Generation X Think Tank Ladies: Finance – Spending and Saving

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During the GenXTT hangout on Finance and Spending, the viewpoints expressed were primarily from a male perspective. This time the ladies take center stage. It was important for us to get this viewpoint because of the diverse roles women have as caregivers, income earners and household decision makers. Our goal was to explore any differences in attitudes and behaviours between the two genders.
The premise of this episode can be distilled to this:

While the economy can wreak havoc and significantly influence how people decide to spend, GenX is all too familiar, having experienced these downturns multiple times in their adult lives. How is GenX faring? What does GenX value? This will determine where choose to spend their money, how they save, and how they define luxury. More importantly, we will determine whether their decisions have changed compared to how they were raised.

Our Think Tank members included:

Mila Araujo – Middle GenXer, Director at financial services firm, single mom of a 21 year old, 2 dogs
Christin Kardos – Older GenXer, Social Media entrepreneur, Married with 2 kids
Amy McCloskey Tobin – Older GenXer, Partner at ArCompany, single mom of a 7 year-old, a dog and a cat
Sara Chi – Older GenXer, Social media analyst for financial services company, married with 2 girls

You can experience the hangout in its entirety here:

GenX women were reluctant to volunteer financial information

During the process of gathering our panel, we foundvery few hand raisers. Unlike past topics, where we easily find GenXers willing to share their opinion, finance was a topic that the women we approached shied away from. We asked our panel why, and Amy stated directly

I hate finance like I hate calculus.

It isn’t that Amy isn’t capapble of understanding finance– indeed she is solely responsible for her household finances – but she appreciated the stress
relief associated with handing over some of the financial management to partners. She also shared:

Women are judged more harshly… if they are single… and, in particular if they are making spending mistakes.

Some acknowledged they have made spending mistakes in the past. Christin, for instance’ admitted,

 I’m pretty transparent and am an open book with finances, but I haven’t always executed the way I like.

Christin confessed there was a difference between what you know about best practices in household finance vs. what she has done in the past.

Mila stated she was hesitant because she was unsure whether her point of view was relevant since she is a single mom, especially a mom with a 21 year-old; most of the panelists had younger children.  She said

This isn’t something that you really talk about.

An important point that the panel agreed on was that, despite their mixed backgrounds, all of them were coming to true financial stability later than the previous generation.

Sara’s hesitation echoed Christin’s: prior to meeting her boyfriend (now husband), she had bad spending habits and had accumulated debt. Her education on household finances was not provided in school, but by her husband, who came from a more financially astute family.

Is your current home situation similar or different from the way you grew up?

Overall, our entire panel lived in a different home environment than the one in which they grew up.

Sara was the first working mom in her family and had children later. Amy was raised by her grandmother, went away to boarding school and indicated there was no real role model for her growing up. Christin had the luxury of a relationship and job stability, which was different from her family upbringing. Finally, Mila grew up living with her parents and her grandmother.

Who gave you your lessons about finance?

The collective gave credit to parents and/or lifelong partners. Some were self taught and bought books (remember the Wealthy Barber?), but no one was educated about finance in their schooling.  We are a generation raised with home economics and sewing lessons vs. important lessons in finance.

My personal experience was taking a high school job tutoring grade 10 general math. I was in advanced math but quickly learned, to my horror, that general math was completely different. It was designed for students who were never expected to go onto university. It was designed to be practical. It was all about mortgages, interest rates, and household finance; my first exposure to rather practical finance was from teaching general math (which I had to learn in order to tutor it). It was, in many ways, far more useful than relations and functions.

Our group did conclude that schools should bear more responsibility in teaching finance.

What about savings?

We pressed women gen Xers on savings habits, particularly the savings associated with their childrens’ education, which they all say as a tremendous burden. Parents want to pay the tuition, but find it impossible. Our female panel was quite vocal, much like their male counterparts: GenX did not want to see their children setup for lifelong debt repayment. Our generation, particularly in the US (and especially outside of Quebec), have seen the student loan burden explode.

“I’m not going to send my kids down that path”
“Instead of sending our kids to college at $100K, why not set them up in business instead?”
“I’m not going to shove college down their throats for the sake of it”
“I know a lot of peers who have incurred massive debts. If one of them [the kids] decides to go to university, we will get it done.. “

…. and from Christin:

“We want our kids to be results-focused. It’s about the big picture NOT debt for the sake of debt.”

What are your attitudes on retirement?

Much like the men, our women panelists do not subscribe to an idealistic picture of retirement.

“Never …I’m an entrepreneur” says Christin.

“Sometimes you lose the ability to stop hustling, but am I crazy for NOT being able to picture it?”

We want to keep working, says Mila; our panel believes that work and life are so intermingled that they do not see (or want to see) a definite end to working life.

What do you consider luxury?

Our panel shared the view that for them, luxury often came by way of the small things. Christin stated: “Anything that isn’t clothes, food or necessities.”

It can be:

Apple products.
Going to Starbucks.
Buying expensive wine glasses at Marshalls
Going to dinner and splurging on a nice bottle of wine.

A great quote from Amy was:

“I used to drive that $65K vehicle. That is stupid to me now. I want to smack my pre-recession self .”

GenX are starting to find happiness in simple things, and the recession made them think about what is really important.”

Some Insights:

  • GenX values the here and now. They are more mindful of where they came from and quite willing to relish in little luxuries once in a while.
  • While these ladies were a mix of entrepreneurs and full-time employees, no one could really conceive of retirement in the traditional sense.
  • The recession has played a strong role in how GenX lives today. No one seems to take anything for granted, especially for this group, who got “nailed” more often in their adult lives by multiple economic downturns. They are used to “regrouping” and figuring things out to survive.
  • GenX are more pragmatic about the future and its impact on their children. Affording the “best” education is unrealistic, especially in times of economic uncertainty.
  • As was consistent with the GenX male panel, these women are just as family-oriented and appreciate of everyday moments.

About our think tanks:

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

Photo credit: Dime Face via photopin (license).

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