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The YOLO Market: How Young Adults Spend Money & What That Means for Brand Marketers

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Insights into a generation in search of instant gratification.

Millennials have been called the world’s most powerful consumers. They will soon outnumber baby boomers, and their behaviors and opinions will continue to shift the economy for years to come.

Young adults—including younger millennials and some older members of Generation Z—earn less, save less, and invest less than their parents. According to data from the federal reserve compiled by advocacy group Young Invincibles, millennials make an average of 20% less and have half the assets than baby boomers did at the same age. The majority of adults age 18 to 35 don’t even contribute to a 401k.

In general, these adults are all about the “now” when it comes to managing their money, and that includes spending more on experiences than material items. In a sense, their behavior signals the pursuit of instant gratification and of living rich despite having less wealth.

A recent study by Viacom and customer experience agency C Space puts this behavior in context, dubbing it the “YOLO Market.” The study examines the behavior of adults between the ages of 18 to 30—a young adult cohort that’s comprised of millennials and Gen Zers. Combining interviews with financial service experts, a nationally representative survey of adults 18 to 30, and consumer testimonials and interviews, the study reveals how this behavior is leading to a commerce revolution and how advertisers can better connect with these consumers.

The Value Mindset of Young Adults

At the core of the emerging adult attitude is optimism and freedom. They want to pursue their passions and believe everything will ultimately be ok, while choosing not to let financial limitations restrict their lives. According to the Viacom study, just 44% of emerging adults rate financial security as “important” when making life decisions.

The effects of this “living rich” lifestyle and the YOLO Market has led to the rise of fast fashion, e-commerce, and the sharing economy. Think of the brands like Zara, Topshop, and ASOS that provide runway trends at a fraction of the cost, or companies like Airbnb and Amazon, which offer consumers immediate access to an expansive catalog of products or a lifestyle experience that can be bought with a few clicks.

Embedded in these purchase experiences is convenience. They are instantly accessible and on-demand. In effect, when shopping becomes effortless, it enables consumers to spend less time on to-dos. For millennials and Gen-Z, that means they can focus on the now.

Convenience is also a driving factor in how millennials and Gen Z handle their money. In general, young adults have a lackluster financial IQ and are skeptical about the banking process. They rely on technology to manage their finances, using autopay for bills, subscriptions for repeat purchases, and automated investment services to siphon savings. They don’t expect their habits today to remain forever, either. In fact, according to the study, 70% of young adults believe in five years, the way they pay for things will be totally different.

Brand Implications of the YOLO Market

As attitudes towards money continue to shift in young adults, brands can connect to these consumers by providing products or services that embrace the now (or that protect against blind spots caused by focusing on the present moment). “Advertisers can appeal to younger adults by providing products and services that embrace the mindset of these consumers, who are focused on enjoying the present and completing responsibilities as efficiently as possible,” says Beth Coleman, SVP of Marketing and Partner Insights at Viacom.

As well, in the spirit of the generation’s optimism and efficiency, brands can develop customer loyalty by making it easier to make financial decisions and improve their financial literacy. That includes empowering minority consumers—such as women and multicultural millennials—whose spending power is predicted to grow in the years ahead.

Lastly, brands can cater to young adults by simply meeting their expectations with products and services that are comprehensive, offer instant gratification and seamless payment options, and remember past transactions or preferences to make it easier to repeat a purchase. By giving young adult consumers a better today, brands can show that they’re invested in their financial future.

Visit the Viacom Newsroom for more insights.

About the Author: Nicole Bitette is a writer for, covering the company’s brands and the future of television. She was previously an entertainment reporter for the New York Daily News, and has written for a number of local publications throughout New Jersey. Contact her at

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