GenX Think Tank Gentlemen: Spending and Investment Habits

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This week our GenX Think Tank focused on spending and investment habits, and in our research we noted that studies show that compared to Boomers, GenXers tend to be more nimble in the economy. They are more educated, more entrepreneurial and have more women in the workforce.

Nimble as they are, GenX was really hit hard by the Recession. Some initial research from PEW indicated:

The findings underscore a study by the Pew Charitable Trust in May 2013 that found Generation X lost 45% of its wealth in the recession, compared with 28% for baby boomers. It concluded that Gen X did not have adequate resources for when members reach retirement age.

While the economy can wreak havoc and significantly influence how people decide to spend, GenXTT is all too familiar having experienced these downturns multiple times in their adult lives.

How is GenX faring? What does GenX value?  How does this effect where they choose to spend their money, how they save, and how they define luxury?  More importantly, we will explore whether their decisions have changed in relation to how they were raised.

This week our GenX Think Tank included:

  1. Jure Klepic , partner (working) with two dogs, no kids
  2. Ryan Pannell – married, two kids, no pets
  3. Brian Carter – married with working spouse, two dogs, two cats, no kids
  4. Joe Snyder – separated father, two small girls
  5. Hessie Jones – married, working mom, 2 kids, no pets
  6. Laurie Dillon-Schalk – married, working mom, two kids, no pets

You can experience the hangout in its entirety below, or read on for our recap:

There is a difference in GenX perceptions of jobs and wealth compared to their parents

We asked the panel to provide some context into their current family structure, whether this was different from their parents, and whether they have a different level of wealth compared to their parents.

It’s clear that the lives GenX experience today are vastly different compared to how they grew up.  A few of the panel members grew up in challenging economic circumstances. Also being exposed to an environment where parents have struggled and succeeded greatly influenced each of the GenXers motivations and the decisions they made later on. In the same way, GenX panellists who indicated their parents were well-off growing up were even more motivation to emulate that lifestyle.

The stay-at-home mom expectation from the previous generation is one trend that clearly distinguishes GenX women from their parents’ generation. Having 2 partners working doesn’t necessarily mean that GenX has more money or opportunity compared to their parents, however their family household experience challenges with trying to achieve quality time. Compounding this is the choice to have children later in life: Here’s an interesting info from a recent BMO study:

Delaying Having Children …. between 1971 and 2001 women were delaying having children to pursue higher education, for better career opportunities and to improve their work-life balance15.

While the past can be a determination of the future, the reality is that unstable economy, changes in household structure, and inflation have have dealt a whole new set of cards for GenXers.

To best understand the attitudes and behaviors around current consumption versus saving for our futures – we asked a group of GenXers about the nature of their savings. Understandably, these questions are private in nature and so it’s difficult to gather specifics, but one very interesting conversational thread emerged…

GenXers, unlike Boomers, are NOT planning to retire… at least not in the traditional sense

Generation X aren’t planning for a distinct retirement phase – as if work suddenly stops one day.  GenX plans to make their lives work for them. They choose to morph their jobs into doing what they love and live within the means it generates. As per Brian Carter,

Your identity and everything you do is wrapped up in your career. … I would rather be doing what I want to do and not planning to try to escape.

Ryan Pannell added an alternative viewpoint: 

It depends on what you’ve done with your life. If you have a career that grinds you… that drains you, then yes, you are looking for the day when you don’t have to do that any longer.  

Since the panel consisted largely of entrepreneurs, there was an agreement that the fundamental disconnect between Boomers and GenXers is the notion that rewards will come later in life: retirement, wealth, status. Later in the hangout it became clear that GenX has a very different viewpoint when it comes to enjoying the “fruits of their labor”.

GenXers have worked the 18-hour days… and have grown wiser

For Brian, Hessie, and Ryan (and myself),  the word, “workaholic” was brought up a few times:

…18 hour days…. my wife and I work a lot

…90 days away in the middle of China with 2 young kids at home

…working late at night and listening to “Cats in A Cradle” on my playlist

Could it be that Generation X is more baked in realism, more family oriented, more thoughtful in our current consumption than our parents? Within our think tank, it was hard to ignore that a number of us have become intolerant of trading our important family time for long working hours or high travel commitments.

Ryan, spoke of a former employer who approached him to help solve their challenge of attracting and retaining Generation X talent. Their main tactic was high compensation, yet they couldn’t secure enough talent.  In fact, they were chronically short of GenX talent. Ryan counselled that his generation will make sacrifices as entrepreneurs but not ‘for the man’ so to speak.

