Millennials. Baby Boomers.
As much as these generational groups hate to be stereotyped for their characteristics and behaviors, quite frankly, I am equally tired of hearing about them. All of the research dedicated to their lifestyle, their struggles, their woes. How retirement looks different than their WWII generation parents (Boomers) or the obscene amount of student debt that is preventing them from buying their first home (Millennials). How their generations revolutionized the workforce with women joining the workforce en masse (Boomers) or wanting to work the way they want on their terms (Millennials). How these generations affect elections, consumer behavior and the products that are created.
Enough. Enough already.
It seems that somewhere along the way, Gen X – my generation – became this completely forgotten generation – much like the Silent Generation before the Boomers. With a population of almost 64 million, the Gen X group is nothing to sneeze at. But alas, they have become the middle child sandwiched between Boomers and Millennials. The redheaded stepchild.
GenXers came of age in the 80s through the early 2000s. As young adults, we saw the tech bubble burst, lived through the horrific events of 9/11, and corporate scandals like Enron and WorldComm that dampened our faith in Corporate America. We watched the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain fall. Our generation also brought about some of the earliest tech companies like Amazon and Google that still operate today. Our distrust of corporations and government institutions help to foster the re-birth of entrepreneurism that was now available to more people with the dawn of the information superhighway also known as the Internet.
And what does this mean for a Gen Xers’ personal financial lives? You can find plenty of resources and readings about how Boomers are redefining retirement with terms like “unretirement” and “refirement”. Or the number of Millennials who “boomeranged” back home because they couldn’t find a job or are buried in student debt. But what about the Gen Xers? What financial struggles or woes are not being addressed for this generation?
In regards to personal finance, Gen Xers were born at a time when consumer debt was becoming not only more popular but also gained widespread acceptance. According to Stan Sienkiewicz, the first general purpose credit card was established by Bank of America in 1966, one year after the first Gen Xers were born. Using debt was acceptable throughout our entire life. Car loans, mortgages, credit cards – it became the norm for the American way of life.
For starters, we, the Gen Xers, were the generation that was bombarded with credit card offers on our college campuses, encouraged to sign up for our very first card in exchange for a T-shirt, pizza or Frisbee. Even before we left college, we had maxed out credit cards to finance our college parties and spring breaks. We were trying to live up to the Sex and the City standards with name brand clothes and shoes and lifestyles that were way beyond our reach as young professionals financed through excessive credit card usage.
We were sold the idea that in order to get ahead in the business world, we needed to get an MBA, a degree that cost us $40,000 in either student loans (because we were tapped out after paying for our undergrad degree) or becoming indentured servants to the employers who paid for the schooling. Schools everywhere were adding this degree to their business school offering and it quickly became a dime-a-dozen addition to our resume. To add insult to injury is that some employers required employees to pay back some of that reimbursed schooling when they were laid off during the Great Recession of 2008.
And while Millennials were shut out of the housing market during the mortgage crisis in 2008, Gen X was the generation that was hit the hardest while IN the housing market. We were the generation that made one of our first home purchases during the height of the market. The creative home mortgage financing that was presented to us – 0% down, piggyback mortgages – along with unprecedented low interest rates made it seem silly to continue renting. So when the crash came in 2008, the pairing of major job losses and the inability to avoid foreclosure because we owed more on the home than its market value created a recipe for financial disaster.
So how can the personal finance community better serve the Gen X community? By addressing the specific needs of the Gen X generation. According to Experian, Gen X carries the largest amount of debt per person than any other generation. Many are still reeling from the lasting consequences of foreclosure. This generation will begin turning 65 years old in less than 15 years and while we may not want to retire in the traditional sense, we will need to be thinking about what lifestyle options and alternatives we will have moving into our later years with the financial decisions we are making today. There are a lot of unknowns that make us nervous about the future. And while financial planning directories like the XY Planning Network are a good start to help consumers find financial planners catering to Gen X, there are still a lot of opportunity to further address Gen X financial issues in a more direct and deliberate way.
So if there is a focus that financial planners and personal finance content creators (like me) want to niche or specialize in, consider the Gen X population. There are 64 million of us ready and waiting for your knowledge and expertise to help us make wise financial decisions now and for our futures.