Different Generations, Different Savings Habits

A survey shows Millennials are not quite as committed to saving for the long term compared to their Generation X and Baby Boomer counterparts.

While Millennials are more likely to be consciously cutting back on expenses, according to the Financial Trade-Offs study by Ameriprise Financial, far fewer Millennials (59%) than Boomers (75%) admit they have a monthly savings plan, and only 57% of Millennials with access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan are contributing enough to take full advantage of their employer’s match.

Four in five (81%) Boomers and 75% of Gen Xers consider themselves to be more of a saver than a spender, compared to 65% of Millennials. This perspective is supported by the fact that 45% of Boomers and 38% of Gen Xers are maxing out their 401(k) contributions and more than two-thirds of respondents from these generations say they have a monthly savings plan.

Ameriprise says it’s possible younger Americans are anticipating financial hurdles down the road; more than two-thirds (69%) say they have either reduced their contributions to their employer-sponsored plan or would consider doing so in the future. One in four (27%) Millennials hopes to buy a vacation home someday, and two in five (40%) would like to fund private K-12 education for their children.

Findings show that Millennials are more likely than both Boomers and Gen Xers to be consciously cutting back on all 18 discretionary expense categories listed in the study. This includes things like electronics (69% of Millennials say they’ve cut back on this compared to 57% of Gen Xers and 45% of Boomers) and car payments (32% of Millennials have scaled these back—more than any other generation surveyed).

Boomers and Gen Xers were less likely than Millennials to be scaling back their purchases in every expense category indicated in the survey. For example, 79% of Millennials have cut back on eating out – the most popular (and arguably the easiest) expense that Americans can spend less on. However, fewer Boomers (51%) and Gen Xers (70%) admit they’ve consciously made an effort to spend less in this area.

Despite making prudent trade-off choices, the study reveals that younger Americans are still likely to take on a large amount of debt while trying to balance other financial goals. Of those who own a car, 76% feel their car payments have been a stretch (significantly more than older Americans who are making payments on an auto loan). A similar proportion (78%) says their credit card or other miscellaneous bills has made them feel stretched financially.

The Financial Trade-Offs study was created by Ameriprise Financial utilizing survey responses from 3,002 employed Americans with access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan (or with a spouse that has access to an employer-sponsored plan) ages 25 to 67 who are primary financial decision makers or share in financial decisions in their household. All respondents ages 25 to 49 have investable assets of at least $25,000, while those older than 50 have at least $250,000 (including employer retirement plans, but not real estate). The study was conducted via online interviews by Koski Research from November 25 to December 16, 2013.