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Roughing it: Millennials are finding shelter amid financial fears

Eric Richardson and Tyson Lloyd's headlamps shine on the side of the canyon in Logan, Utah. After securing their Vietnam War-era tent, lacing up their hiking boots and loading their backpacks, the two make their way to the car below. They must arrive by 6 am or they will be late to Utah State University where they attend classes.

Since May, the two college juniors have lived in a tent where the closest thing to an address is the numbers on nearby telephone poles.

Richardson and Lloyd are part of a growing number of young adults who fear debt and spending. After maturing during one of the Nation's worst recessions, they are doing all they can to avoid any personal credit crisis.

"I hate spending money," Richardson said. "It doesn't matter how much money I have in my bank account, I just won't spend it. I'm scared to death to take out student loans."

The two men use on-campus showers, free lockers to store food and clothes and keep a schedule of events that serve free food on campus all in the name of debt aversion and saving a penny.

An August study from New York-based Auriemma Consulting Group, said millennials, or the demographic following generation X and born between the 1980's and early 2000's, are the most averse toward credit cards. Only 26 percent say they frequently carry a balance, an 18 percent decrease from 2007, the study said.

"Millennials have turned away from credit cards in droves since the recession began, and it's not clear to what extent they will come back when conditions improve", Patricia Sahm, managing director at Auriemma, said in a statement. "Many have been scarred by seeing friends or family struggle with unmanageable debt loads, and view credit as dangerous rather than helpful."

How banks interact with customers also affects millennials' sentiment toward banking.

"How you communicate must be a dialogue and not a monologue," Sahm said. "You can't say to this generation 'I know what's best for you.' They don't believe in mass advertising anymore because they can get what they want from friends."

Richardson, a full-time psychology honors student holding down a 3.8 grade point average, works at the facilities building on campus. He stores Life cereal in a break-room pantry and keeps milk in one of the fridges.

"That's one thing about this, you can't have any shame," Richards said as he applied his spray-on Axe deodorant while coworkers passed him in the hall outside the planning and design office.

Richardson makes $9.50 an hour for about 12 hours a week as a "space auditor," or someone who measures the size of every room on campus. He worked full time over the summer, saving money while exploring and measuring every room on campus. That's how he stumbled onto all the freebees.

He made more than $4,966 dollars. Most went to tuition, books and class fees, which makes it hard to save.

Thirty eight percent of Millennials say they live paycheck to paycheck and that consistent saving is not an option, Boston-based MFS Investment Management said in an September survey.

Without adequate savings, retirement becomes an added fear among millennials. The survey reports that 44 percent have lowered their expectations about the quality of their life in retirement.

Ted Jenkin, co-chief executive officer and founder of oXYGen Financial Inc., a financial planning firm specializing in young adults, said that millennials have been abandoning the idea of saving for retirement.

"In our client base that are between (ages) 22 and 35, they never use the word retirement," Jenkin said.

Chris Brown, founder and principal owner of Sway Research LLC, a market research firm, said millennials who give up on retirement savings might find themselves without sufficient money when they are no longer able to work.

Lloyd, who studies international business and Spanish, said that avoiding expenses was 60 percent of the reason why they moved to the mountains. They dodged about $1,875 in rent this year by opting out of an apartment.

Most mornings, Lloyd's girlfriend, Jacqueline Stuart, a junior from Syracuse, Utah, brings him breakfast. She rides his bus-driving work route with him a few times, giggling about his living situation as he sneaks bites at stops.

"I think it would be silly to go live in a tent to save money," Stuart said. "My parents think he's just being stubborn."

Silly as it may seem, Lloyd doesn't have enough money to cover his next semester. With registration coming up, his living conditions may not be enough to get him into school and back into apartment living, which makes avoiding debt hard.

The tent dwellers plan to stay in their mountain at least until the end of the year to avoid cost.

Investment is out of the question for many millennials.

According to MFS, more than a third of Generation Y said they will never feel comfortable investing in the stock market. Nearly a third said their primary investment objective was "not losing money."

Most millenials also feel pressure from too many choices. About 54 percent of Generation Y investors feel overwhelmed by all the choices they have, MFS said. This is likely the cause of the 47 percent who are putting off investment decisions.

Jenkins said a lack of education and hidden fees are the source of distrust towards banks among Generation Y.

"The No. 1 thing is transparency," Jenkins said. "If you're going to buy an investment, it should be very transparent and obvious what fees are being charged."

Banks are changing their tactics to attract college-aged customers. Zions Bank launched Cheapster, a reality TV-esque Web series that has contestants jockey to see who is the most frugal. Each installment is posted on Facebook.

Richardson, the USU tent dweller, is one of the contestants ranging from 18 to 28 years old competing for a $10,000 cash prize.

"Finances and banking are not at the top of the priority list for millenials," said Brad Herbert, vice president and emerging market manager at Zions Bank, "They have more things on their mind than they can think about. We know we're not at the top of their priority list, but we're here when they need us, and we want millenials to know that."

For the penny pinchers in a tent near Logan, financial planning is simple.

"I'm hoping to just find a sugar mama," Richardson said.


TWITTER: @joeyferguson