Money. It’s the bane and blessing of us all. And, like your health, the other primary concern of all humans, your money, otherwise known as your personal finances, are highly individualized. No two of us have the same assets, debits, career paths, earning capacity and longevity. No two of us have the same hopes and dreams. There is no one-fits-all budget plan. Each generation has its own set of specific challenges to face. Salt Lake magazine talked to financial advisers of all kinds around the city to gather general trends and tips—about banking, budgeting, loans and credit, renting or buying, retirement, insurance, taxes—for Utahns, from Boomers to Generation Z.
OK Boomers (Age: 55-75):
Born between 1946 and 1964, their parents were the so-called “Greatest Generation”—the now-elder statesmen and women who tended to stay with one profession, sometimes one employer. This generation lived through the Great Depression and made the world safe for democracy in WWII—when they got home, America’s future was shining. They bought houses with help from UncleSam and had lots of babies. Hence the Boomers. This generation is defined by the Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations, the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s Rights movement (including Roe v. Wade) and the Vietnam War. Many were in or protested the War and were basically optimistic, believing they could effect change. They inherited good educational and economic opportunities. The Watergate scandal and economic difficulties beginning with the oil embargo in 1979 resulted in an increasing focus on self-help as belief in government and institutional solutions decreased. The AIDS epidemic reinforced this lack of trust. Boomers, because of their sheer numbers, set trends and influenced marketing and attitudes.
- On the verge of retirement or retired: How much will that social security check amount to? How much do you really need to live comfortably? This is a time to do some serious arithmetic: add up your expenses and which ones are expendable, gather the numbers from your 401K or other retirement accounts, figure out how much you’ll need to supplement your income and when (or if) you’ll be able to retire.
- And remember how much longer we live (78 years, right now.)
- Figuring out social security: This is way more complicated than it ought to be. Make an appointment (you’d be in line for days) with a Social Security agent and get the hard news about what you’re owed, what your spouse is owed and when is the best time to start drawing it.
- Facing medical expenses associated with aging: “Allow some slush money for the costs of aging,” says Devin Pope, CFP, MBA, partner and senior wealth advisor at Albion.
- Even with Medicaid and your auxiliary insurance, there will be some out-of-pocket expenses. Our bodies wear out as we age—that’s just a natural fact, and maintenance and repair is up to you.
- Often divorced or separated: How your ex figures into your finances can be as complicated as a relationship, so talk to a lawyer or a financial consultant to see what your personal situation is.
- Still helping out adult children: “Failure to launch” is a real thing and lots of Boomers still have grown children living in their basements playing World of Warcraft most of the day. To plan your own financial future, you need to get them to plan theirs. In other words, start charging rent and expenses.
- Planning your legacy: What will happen after you’re gone is part of your financial planning. “Part of the planning is do you want to leave a legacy or not?” points out Kathleen Barlow with Raymond James. “It’s okay not to. You can say, I’m going to spend all my money. If that’s what you want, have the discussion so it can be productive. Also consider a charitable giving piece: if you want to build that as a legacy that’s important to plan.”
Generation X (Age: 40-54):
This first generation of “latchkey” kids, born between 1965-1979. experienced the consequences of social changes pushed for by their parents. Both parents worked so these kids went to daycare. This generation has the lowest voting participation rate of any generation and, according to Newsweek, “dropped out without ever turning on the news or tuning in to the social issues around them.” They’re entertainment-educated, thanks to MTV, cable and video. Their parents’ high divorce rate may have engendered Gen X’s skepticism about marriage and other social institutions characterized by a “what’s in it for me” attitude. Still, Gen Xers get married, or cohabit, anyway. They tend to be well-educated—29 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher. They are committed to a work-life balance, they’re informal, direct, cynical and self-reliant. Most should be at their economic peak now—in their ‘40s.
- Raising a family: Though they started later than generations behind them, Gen-Xers are having children and raising families. But that simple-sounding life is a lot more expensive than it used to be. Tuition costs start early, with preschool, and don’t stop until after college graduation. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it costs around $233,600 to raise a child. And that’s excluding college. Before even having a baby, financial experts recommend setting aside six months of salary. Then budgeting and planning.
- Paying down student debt: Although this generation is more established in the workplace than their parents were when they started families, chances are good they still have student debt to pay down. You’ll find lots of possibly conflicting advice on the best way to do this and to figure out the best path for you. Consult an expert to help you make a plan and stick with it. “The decision here is based on the “sleep at night” factor,” says Sarah Bird, CFP, senior wealth advisor for Albion Financial. “Will you worry more if you pay down debt while you put money in savings or vice versa? Because you need to do both.”
“Taking a high-paying job you’re not passionate about because you’ll pay down your debt faster can leave you stuck in a very unhappy place,” says Barlow.
- Caring for aging parents: This generation’s parents tend to be a little older than previous generations who started families at a younger age. So often, they’re squeezed between raising a family and figuring out care for increasingly infirm parents.
- Buying a house: Buying a house was once considered the gold standard, “the most important investment you’ll ever make.” The wisdom now is that real estate should fit your life goals. “Does it make sense in your overall picture to buy a house? Don’t buy because you think you should. A house can shape the decisions you make about your future. If you decide you want to leave your job and go to Bali for six months, what do you do about the house?” According to Barlow, life trajectories are more varied than in the past. “Look at your life and your whole past life before making a decision about a house.” You might be better off renting and saving.
Millennials: (Age: 25-39):
Born between 1980-1994, this is the largest generation since the Baby Boomers. Millennials are known as incredibly sophisticated, technology-wise, and impervious to most traditional marketing and sales pitches. They have been there, done that since childhood. Millennials expect racial and ethnic diversity, but they are more segmented as an audience because of the expansion of Cable TV, satellite radio, the Internet, e-zines, etc. They still watch TV, but prefer streaming or on demand; they want it their way. Because the Internet presents so many choices, Millennials are less brand-loyal—they tend to think globally. Accustomed to praise, used to multitasking, less traditionally materialistic, Millennials are flexible, changing their fashion, style consciousness and where and how they are communicated with. Millennials are often raised in dual income or single parent families so they are more likely than previous generations to be involved in family purchases, everything from groceries to new cars. One in nine has a credit card co-signed by a parent.
- A different definition of success and different life goals: The old model was to scrimp and save until retirement, then travel and enjoy life. “This generation wants experience and travel now—their goal is towards mobility, not stability. They want to spend along the way. And that’s not necessarily a bad idea,” says Bird.
- How to save: “We all need to budget, but I prefer to call it a spending plan. And I advise people to divide it up in more than one savings slot. What do I do if lose my job? What do I do if I need new tires. What do I do if I want new skis? Have a savings account for travel, for unexpected “oops” needs, for retirement,” says Barlow.
- Aligning values with investments: This generations’ concern is not only with making money but with earning it in a way that reflects what’s truly important to them. Putting their money in green companies, companies with a conscience, may be more appealing that investing in a company that makes a slightly greater percentage.
- How to get advice: Most millennials seldom set foot in a branch bank or any bricks and mortar bank. They conduct their financial life online. “There are lots of resources for this generation,” says Pope. “You can take a class online, or at a community college.”
- Building credit: It’s easier to budget when you live on a cash basis, but at some point you have to build a credit history. Getting a credit card with a low limit and paying it off completely every month is an easy way to build good credit history. You’ll need it eventually.