April 22, 2019
Gen X gets a lot of negative press when it comes to personal finances. In fact, in the personal finance world, Gen X is often seen as the runt of the generational cohort litter. The rhetoric is repetitive: “Gen X isn’t saving enough.” “Gen X has the most debt of any other generation.” “Gen X isn’t focused enough on retirement.” And on and on.
We’ve heard it all before. In fact, thank you for noticing us. Now we would like you to please go on your way. Because this is one thing we know as Gen Xers: we are fiercely independent souls who will figure it out. We don’t need to be coddled like the generations who surround us.
“Like all Gen Xers, we have a little chip on our shoulder about being completely ignored,” says Dr. Billy J. Hensley, President and CEO at The National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) and a Gen Xer. “And sometimes we are glad we are ignored. There is a lot of attention on the Boomers because there are so many of them and now the Millennials are the largest generation in history. We are sandwiched in there.”
But just because we are sandwiched between these generations, doesn’t mean we aren’t taking the right steps. The landscape is a lot more challenging for Gen Xers than it was for other generations before us. Because of increased longevity, many of us are helping our Boomer parents. And with the student loan crisis and increased education costs, we are supporting our children. When you compare our lives to that of the Silent Generation and the Boomers of the mid-40s, it’s a different financial playing field
As a result, we have had to tap into our ‘latch key kid mentality’ in order to thrive financially.
Latch Key Kid Mentality
It’s funny to think that a 1970s way of managing child care might be the financial saving grace of our generation – especially since it isn’t how we parent today. Growing up as Gen Xers, it was not uncommon to come home from school to an empty home. Our parents were working and many of us were growing up in single parent homes. The image in pop culture was that of a child getting off the school bus with their front door key hanging around their neck, who had to manage their afternoon schedule without parental supervision. Even if you weren’t an actual ‘latch key kid’, you were expected to be independent.
“[Being a latch key kid] defines our generation as being resilient – as being self-starters in a way,” says Hensley. “We were the kids who came home, made ourselves a grilled cheese or, if we were not allowed to use the stove, grabbed a popsicle out of the fridge. We watched ‘Saved by The Bell’ reruns and entertained ourselves. It shaped us in being resilient and being self-reliant.”
That self-reliance is starting to show itself in some of the data regarding Gen X. In fact, in the recent NEFE/Harris Tax Survey, when asked about what how they will use their tax return, the older Gen X cohort of ages 44-54, focused predominantly on paying down debt (17%), putting money in emergency savings (17%), and investing, either in their own or their child’s education account (11%). For younger Gen Xers and Xennials ages 35-43, there was even more of a focus on debt paydown (39%), adding to savings (26%) and investing (17 %).
Considering this data and the context of the stresses surrounding us from the other generations, it appears that we are actually listening and taking the right steps.
Self-Reliant Doesn’t Mean Loud
But in being self-reliant, we are often not the most vocal group. The generations around us demand attention. They ask for things as a group. Gen X is different in that we all respect our individuality. Any efforts to lump us together tends to fall apart at the seams – and we take pride in that.
Yet what creates momentum for our generation’s financial success comes from the latch key kid experience. We want to be both self-reliant and responsible in the deeper community. From our independent viewpoint, we don’t want to be a burden. In the latch key culture of the 1970s, we weren’t, and we don’t want to start as adults.
Hensley agrees. “When you put in the context of our financial lives, we want to do the right thing because we want to take care of ourselves. To us that is being a good citizen and a good neighbor. We don’t need to tell everyone how much we saved and what our plans are as it is about our own personal journey.”
The Positivity of Latch Key Kid Mentality
In the Gen X world, we often joke about how lax parenting was when we were kids and that we would be arrested today if we parented that way. But most Gen Xers say it with pride. And that pride is going to ultimately come through over the coming decades as our financial success becomes clearer.
“A lot of friends I grew up with were all very independent in terms of not waiting to make decisions. We decide and we do. Our generation grew up that way,” says Hensley. “That word resilience is a reflector of our individual style and our financial identities.”
So – thank you for your concern, but we are doing just fine.