If you’re a Gen Xer, you’ve likely been facing some major financial demands over the last few years: caring for children and aging parents, dealing with a recession that lasted through some of your highest-earning working years and managing major debt.
Those demands mean that for many Generation Xers, life isn’t where they’d like it to be financially. According to a 2017 survey by FICO , only one in three people born between 1965 and 1979 feel confident they can meet their long-term financial goals.1 Consequently, they are less hopeful than both Millennials and Boomers about their ability to save for retirement, pay for their children's college education and eliminate debt.
The truth is, however, Gen Xers have the tools and resources necessary to get financially back on track—if you know where to begin.
Even the youngest Gen Xers are now turning 40. That means it’s time to give retirement planning equal footing with other financial goals and priorities such as helping to ensure your children get a college education.
If you have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan—a 403(b), for example— take full advantage of it. If your employer offers a matching contribution, earmark enough to earn the match.
If possible, aim to set aside the full allowable amount: In 2021, employees can contribute up to $19,500.2 If you’re over age 50, you can also make a catch-up contribution of up to $6,500, for a total of up to $26,000.2
Remember, life is a journey, not a destination. And there are many, many paths to achieving your short- and long-term financial goals. If you find yourself at what feels like a dead end—do not give up. Adjust your approach, re-examine your preconceived notions and tweak your trajectory to find a new and appropriate way forward.
So how might that look in practice?
Well, if, for example, you are hoping to retire at 60 but haven’t been able to save as much as you’d expected, consider working until age 65 or later to give yourself the time necessary to build up the nest egg you’ll need to retire comfortably—and on your own terms.
If you’d hoped to travel to every continent in retirement in one grand tour but the timing and cash outlays aren’t quite aligning, perhaps parcel it out in shorter, more targeted adventures or plan two or three bucket-list trips instead.
Finally, increasing numbers of Americans are now working longer or taking on new types of work during retirement. Whether it’s working part-time or transforming a hobby into a side hustle, finding avenues to continue producing income on a smaller scale after you leave your career behind has the potential to be fulfilling personally and financially.
Making monthly payments to cover principal and interest on credit cards can keep you from reaching your financial goals, so you want to focus on reducing debt.
The first thing to acknowledge is that you’re not alone: Eight out of 10 Gen Xers have debt— and not just a little bit.3 In fact, the average amount of non-mortgage debt carried by this cohort is approximately $30,334.3
Start by changing your habits: Gen Xers spend more on restaurant meals and lottery tickets than any other generation, according to a Bankrate survey.4 Make an effort to eat at home more often and avoid purchases made on a whim—you may be surprised by how quickly your bank account gets a boost.
Next, rethink how you’re spending your money. Yes, the thought of remodeling the house, buying more electronics or sliding into the driver’s seat of a brand-new car is attractive. And we should treat ourselves—when we can afford it and if doing so doesn’t imperil other needs or goals. At the same time, there is something to be said for having the peace of mind a well-stocked emergency fund provides or the blessing of a well-funded, secure retirement to which you can look forward.
So, whatever you may ultimately decide, think two steps ahead as you set your priorities. If you don’t have a budget or a simple plan for how to spend your money each month, develop one —and include savings as an important line item.
Also, if you want to pay down debt even faster, the gig economy has made it extraordinarily easy to pick up extra income, from driving an Uber to walking dogs.
If you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and think outside the box, getting your finances in order is often doable. Just stay focused and remember that the decisions you make today can pay off in a big way tomorrow. After all, it’s worth noting that on treasure maps, X often marks the spot.
1 https://www.fico.com/en/newsroom/fico-survey-only-1-in-3-gen-x-think-they-will-reach-- long-term-financial-goals-07-13-2017