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By Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, [email protected]

PFMP staff serve service members and their families at all ages and stages of life from young enlisted personnel getting a credit card in their 20s to those receiving retirement pay decades later. Thus, it is essential to understand how different generations handle money. Below are some examples of generational differences:

  • Millennials spend the most of any generation on eating out and Generation X spends the most on housing
  • Millennials are more likely than other generations to not carry around any cash
  • Credit card use and credit scores increase with age as do health insurance premiums
  • Younger tax filers are more likely to use software and older tax filers more likely to hire a tax professional

Each decade of one’s financial life has suggested recommendations. Below are action steps for the four generations that are currently in the workforce or retired. Positive action steps taken as a young adult should continue throughout one’s adult life.

Millennials or Generation Y (Born 1982-2000; Age 19-37 in 2019)

Woman with long hard standing alone.

Photospin/Ruslan Kudrin

  • Train for a career and become financially independent from parents
  • Learn to budget and “pay yourself first”
  • Develop a repayment strategy for student loans
  • Build an adequate emergency fund (i.e., 3 to 6 months expenses)
  • Build a positive credit history
  • Develop investing expertise and start investing for retirement
  • Buy life insurance to protect dependents and/or student loan co-signers
  • Balance YOLO (You Only Live Once) and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) mindsets with financial security

Generation X (Born 1965-1981, Age 38-54 in 2019)

A military homecoming. Portrait of an African American woman wearing navy camouflage uniform standing outdoors with her family. Her husband is holding their 5 year old son who is in the middle between his parents.

  • Continue to invest for the long term in stocks or stock mutual funds
  • Diversify investments and periodically rebalance portfolio
  • Enhance employment skills (build human capital)
  • Try to “max out” retirement savings plan contributions; take advantage of catch-up contributions at age 50+
  • Talk to aging parents about their finances
  • Prepare a will and living will if one wasn’t already created

Baby Boomers (Born 1946-1964, Age 55-73 in 2019)

A adult woman with short brown hair wearing glasses.

  • Determine when to claim Social Security and develop a strategy to provide income from investments
  • Learn about Social Security, Medicare, and pension benefits as you approach the age of eligibility
  • Investigate later life housing and living costs
  • Learn about required minimum distributions (RMDs) from tax-deferred retirement savings plans
  • Try to pay off all debt before retirement
  • Take advantage of available “senior discounts”


Mature/Silent/Traditionalist Generation (Born 1927-1945; age 74-92 in 2019)

A side view of an elderly man's face.

  • Get strategic about philanthropy and/or gifting to family members
  • Talk to children/heirs about finances and estate planning
  • Streamline and consolidate financial accounts and downsize and/or donate excess “stuff”
  • Take RMD withdrawals from tax-deferred retirement savings plans (e.g., 401(k)s and Traditional IRAs)
  • Make sure family members and/or advisors know where to find personal and financial documents
  • Adjust lifestyle to declining real income, if needed

For additional information about financial tasks for different generations, review OneOp webinar Financial Planning Transitions for Different Generations.