Figure out Generation X, and you will have instant access to their pocketbooks. They like outdoor activity and shopping for expensive clothes, and they don't want a long commute to work. They are just as likely to spend their time skiing downhill as sitting in front of the TV, buying trinkets and toys on the Home Shopping Network. Gen X women are better educated than their mothers and grandmothers, but they are more likely to take time off after they have children
And unlike their parents, Gen Xers are not looking for their dream house, according to the marketing experts who are keeping an eye on them. They want to gain a financial foothold, and look at buying a house as a smart move to make money, not a place to put down roots.
One reason they are getting into the housing market at a younger age is that financial options are attractive, says John McIlwain, senior resident fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Land Institute. They have very little equity, and many have opted for adjustable rate mortgages or even negative amortization mortgages, where the mortgage debt increases when the monthly payment doesn't cover the entire principle and interest due.
“They are very vulnerable,” he says. “They are probably the most vulnerable age group to the change in mortgage rates.”
Several factors ring true across the spectrum that affect how much money Gen Xers make and how they spend it. Typically, the couple in a household both work, but their lifestyle doesn't always show it. The price of buying a house is less a concern for Gen Xers—42 percent—compared with their parents—51 percent, according to a study by International Communications Research for Century 21 Real Estate LLC.
But they are following the patterns of other generations in settling down, with many younger people and singles gravitating to cities, and then moving out to the suburbs as they get married and have children, says McIlwain. However, Gen Xers are also more concerned than their parents about how long it takes to commute to work. Eight percent of Gen X respondents are concerned with proximity to work, twice as many as the baby boomers who are clogging the roads, according to the Century 21 survey. “We don't want to drive an hour to work each day,” says Gen Xer Patrick Slevin, founder and CEO of a public relations firm, the Slevin Group.
“Gen Xers don't want to live to work; they want to work to live,” says Slevin, “They want to spend more time at home with their families and experience life beyond the cubicle.”
On average, Gen Xers have purchased two homes by the time they are in their mid-30s, according to the Century 21 survey. Gen Xers are more likely to buy a home, based on its appreciation value than their parents who bought a house based on life events, such as marriage or children.
But they are facing frugal times compared with their parents. The cost of health insurance is taking a bigger chunk out of their paychecks. They are under pressure to save more for their own retirements, and as gas prices keep going up, it's affecting the cost of living at every level.
Furthermore, real wage growth has actually dropped, especially for Gen X men. Gen Xers are carrying 70 percent more debt than baby boomers did when they were that age, and most of this debt is from housing. These trends lead to less big spending among Gen Xers than baby boomers. Only the top 1 percent of Generation Xers are big spenders, touting their wealth, compared with the top 10 percent of boomers.