Gen Z is also more entrepreneurial than older generations. A recent study by Ernst & Young found that 44% of Gen Z respondents said they planned to start their own business, compared to only 18% of millennials. And a 2018 report from The Guardian found that the percentage of young people aged 16-24 who are self-employed has doubled in the past decade.
Why are Gen Zers so comfortable with debt, risk and entrepreneurship? It may have to do with the way they view money. For Gen Z, money isn’t just about earning a salary and saving for retirement. It’s also about using it to make a difference in the world. 57% of Gen Z respondents to a 2019 survey by Deloitte said they would prefer to work for a company with social and environmental values, even if it means making less money. “My top priority is not making money, it’s making an impact,” says 20-year-old entrepreneur Lillie Eisner.
Gen Z is also redefining what it means to be successful. In a world where traditional measures of success no longer apply, many young people are choosing to define their own standards. “For my generation, success is not about having a job that pays a lot of money,” says 22-year-old entrepreneur Jazmin Hupp. “It’s about finding work that you love and making a difference in the world.”
Gen Z is rewriting the rules for personal finance in real time, and their approach to money and work is sure to have a lasting impact on the economy.