What Gen X Can Learn From Boomers’ Money Mistakes

Man is leaning over the sofa to give his mother a cup of tea.
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With many Gen Xers now taking care of their parents instead of the other way around, there’s still time for the world’s last analog generation to learn a thing or two from the second-to-last. The adults who grew from the avalanche of babies that arrived in the years after World War II shared a few common mistakes. Gen Xers would be wise to avoid those same pitfalls as they shuffle slowly but surely toward retirement. GOBankingRates talked to Steve Gaito, certified financial planner and owner of Retirement Resource Management to find out how. 

More Lessons: What Millennials Can Learn From Gen X’s Money Mistakes
And: What Gen Z Can Learn From Millennials’ Money Mistakes

Boomers Were Thrown a Curveball That Gen X Should Be Able To Hit

During his years in the industry, Gaito has noticed a recurring pattern that is by no means unique to boomers but is certainly frequent among them. 

“One common theme that I see is not saving as much as they should,” Gaito said.

But unlike later generations, boomers have a pretty good excuse — the entire nature of saving for retirement was turned on its head while they were in the workforce.

Building Wealth

See: Why Gen Xers Are Feeling the ‘Financial Squeeze’ — and What To Do About It

“Baby boomers were the transitional generation from pension plans to 401(k) plans,” Gaito said. “This shifted the responsibility without education on how to manage and save for retirement.”

The generation following them, whose members have lived and worked their entire lives in the era of the self-directed 401(k), can’t lean on the same excuse. 

“It would benefit Gen X to not only learn to save but how to save,” Gaito said.

Find Out: 35 Useless Expenses You Need To Slash From Your Budget Now

Gen X Parents Should Break a Pattern That Started With Them

Boomers supported their Gen X children longer into adulthood than any generation that came before. In many cases, well-intentioned short-term financial assistance came at the cost of bad financial habits that lasted a lifetime. Gen Xers are parents now — and they still have time to avoid making that trade-off.

“I think that most will say they did not support their adult children too long, but those who did have created a short-term and long-term challenge,” Gaito said. “If the ‘kids’ are dependent on adults for their lifestyle, what will happen when the parents pass away and they no longer have the support that they were used to? It is best to get them living their own life as soon as possible. Or as a friend of mine said, to get them out of your wallet.”

Building Wealth

More: Why You Need To Cut Your Kids Off — and How To Do It

Overstayed Nests Are Bad for Both Generations

When parents allow their adult children to rely on them for too much for too long, they not only deny their kids the gift of self-reliance, but they also ensure they’ll have less to get by on for themselves later in life. 

Read: Baby Boomers, Gen X or Millennials — Who Really Had It Worst Financially?

“In my experience, there have been two areas that have been impacted to support adult children,” Gaito said. “The first is tapping retirement accounts and the second is home equity. The problem with this is that seldom do they get paid back. It is tough to hold your children accountable but learning to repay debts is a lesson that should be learned early. It is ok to help your children out, but not to the detriment of your retirement.”

That’s not to say there’s nothing that could ever justify tapping into your retirement account or your home’s equity to help out an adult child, but boomers did it more than Gen X ever should.

Read: 30 Greatest Threats to Your Retirement

Gen X Should Save Like Boomers, but Engage More

Boomers, by and large, were diligent about building nest eggs, but that building often happened on autopilot.

“They did a great job saving for retirement, but never looked at their statements and were significantly impacted by market fluctuations,” Gaito said. “The second lesson is that when rules or taxes changed, they failed to change their strategy on the location of their retirement assets due to these changes. For example, with taxes at historically low rates, many people have changed from a traditional 401(k) plan to a Roth 401(k) plan. I am sure they did not intend to save in a low tax bracket to take it out in a higher one.” 

Building Wealth

See: 27 Best Strategies To Get the Most Out of Your 401(k)

Gen Xers Should Learn, Prepare and Evolve

The most important piece of advice Gaito would ask Gen Xers to follow that their parents did not is to change with the times.

“Baby Boomers tried to implement retirement like their parents did,” he said. “But their parents had more security with pensions from companies. Baby boomers for the most part failed to create their own pension and lived in fear of a market downturn.”

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Last updated: Oct. 21, 2021

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About the Author

Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street's investment community in New York City.
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