If you came across the following headlines while browsing the internet, would you be able to identify the generation for which the author was forecasting near-certain doom?
“America’s [Insert Generation] Waking Up to a Grim Financial Future” ... [answer: Millennials]
“[Insert Generation] Face Reality They Might Never Retire” ... [answer: Baby Boomers]
“[Insert Generation] Isn’t Financially Prepared for Retirement” ... [answer: Baby Boomers]
“[Insert Generation] & Retirement: How Bad Is It?" ... [answer: Millennials]
No matter how differently Baby Boomers and Millennials view the world, we find common ground on at least issue: our daunting financial futures. As an early-30s Certified Financial Planner™ who built a financial planning company specifically for my generation, I’m attuned to both generations’ perspectives: many of my clients have dealt with significant financial stress since they entered adulthood, and they’re concerned that they will experience the same retirement challenges as their parents.
Despite this shared plight, both groups still devote too much energy to debating each other’s faults and mistakes, from the American institutions that Millennials have killed to the self-centered economic decisions that Baby Boomers have made. No matter how well-founded some of the complaints may be, this focus just perpetuates an unproductive blame-and-complain cycle. Our parents’ generation may disagree with some of our habits and preferences, and we may feel angry about the financial system that we have inherited, but I’m inclined to believe that we’re all ready to move past this point.
The present reality feels stressful for both groups, and I imagine that almost everyone wonders when we can transition from bleak navel-gazing to proactive, hopeful strategizing. But how do we get there?
That answer starts with empowerment. My generation may be fatigued from the economic hurdles that we encountered out of the gate, but we’re still very young. If society has shifted an increasing amount of financial burden on to our shoulders, then we’ll at least need to focus for now on the circumstance we can control. We can strengthen our long-term financial security with the right combination of knowledge, skills and attitude — and this is precisely where our two distinct generations can embrace our differences.
Baby Boomers have perspective and experience that we can’t even begin to appreciate, and we’ll need that insight to make better decisions for ourselves and our own children. Our generations should focus on interacting with more mutually beneficial purpose, starting with the following four actions:
No. 1: Engage in Skill Exchanges
With each new scooter app and Kanye meme, Baby Boomers lean more heavily on younger generations for help with technology and cultural shifts. Millennials, meanwhile, need help identifying and building a unique skill set to protect themselves from wage stagnation and job insecurity. Our life stages may differ, but both groups need to constantly update their knowledge and skills to boost their financial security. We need to become more open and intentional about devoting time to developing and sharing our skills.
No. 2: Share Networks
For the Baby Boomers in leadership roles, evolving economic trends require access to qualified job candidates who can quickly fill a hiring need. For the young people who seek more control over their income and schedules, the leap from a company salary to self-employment revenue actually isn’t that huge — even if they don’t inherently think of themselves as entrepreneurs. Both generations ultimately depend on strong networks for success with these objectives. Instead of just defaulting to happy-hour networking, Millennials should ask more often for specific help, and Baby Boomers should brainstorm who among their contacts might offer relevant guidance.
No. 3: Prioritize Policies over Perks
Baby Boomer executives have graciously embraced perks like ping pong tables and free cold brew as a way to appeal to my generation. These perks are nice, but they’re a commodity now, and, frankly, were pretty trivial from the start. Research suggests that employees actually bring the most energy and focus to the office when they can count on flexible schedules, progressive parental leave, affordable child care and mandatory vacation time. We may enjoy showing off that office slide on Instagram, but my generation isn’t much different in the benefits that we prefer.
No. 4: Encourage Salary Transparency
Employers long have treated salary information as secretly as parents approach household finances with their children. As gender and racial pay disparities have drawn more attention, though, young and old generations alike have started to realize that current workplace norms are not — and shouldn’t be — sustainable. Baby Boomers who embrace salary transparency stand to generate both goodwill and better effort from younger employees, who ultimately are just seeking fair, equal pay for the tasks they complete for their employer.
Baby Boomers, think back to the goals that you had in your late 20s and early 30s. Perhaps you wanted to purchase your first house, start a family, or become an expert within a certain industry. While I assume you weren’t using terms like “FOMO,” you probably weren’t all that different from us and our desire to achieve financial security. These similarities give me hope that we soon will start to reframe the tired narratives around our generations to inspire new, more uplifting headlines.
Kevin Mahoney, CFP®, is the founder & CEO of Illumint, which offers fee-only financial guidance specifically for the Millennial generation. He specializes in navigating the new financial decisions that arise during our late 20s and 30s as we try to balance work, relationships and children. Kevin, who is married with two young boys, holds virtual meetings at off-hours so that these conversations can wait until after deadlines, date nights and bath time.
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