Generation Xers don't get a lot of attention. They tend to be overshadowed by their millennial or Generation Z children, and some are even willing to sacrifice their retirement savings in order to ensure that their children can get a college education without ending up buried in debt. Gen Xers are also known for having a rugged independence streak, so they're less likely to seek out the limelight.
While these can be commendable qualities, they can also get Gen Xers into trouble financially. Here are some of the most common financial mistakes that Generation X is making, along with some advice on how to fix them.
Putting their children's financial needs first
It seems admirable of many Gen Xers to spare their children the burden of student loan debt, which only continues to rise. Many are willing to take out loans themselves or even dip into their retirement savings in order to fund their children's higher education. However, this strategy can come back to hurt you and your children in the long run.
Many Gen Xers are at risk of not having enough money for retirement, in part because they're trying to support their children's dreams. Paying for your child's college education will cost you tens of thousands of dollars plus interest. Meanwhile, you could have been putting that money into a retirement account, where it could be earning hundreds of thousands of dollars through the power of compound interest.
For example, say you pay $10,000 per year toward your child's college tuition on a Parent PLUS loan with a 7% interest rate. Assuming a 10-year repayment schedule, you'll spend $464 per month and pay nearly $16,000 in interest over the life of the loan for a total of $56,000 spent. If you took that same $464 per month and invested it in a 401(k), assuming your investments earned 7% per year, your balance would grow to over $77,000 in that same 10-year period. And if your employer matches your contributions, even better. Even if you only received a 50% match on that $464-per-month contribution, your 401(k) balance would swell to $115,000 in 10 years' time.
It makes more financial sense to invest in your retirement security than in your child's tuition. On top of that, if you underfund your retirement, you could end up leaning on your children to support you, which could in turn make it more difficult for them to save for retirement.
Before you hand over any money for higher education, it's important to make sure you have your ducks in a row first. Figure out how much money you need to be putting away for retirement and make this a priority. Then, if you have anything left over, you can give it to your kids. If student loans have to be taken out, let your kids do it. Student loan providers offer more flexible repayment options to the students themselves than they do to their parents.
Prioritizing debt over retirement savings
Generation X has the most credit card debt of any generation, according to a GOBankingRates survey. The high interest rates -- sometimes as great as 30% -- can make it difficult to get out from under the debt, but the more troubling statistic is that half of all Gen Xers say they won't begin saving for retirement until they get their credit card debt under control. While paying down your credit debt is a smart move that will help save you money and improve your credit score, that doesn't mean you should press pause on your retirement savings.
The sooner you begin saving for retirement, the more compound interest can work in your favor, and the greater the likelihood that you'll meet your retirement goals. If you invest $10,000 in your retirement account at age 35, it will grow to more than $117,000 by the time you reach age 67, assuming your investments return 8% per year. If you wait until age 40 to invest that 10 grand, it will only grow to $80,000 when you reach age 67.
If you have credit card debt that you need to pay off, it may be wise to prioritize paying it off, because the interest rate you pay on that debt will likely be higher than any return you earn on your retirement savings. However, if you're not drowning in high-interest credit card debt, then you can put money toward your balance and your retirement savings.
If you have low-interest debt, like a mortgage, then you shouldn't let this stop you from saving for retirement. The compound interest you'll earn on your retirement savings will likely outstrip the interest you're paying on that debt. Pay the minimum on "good debt" and then put any leftover income toward your long-term savings, especially if your employer offers a 401(k) match, which equates to an instant return of 100% on your investment -- a return that's all but impossible to achieve elsewhere.
Investing unwisely or not at all
Investing is the best way for Gen Xers to grow their wealth, but many are hesitant to do so. After living through the dot-com bubble and the Great Recession, many Gen Xers prefer to play it safe and stash all of their money in a savings account, while others may try to make up for what they lost by taking bigger risks. Their independent mindset also makes them less likely to seek out professional financial advice or assistance.
This can cause Gen Xers to make mistakes that cost them money or hamper their money's growth. Retirement security is a major concern, so it's crucial to make sure you're investing intelligently. This means educating yourself about investment strategies and principles or seeking out a financial advisor who can guide you and help you assess your risk tolerance.
Right now, the financial future of many Gen Xers seems up in the air. But by prioritizing your retirement savings and making educated decisions about how to handle debt and investments, you can sail smoothly into your golden years.