Gen Xers most financially vulnerable

Among the four generations, generation X Americans have the poorest financial habits.

The 2015 Northwestern Mutual Planning & Progress Study finds gen X has more spenders than savers compared to other generations and is the least likely to have more savings than debt.

Read: Three generations, three very different retirements

“It is not easy being X,” says Rebekah Barsch, vice-president, financial planning with Northwestern Mutual. “Aside from weathering a number of economic cycles, this group is juggling home mortgages, educational debt, and lifestyle needs. Figuring out how to plan for the future can be daunting when faced with multiple demands that require real-time attention.”

Not surprisingly, the lags in planning are taking a toll on gen X’s financial health and future outlook

  • nearly four in 10 (37%) Gen Xers say they do not “at all feel financially secure.” This is more than any other generation, even millennials;
  • almost a quarter (23%) are “not at all confident” that they will achieve their financial goals;
  • two thirds (66%) expect to have to work past traditional retirement age due to necessity, with 18% believing they will never retire; and
  • the vast majority (82%) of gen Xers who anticipate needing to work past the age of 65 feel they will need to do so because they will have insufficient retirement savings.

Read: Gen X lacks retirement confidence

While the lack of discipline is clearly a substantial factor, the financial pressures impacting gen X may also be a function of life stage. A significant portion of this segment is squarely in the sandwich generation. More than four in 10 (44%) live with children under 18 and over a quarter have a parent or other relative in the household. Balancing personal financial priorities with the added demands of dependent care is likely to have implications on decision-making.

Notably, gen X is not blind to the realities of its financial condition. Two thirds (66%) of gen X respondents acknowledge that their financial planning needs improvement and 9% consider their generation “very financially responsible.” Moreover, when asked how they would allocate a $10,000 windfall, gen X, more than other generations, opted for debt repayment—suggesting an interest in tackling financial challenges.

Read: Sandwich generation $560,000 short of retirement savings goal

However, while this group may have the right intentions, it seems to be falling short on action:

  • despite citing “insufficient savings to retire comfortably” as a leading financial fear, 34% of gen Xers don’t know how much income they need to retire and nearly half (47%) have not discussed retirement planning with anyone;
  • gen X is also less likely than any other generation—even millennials—to have sought guidance from an advisor.

“The good news is that gen X is in its earning prime and has a relatively long runway to retirement,” Barsch adds. “Overcoming perceived barriers and inertia in order to develop a strategy today can vastly improve the outlook for tomorrow.”