Money Trends by Generation: How Does Your Approach to Finances Compare?

What would you do with an extra $1,000 a month?

According to a recent survey, most American adults wouldn’t use the money to travel, shop or donate to charity. Instead, 25 percent said they would save it, 23 percent said they would use it to pay down debt, and 17 percent said they would pay bills.

The March 2019 survey by Morning Consult and Business Insider also broke down responses by generation. And, with the exception of the youngest group, Generation Z, the pattern held.

A whopping 39 percent of Generation Z, which includes 18- to 21-year-olds, said they would save the extra money. Just 7 percent said they would need that money to pay bills, and 9 percent said they would use it to pay down debt. Another 7 percent — the highest of any generation — would use the money to shop.

How would you spend an extra $1,000 a month?

Generation (Age Range) Pay bills Pay down debt Save Invest Donate to Charity Travel Buy Necessities Shop
Gen Z
(18-21)
7% 9% 39% 13% 3% 4% 12% 7%
Millennials (22-37) 18% 23% 23% 9% 1% 3% 13% 3%
Gen X
(38-53)
22% 26% 21% 7% 1% 4% 12% 3%
Boomers (54-72) 17% 25% 25% 7% 1% 7% 12% 2%

Views on Retirement

Most of each generation said they expect to retire between 56 years old and 75 years old. Around 20 percent of most generations said they don’t know when they’ll retire. Even though the youngest boomers are 54 years old, 15 percent of that generation in the survey said they don’t know when they’re going to retire.

The survey showed signs of an emerging movement known as Financially Independent Retire Early, or FIRE. The idea is for people to work extremely hard and live very frugally so they can retire very early. A total of 17 percent of Generation Z expects to retire by the time they’re 55 years old, including 5 percent who expect to retire by 45.

It’s unclear if it’s a sign of financial woes or attachment to work, but a full 10 percent of Generation X said they never expect to retire, followed by 8 percent of millennials, 5 percent of Generation Z and 4 percent of boomers.

At what age do you expect to retire?

Generation 35-45 46-55 56-65 66-75 76-85 Never 85+ Don’t Know
Gen Z 5% 12% 24% 23% 7% 2% 5% 22%
Millennials 6% 7% 27% 25% 6% 1% 8% 21%
Gen X 3% 11% 23% 26% 5% 1% 10% 21%
Boomers 5% 39% 32% 3% 1% 4% 15%

Current Financial Situation

As for their current financial situation, 20 percent of adults across all generations described themselves as poor. Thirty percent described themselves as working class, and 31 percent said they fell in the middle class. Just 2 percent said they were affluent, while 10 percent said they were in the upper middle class.

A slightly higher percentage of people in Generation Z described themselves as middle class compared to working class or poor. Only 10 percent said they were upper middle class or affluent.

Millennials and Gen Xers identified more as working class than any other class. And boomers most often described themselves as middle class.

What is your current financial situation?

Generation Poor Working Class Middle Class Upper Middle Affluent Don’t Know/No Opinion
Gen Z 24% 26% 28% 9% 1% 4%
Millennials 22% 34% 27% 8% 2% 7%
Gen X 23% 32% 29% 9% 1% 6%
Boomers 18% 27% 35% 13% 1% 5%

The Bottom Line

For all that’s written about the different financial outlook between millennials and baby boomers, it turns out they’re not all that different — at least when it comes to this survey.

Both generations leaned toward saving their extra cash or using it to pay down debt versus investing it or donating it to charity. And the highest percentages from both groups said they expect to retire between 56 years old and 65 years old.

The generation between those two, Generation X, was largely on the same page. And Generation Z, the youngest of the groups, was interested in saving money and retiring sometime between their mid-50s and mid-70s.

2 Cited Research Articles

  1. Morning Consult. (2019, March 13-17). National Tracking Poll #190331. Retrieved from https://morningconsult.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/190331_crosstabs_INSIDER_Adults_STACKED_v1_ML.pdf
  2. Williams, C. (2019, April 8). Millennials and Their Money: The Kids Are All Right. Retrieved from https://morningconsult.com/2019/04/08/millennials-and-their-money-the-kids-are-all-right/
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