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Are Baby Boomers Suffering from Financial Shame?

By Marc Miller May 28, 2016 Managing Money

Do you suffer from financial shame?

I ask this question because financial shame is far more common than most of us would like to admit. Everyone talks about how financially successful baby boomers are, but, this is just part of the story. Like every generation, we are struggling after the Great Recession.

I was shocked – and I think you will be too – when I read the article, “The Secret Shame of Middle Class Americans. Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. I’m one of them,” in The Atlantic this last month.

Take a moment to read this lengthy article because the author, a successful writer of 5 books, would clearly be considered middle class, but falls into the category of having trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency.

Federal Reserve Board Survey

The Federal Reserve Board runs the Survey of Consumer Finances every 3 years. The latest report had nothing earth-shattering in it, with the exception of one item. It is best stated by the author of The Atlantic article, Neal Gabler:

“The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?”

The author admits publicly he is one who did not have $400 to pay for an emergency. Essentially, he is coming out of the closet of financial shame.

Great Recession

The great recession wiped out a lot of baby boomer’s meager retirement accounts. They were not large enough to begin with, and now, retirement looks a lot farther away than we planned.

The great recession came at time when most of us had just recovered from the “dot com bubble.” This could be described as a double whammy, since the baby boomer generation was getting ready to enter its retirement years.

Although the stock market has recovered, most of our generation has not, for a variety of reasons.

  • Many of our generation lost jobs and became unemployed long-term. Many survived by raiding their retirement funds.
  • Our children graduated from school into the worst economy since the great depression. Many parents continued to support their children and allowed them to boomerang back into their homes.
  • What we hoped would fund our retirements – selling our homes for a big profit – disappeared overnight.

Does anyone really talk about this?

NO! Huge numbers of our generation wallow in financial shame.

Now is the Time to Act!

Unless you have been living under a rock, you’ve been watching the crazy U.S. presidential primary campaigns. We are seeing a lot of angry people come out and support a variety of non-mainstream candidates. For the first time, I am hearing from people who likely suffer from financial shame.

Many of our generation suffer from financial shame because we do not like to admit that:

  • We spent too much on our homes and lifestyles.
  • We did not save enough for our kids’ college educations.
  • We did not save enough for our own retirements.
  • We did not predict the double whammy of the dot com bubble and the great recession.

We will need to either delay retirement or consider unretirement. As my good friend Chris Farrell writes in his book, Unretirement: How Baby Boomers are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and the Good Life:

“Welcome to unretirement, a revolution in the making! The promise of unretirement is that it creates the income, the wealth, the entrepreneurial engagement, and the workplace transformation for dealing with our most troubling economic and social issues. Forget gloomy forecasts. Aging workers are in the vanguard of change and hope. Unretirement is an opportunity to seize.”

Baby boomers redefined society. Now, we will redefine what in means to live in the 2nd half of life. We need to come out of the closet of financial shame and talk about it. We need to work with our public officials and come up with solutions.

I have no real plans to retire. I want to do something I love, but work less. This is why I created Career Pivot.

Previously, I wrote a post called, Financial Insecurity in the 2nd Half of Life [Survey], where we offered a survey. We are still running the survey on Financial Insecurity, and I would be honored if the Sixty and Me community would participate. If you are interested in receiving the results of the survey, please subscribe to the Career Pivot blog.

Do you suffer from financial shame? Are you ready to open up and talk about it? What changes have you made to your lifestyle or work since the Great Recession? Please join the conversation.

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The Author

Marc Miller is the founder of Career Pivot, which helps Baby Boomers and others design careers they can grow into for the next 30 years. You can follow Marc on Twitter @careerpivot or Facebook.

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