It's always fascinating to categorize the generations and their financial habits. The 15th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey, conducted by the  Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, focused on 1,000 millennials, born between 1979 and 1996 – and its conclusion: They're supersavers. . Many millennials entered the workforce during the great recession. Their wise saving habits were positively influenced by hard times during their coming of age:  The 2007-2009 recession greatly impacted 79% of them as they watched their Baby Boomer parents lose jobs and savings.

Understanding Millennial Savers

Some 74% of the millennials in the survey work full time; two-thirds have at least some college education; 57% are single. They are more ethnically diverse than their parents and boast a median estimated household income of $47,000. As would be expected, they are digitally savvy, consume retirement news and products online, and appreciate useful employer workplace apps.

Millennials have a different perspective about the future than previous generations did during their 20s and 30s. Back in the 1960s, you probably wouldn’t have encountered many 22-year-old baby boomers worrying about retirement. Yet, this is the unprecedentedly early median age that millennials start saving for their post-work years (for more, see Money Habits of the Millennial Generation).

Several circumstances explain why millennials are driven to intensify their retirement savings efforts. They face large debt levels (an average $27,000 per capita), frequently from student loans. Many started job-hunting during a recession. So they’ve already experienced financial difficulties, and 18% of those surveyed said they discuss money and retirement issues with family and friends.

In addition, these 20- and 30-year-olds believe that they will be responsible for funding their own retirement. Some 81% are worried that Social Security won’t be there for them – in contrast to Baby Boomers who have the certainty of a viable Social Security income stream (see 5 Retirement Warning Signs For Millennials). In addition, they are entering the workforce at a time when the traditional employer-funded pension, so common in the middle of the last century, has all but vanished from the private sector. Thus, 70% of millennials participate in a 401(k) plan when it's offered at their workplace.

Millennials Retirement Saving Net Worth

Despite their concerns – and their estimates they'll need a median amount of $800,000 for the golden years – a full 68% of millennials believe they’ll be able to retire comfortably. Why the confidence? While they suffered with their families during the Great Recession, this generation recovered from it better than their Gen X and Baby Boomer predecessors, since they had little net worth to lose.

Also, their retirement funds have catapulated from $9,000 in 2007 to an estimated median level of $32,000 in 2014. Buoyant stock market returns since the end of the recession may have contributed to this dramatic savings increase, of course. But their own efforts have helped too. By automating their retirement savings plans, millennials are practicing the time-honored wealth-building strategy of dollar cost averaging, or investing a set amount at regular intervals, buying more shares when prices are lower and less at higher prices (see The Generation Y Investment Portfolio).

The Bottom Line

Millennials' savings habits are leaving previous generations in the dust. They are taking advantage of employers’ retirement saving plans and owning their own financial future. Motivated by the recession, high debt levels, and questions about the long term viability of Social Security, these young people are showing themselves to be smart financial planners already.

For related reading, see Retirement Savings Tips For 25- To 34-Year-Olds.

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