Generation X—my generation—doesn’t get a lot of media attention, sandwiched as we are between the much-larger demographic groups of baby boomers and millennials. The attention we have gotten tends to be negative, with reports calling us cynical slackers.
Cynical? Maybe. But we’re certainly not slackers. Both labels came about because of Gen X’s history.
Born between 1965 and 1980, we were the first group of kids produced by the young baby boomers. Our timing on the American scene was interesting. We don’t remember Vietnam directly, but came of age during the tail-end of the Cold War and the Reagan administration. We experienced the great social changes from the 1970s through the 1990s, not all of which positive, giving the “cynical” label a kernel of truth.
As for “slackers,” the truth is, we share the work ethic of previous generations. But our timing with school and career could have been better. Many of us graduated from college in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a period bookmarked by the S&L crisis and sluggish economic growth. Then just as we came into stride with our careers and started making some real money, we got hammered by the tech crash in 2000 and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The great economic reset of the 2007-2009 recession wasn’t kind to us, either.
The result is, compared to previous generations, we got a late start on building a solid foundation of savings and wealth, and we’re still dealing with that slow start today. The good news is that we have entered our peak earning years, and there is still time to play catch-up in building wealth and securing a successful retirement.
The key is to sprint to the finish line over the next 15 or 20 years, shaking off our cynicism and realizing we can achieve financial security if we try, but we have no time to waste. We will need to put every effort into maximizing income. We must be disciplined with our budgeting and saving, realistic about spending on our kids’ higher education, and supportive of our aging parents without compromising our own financial future or losing our physical or emotional health. A little good luck with the economy wouldn’t hurt, either.
A cakewalk, right?
Just hang in there and remember Neil Young’s words: It’s better to burn out than to fade away.
To learn more about this topic, check out these helpful articles: GenX: Time Is on Your Side When It Comes to Saving for Retirement and What Generation X Needs to Focus on to Retire Successfully.