That higher compensation was not a trade off that GenX was willing to entertain given the demands of the roles. Indeed, Ryan, an investment banker who has put in his fair share of insane hours and travel, spoke of his own shift from trading time away from his family for financial gain and coming to the realization that it was trade off he no longer willing to make.

When and why did GenX become intolerant of the career myth? Certainly compared to the Boomer predecessors, Gen X isn’t willing to make the same sacrifices. Was it the exit from universities?  Or was it, quite simply, that the internet appeared?

As Ryan explained, his peers gained a level of opportunity and freedom that didn’t exist before. GenX was the generation that was first exposed to the web, gaming, open source. The inordinate wealth that came from the internet created instant millionaires of a generation not predisposed to it.  That experience stayed with GenX and gave them the understanding they didn’t have to follow the same route of work-based-sacrifice that many Boomers followed.

How GenX Spends

For many GenXers, after the mortgage, children’s education and daycare continues to be the largest household expense.

No big surprises from our Ge Xers: planning for the children’s future education (or present in the case of private schools & daycares) as well as their mortgages and past student loan debts topped the list.

As an aside – interestingly our GenX panelists have diverse roles when it comes the family finances. Some admitted to having almost no involvement in its management – suggesting that one partner manages the whole kit & caboodle while other partner takes on other familial roles.

Current vs. Future Consumption

We posed the question: as a percentage of your take home pay, what do you allocate to spending vs. saving?

There was no consistent reply, although in all circumstances GenXers will put at least 10% away for savings.

Interestingly, while most were saving for their childrens’ future education, there were a few panelists who were concerned for their parents, who will, more than likely, live longer and be unable to financially take care of themselves down the road.

GenX continues to keep a watchful eye on the economy, cautious of its impact on their kids’ education and their parents’ livelihoods.

What would you consider luxury?

We asked the group known as the squeezed or sandwich generation, the ones having graduated into a recession or into forced reinvention after the last great recession what luxury means for them.  Their answers may surprise you.

Luxury, for this group, wasn’t about fancy cars, sailboats and exotic travel. Rather, they all spoke about “accessible” luxury  ie.  a little extra for a little more.

For instance, Hessie talked about buying a dress for about $50 – 60 dollars more than what is her normal spend. Brian spoke about buying as many e-books for his kindle as he would like.  I spoke about my two latte days – which is a luxury in cost and calorie consumption. And we spoke about expensive cheeses – the Feta, the Riopelles, the Manchegos, Peaux Rouges…

Brian said it best:

“I’m not trying to have a great life, just a great week”.

While the group did talk about some of their dream luxuries –  “planes,” “that RV that takes you away from any one location at any point in time,” or that ‘“dream car,” they all agreed that living in “excess” is not at all a mindset they desire.


Why is what we learned important?

Imagine the marketers who are trying to portray what successful luxury is for the well planned individual:  pictures of tennis courts, sailboats and expensive cars may not be accessible enough for GenerationX, nor may they desire those sort of things.

Maybe GenX prefers a lot of small luxury items over one big ticket item. If you are selling big ticket items – consider your competition may very well be the regular itmes, such as an extra beer, e-book or latte – the ability to afford small things on a regular basis.

Perhaps GenX is well-grounded and more realistic about their opportunities as they age. They’ve become more practical and cautious as they aim for their goals of preserving what they have and acquiring what they want.

As a predominant entrepreneurial panel, not one of these GenXers were willing to put their fate in the hands of any corporation. Their successes are rooted in how they choose to live and invest their time.

Family is an important consideration. The relationship with their kids and ensuring there is the necessary time to balance it all is a key challenge and priority for all of them.

At the end of the day, enjoying life NOW is relishing in the little luxuries becomes paramount to living the “life” that will be handed to GenX at the end of the rainbow.

About our think tanks:

We conduct ethnographic research on the generational based attitudes and behaviors. This research helps inform and guide the communication efforts of many brands. We especially enjoy comparing the sentiments gathered from our Gen X group in comparison to Millennials – to show not just generational differences but how our life stages amplify our attitudes and behaviors.  


Photo credit: john.d.mcdonald via photopin cc.


One thought on “GenX Think Tank Gentlemen: Spending and Investment Habits

  1. Having the money to retire often means being bored and dying early. We have all seen it. My dad watches so much TV he is living high on the hog now way better than when he worked. He got lucky with a state pension. Most people will never have a pension. But I thinking keeping actively engaged in mind and body into your twilight years will keep Gen X healthier and happier even if it isn’t necessarily by choice.

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