Gen X and Finances: Survey Finds Six Distinct Money Attitudes

By Kathy Gurchiek Mar 11, 2008

Most aspire to the American Dream of family, homeownership and financial security. However, a good percentage of Generation X is saddled with debt and maintains a strict budget that leaves nothing for savings, according to a recent study of more than 5,000 Americans ages 25 to 40.

Overall, 45 percent of those surveyed are drowning in debt, with 35 percent believing that they will be in debt the rest of their lives and close to half (46 percent) also worrying about their parents’ and siblings’ finances.

Those are among the findings in The Gen X Money Mindsets Study released by Charles Schwab in February 2008 and based on results from 2,000 online and 3,000 face-to-face interviews with members of a generation that one U.S. Census Bureau study defines as those born between 1968 and 1979.

It’s a generation, in fact, in which more believe in UFOs than that they will ever see a Social Security check, according to an April 2007 report from a U.S. Office of Personnel Management thought leader forum.

The Schwab survey found that members of Generation X generally have one of six distinct attitudes toward money and investment:

  • Paycheck to Paycheck, 25 percent.
  • Spend Now, Pay Later, 17 percent.
  • Confident and Risk-Tolerant, 15 percent.
  • No Money, No Worries, 15 percent.
  • Cautious Savers, 14 percent.
  • Overwhelmed but Optimistic, 13 percent.

Those with a Paycheck to Paycheck attitude toward finances live on a strict budget with nothing left for savings, Schwab found in this predominantly female group. They have the highest level of anxiety toward money—48 percent of the group vs. 18 percent of respondents overall—and are highly stressed about the direction of their professional and personal lives.

Those with a Spend Now, Pay Later attitude—77 percent of whom were male—are “incurring significant debt,” the survey found. This group tends to be optimistic and somewhat unrealistic about their financial future, and is confident that Social Security income will be available to them when they retire. More than two-thirds say they have too much debt to make investment a reality.

Those with a Confident and Risk-Tolerant attitude have reason to be—they have high incomes, and almost 80 percent attribute their successes to taking risks. They are

highly involved in their financial future, and three-fourths are confident that most of their income someday will come from investments. They have active lifestyles and typically are married.

Those with a No Money, No Worries attitude are highly optimistic about life even though they are at the bottom of the earnings ladder. They typically are single, possess the fewest number of credit cards, are averse to taking financial risks, and don’t trust financial firms or advisors. Nearly 70 percent on a typical day spend more time thinking about weekend plans than their financial state.

Those with a Cautious Saver attitude are highly educated, financially conservative and concerned about money even though they are financially secure. They are late to trying new products, and their focus is on home and family rather than active social lives.

Unlike No Money, No Worries, this group typically spends more time planning for the future than living for today; only 16 percent think they’ll be in debt the rest of their lives.

Those with an Overwhelmed but Optimistic attitude are predominantly women, and, like the Paycheck to Paycheck group, they live on an extremely tight budget with nothing left to put in savings. They tend to have adjustable rate mortgages, significant debt and a vision of where they want to be in 10 years. Eighty-seven percent of this group thinks about their finances every day.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at


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