I just finished reading Neil Howe’s older article for Forbes – Generation X And The New Frugality. If you literally have a few minutes, give it a read.
If I may go beyond the words in the article to describe the essence, Howe contends that we are seeing a fundamental shift in labor participation and personal expenditures due to the effects of generational churn. He contends that Gen Xers aren’t participating in the labor force or spending their money at the levels of the preceding Baby Boomer generation.
This concept fascinated me, so I decided to look a bit deeper.
First, I looked at my own Generation X lifestyle to see if it comported with Howe’s analysis.
For me, he seemed to hit the nail on the head. Years ago my wife and I made the decision to have her stay home with our first born, sacrificing the earnings she could have made if she continued in her corporate gig. We drive two old cars. We have old furniture. We don’t spend money on landscapers or house cleaners even though we have the means to do so.
I never thought of our lifestyle as being frugal, just on purpose. Fortunately, I held steady employment through the Great Recession, but didn’t come out unscathed. Going through that recession and seeing how other recessions have impacted my extended family over the years has made me nervous about spending all of our monthly revenue. As a result we put money in savings. Also as a result, I tend to spend money intentionally.
Our family seems to fit the mold that Mr. Howe was referencing.
But, do others in my generation live this same story?
I decided to investigate.
While doing some research, I came across this article from the Department of Labor’s blog – Spending Habits By Generation. This opened my eyes a bit.
Consider the following chart sourced from the Bureau of Labor statistics and found in the above article:
This tells a much different story about Generation X’s spending.
Of the categories listed in this chart, Generation X spends more than every other generation on everything save for entertainment. We spend more on housing, eating in, eating out, clothes, and the catch-all category of “other spending.”
This doesn’t seem to jive with the concept of the New Frugality.
What’s going on here?
Frugality implies limited spending. The chart shows that Generation X members really aren’t all that frugal en masse. Apparently we like to spend!
Maybe frugality as it is applied to Generation X is meant to imply something else. Maybe the word frugal really isn’t the right word at all.
Maybe the better word is intentional.
I have found fellow Generation X members to be way more intentional about the way they do things. There is no “that’s the way we do things around here” attitude among the Gen Xers I know. It’s more nuanced than that. The attitude seems to be more “is this right for me?”
Howe goes on to say that, “Some workers are ditching Wall Street jobs for more fulfilling careers with shorter hours, whether at a tech startup or as a playwright.”
Ditching Wall Street jobs for more fulfilling careers with shorter hours?
That’s not frugality. That’s intentionality.
Also from the article, “Today’s young moms and dads—by and large Xers—are prioritizing time with their children.”
Again, not frugality, but intentionality.
Members of Generation X tend to value different things. We value time with friends and our family.
We want to be present for our kids now because we understand that they grow up so fast. While our parents spent more time at the office and in meetings, we would rather spend that time throwing the ball in the backyard.
Many of us don’t necessarily thrive on the liquid stress that accompanies some ego-stroking, but life draining, careers that feature long hours, high stress, and high pay.
I have said a number of times that the only non-renewable asset we have is time. Money can always be created later. I have heard others say the same thing. Tim Ferriss has a similar outlook.
Better to live intentionally – doing things on purpose – than to live within the artificial strictures of now antiquated cultural norms and expectations.
So, where do you fit into this?
How intentional are you living?