They’re bogged down by student loans and credit card debt now, but a new study suggests millennials have plenty of time to turn that around —and enjoy a better retirement than Generation X will.
That study, from an international finance association called Million Dollar Round Table, also shows millennials don’t see it that way. More than half are more worried about not having enough in emergency savings, compared to half of Gen X and less than a third of Baby Boomers.
But they should give themselves more credit — more millennials (10 percent) have spoken to a financial adviser about retirement than Gen Xers (7 percent). Amazingly, 25 percent of boomers say they haven’t done anything to prepare for retirement.
“Each generation can benefit from learning how to save and budget,” says Brian Heckert, vice president of MDRT. “Often people don’t realize how easy adjustments can help them reach financial security.”
The study asked all three generations about their greatest financial concerns, how they manage debt, and how they are planning for retirement. Here’s what they found…
1. Millennials are serious about credit card debt.
Also known as Gen Y, millennials’ top struggle is making ends meet. This group, which includes ages 18-34, has the highest percentage of those with financial concerns, at 84 percent.
“Millennials have the greatest amount of financial concerns because most are struggling with debt, worrying about employment and living paycheck-to-paycheck,” Heckert says.
But that struggle seems to be teaching them better priorities. If they had the money, almost a third of millennials would choose to pay off their credit card debt — higher than the number who said student loans or a mortgage were the top priority. Why? While student loans may be the bigger debt, Heckert says that they typically have lower interest rates than credit cards.
2. Gen X has higher incomes but struggles to save for retirement.
Gen X, which includes those between 35 and 54, is sometimes known as the “sandwich generation” because they’re saddled with the problems of the surrounding generations. They’re caring for their kids who are getting older and living at home longer, and for their aging parents.
Half of this age group fears not being able to retire when they want, yet only 9 percent said that “saving for a more comfortable retirement” was the most important piece of financial advice to follow.
“Not to oversimplify, but people just don’t understand how to start saving,” Heckert says. “I encourage people to start small. For those with bigger cash flow and savings problems, they can try adjusting the amount of taxes withheld from their paycheck.”
Heckert says those who have trouble saving also tend to receive large income tax refunds each year because they don’t fill out their W-4 form properly. For example, if you make $40,000 a year and receive a $4,000 refund check come tax time, that’s almost $80 a week that you could take home instead.
“That’s enough to fill in the budget gaps for most of these people instantly,” Heckert says. “Few people take advantage of this and would rather receive one large check every spring and use it to buy more stuff.”
The IRS has a calculator to help you adjust your tax withholding.
3. Baby boomers don’t consider retirement their biggest financial concern.
The baby boomers, ages 55-plus, are generally less worried about money than younger generations. Not having an emergency fund is their top financial concern.
But then there’s the issue of those who haven’t yet saved for retirement. Heckert says these people typically fall into two categories: They don’t really understand how expensive the cost of living actually is, or they’re afraid there is no way to handle the costs. Those in the second category typically plan on working as long as possible and hoping Social Security will be enough.
“If baby boomers haven’t made saving for retirement a reality, I recommend seeing a financial adviser and begin immediately setting aside a little bit of money each month,” he says. Better late than never.
Heckert says any savings or budgeting discussion should “start with a plan and with the counsel of a qualified financial planner.” But if you can’t afford one, you can still start getting into financial shape on your own.
“This requires an honest look at how people are spending and if they are living within their means,” Heckert says. “Most people simply need to write down their income and expenses and then follow a budget. Not talking about it only makes it harder as things progressively get worse.”
Based on responses in the survey, he says that most people ignore the impact of saving small. For example, when asked about how they would go about cutting expenses, the top response for every generation was dining out less.
There’s nothing wrong with going out for dinner every once in a while if you budget for it, but Heckert says that most people do not stop at just the basic meal. Adding in a few drinks and desserts turns a reasonable bill into a budget-buster.
“The toughest part of building any savings program for any generation is to stop spending on things people perceive they need,” Heckert says. “Money from their pocket set aside every day can quickly turn into a few hundred dollars and that can be the seed money for an emergency fund.”
If you’re willing to try them, there are ways to save on just about everything.