The Surprising Generation that Has a Handle On Its Finances

Smiling young woman holding piggy bank
Smiling young woman holding piggy bank

We all know that we should be saving more and spending less, but we don't always follow that wise advice. What may surprise you, though, are the varied ways people in different age groups have responded to the financial crisis. Some have been more responsible, some less so, and you might not guess at first which generation is which.

Financial Finesse, a provider of workplace financial wellness programs, recently released its annual report on financial issues and the generations. The 2012 Generational Research report separated respondents by generation:

  • Millennials: Under 30

  • Generation Xers: Ages 30 to 44

  • Late Baby Boomers: Age 45 to 54

  • Early Baby Boomers: Age 55 to 64

Here are some of the report's findings:

Which generation is the least likely to have an emergency fund?
While only 50 percent of millennials have an emergency fund, Gen Xers are doing even worse: Just 42 percent of them do.

Which generation is worst at managing its credit card debt?
We've gotta hand it to kids these days. More than 60 percent of millennials pay off their credit card balances in full. Late baby boomers, it's no surprise, are good at handling their debt, too, with 65 percent of older boomers zeroing out their card debt regularly, too. However, only 47 percent of Gen Xers pay off their credit cards each month.

Which generation is best at managing its cash flow?
Seventy-nine percent of older boomers say they have a handle on their cash flow and spend less than they make each month, but so do 73 percent of millennials, even though they generally have the lowest income among the generations. Here again, Gen Xers are having a tough time, with only 61 percent saying they spend less than they make.

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Which age group claims to be the most ready for retirement?
None of them, really. Even among the early boomers who are on the cusp of retirement, only 25 percent know they are on target to replace at least 80 percent of their income in retirement. Even worse, though, are the numbers for the late boomers (18 percent), Gen Xers (15 percent) and millennials (17 percent). Interesting that respondents age 45 to 54 are only slightly better prepared than people who are under 30.

Which generation of parents is better prepared for college expenses?
You might think the days of paying for college are behind them, but 11 percent of respondents age 55 to 64 have minor children. And 41 percent of the people in this age group responded that they know how much they need to save for their kids' college, and that they're on track to meet that need. Unfortunately the Gen Xers, 65 percent of whom have minor children, are the worst prepared, with only 14 percent saying they are on track to pay for college.

Is anyone prepared for a nursing home stay?
Not really. While not necessary yet for the millennials or the Gen Xers, very few of the late or even early boomers have a long-term care insurance policy. Just 16 percent of the early boomers and only 10 percent of the late boomers have one, but Financial Finesse reports that the 2012 MetLife Market Survey of Long-Term Care Costs says the average cost of a private room in a nursing home is $90,520 per year.

In general, the survey shows that Gen Xers are having the hardest time juggling their debt and financial planning issues. Even though millennials are the lowest income generation, they seem to be handling their finances better and avoiding debt.

Michele Lerner is a contributing writer for The Motley Fool.

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