Are you a member of the overlooked Generation X? If you were born between 1965 and 1980, you are "America’s neglected middle child" according to Pew Research. Gen-Xers are overshadowed by the larger and louder Baby Boomers and Millennials. So who’s looking out for you?
The reality of finances becomes a focus of every generation at some point. For Gen-Xers, now is the time to take control of your financial future, and you have the resources and resolve to do it!
Hey, Latchkey Kid: Latch onto some Savings
I’m a Gen-Xer. If you are too, then you remember when we were dubbed "latchkey kids" because we came home from school to an empty house. Maybe both parents were working or single parenting and there were minimal after-school care options unlike today. Our sitters were Mike and Carol Brady of "The Brady Bunch." As a result of being home alone, we became the independent, do-it-yourself generation.
Well, when it comes to retiring comfortably, you need to be responsible and latch onto some savings. Make your savings automatic by contributing to your employer retirement plan directly from your pay. Your contribution will reduce your tax liability and your employer might match a percentage amount.
Ready to Divorce Yourself from Debt?
The divorce rate soared when we were children as our society transitioned from what researchers called the "cult of the child" to the "cult of the adult." While our parents were out finding themselves, we were figuring it out for ourselves.
Divorce can be ugly, stressful, and financially difficult. Guess what, so can debt! I know you might have student loans, because you went to graduate school. I know you might have credit card debt, because you really can’t afford the new TV. It’s time to divorce yourself from those liabilities. Review your budget and put extra dollars toward reducing those loans. You can figure this out! By doing so, you will improve your cash flow and reduce your stress level.
Sixteen Candles / Smells Like Teen Spirit for Education
I know we are burning "sixteen candles" at both ends (note: John Hughes film reference) and we have kids driving us crazy because they smell like teen spirit, but we still want to help our children reach their maximum potential. That means college. Are you saving for that?
One of the best vehicles for higher education saving is the 529 Plan. Investments within the plan grow tax-deferred and funds used for qualified expenses are distributed free of federal and state income tax. If you are an Indiana taxpayer with an Indiana CollegeChoice Plan you receive a 20 percent tax credit for contributions. The annual maximum credit is $1,000. These contributions should be made after you save for retirement and pay down liabilities. Think "cult of the adult."
Then: I Want My MTV
Now: I Want My Benefits
Did you see The Buggles’ "Video Killed the Radio Star" first broadcast on MTV? If not, you probably saw Peter Gabriel’s "Sledgehammer" or A-ha’s "Take on Me." When you weren’t watching "The Brady Bunch," you and other Gen-Xers were watching the latest music videos.
We transitioned from "I Want My MTV" to "I Want My Benefits." Make sure you are taking advantage of employer benefits such as health, life and disability insurance. Sometimes employer benefits are not sufficient and you need to purchase personal insurance policies. When the radio star was killed by the video, did she have enough life insurance to protect her family? If a sledgehammer fell on your foot and you couldn’t work, do you have enough disability income to protect your family? What about long-term care insurance? Do you really think your kids will hear you singing "take on me" when you can’t take care of yourself?
Don’t You Forget About Me
Remember that Simple Minds song? (Extra credit: Which John Hughes film soundtrack?)
Well, one way to be remembered is to implement an estate plan. Important estate documents include a Last Will and Testament, financial and health care power of attorney, and living will. You should also confirm the beneficiary designation of all life insurance policies and retirement accounts. Once in place, your estate plan and beneficiary designations should be reviewed every three to five years.
I realize that none of this advice is a "Thriller" (did you think I would leave that MTV video out?), but it will help you become financially independent and comfortable. If you can accomplish the goals mentioned, then your reality won’t bite and you can spend your retirement like Ferris’ day off. Bueller? Bueller?
Meredith Carbrey, CFP, is a Wealth Advisor with Bedel Financial Consulting, Inc., a wealth management firm located in Indianapolis. For more information, visit their website at www.bedelfinancial.com or email Meredith at email@example.com.