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Strapped for Cash

A cross-generational checkup

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Many Canadians of all ages are feeling it: financial pressures that don’t seem as if they’ll be letting up anytime soon. And while inflation and other global issues affect everyone, the specific impacts and outlooks vary across generations.

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The socio-economic backdrop

A confluence of factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russo-Ukrainian War, and the swiftly widening gap between rich and poor, are driving some of the financial pressures we’re feeling in our day-to-day lives. Now, the average Canadian is contending with increasing interest rates, inflation, and the rising cost of groceries. In the first quarter of 2023, TransUnion reported a record high in overall consumer debt in Canada.

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Retired boomers (born between 1946 and 1965)

At first blush, boomers don’t appear to have it too badly: This generation’s net worth is much higher than previous generations. However, the “Great Recession” (2007 to 2009) made a substantial dent in their income and home values.

Boomers are now contending with debts and health care costs in their post-working life. A Sun Life survey found that 20 percent of Canadian retirees are still making mortgage payments and that over half have unpaid credit cards.

But this needn’t be the end of the road: experts say it’s never too late to build a financial plan to help get you back on track. They also recommend educating yourself about your pension plan, CPP, OAS, RRSPs, and RRIFs.

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Generation X (born between 1966 and 1980)

Generation X—the sandwich generation, often contemporaneously caring for parents and children —already carry a heavy load. Other chief concerns for this generation include retirement, monthly expenses, and job security. In one 2023 American survey, only 12 percent say an inheritance will make up part of their retirement income and 46 percent do not believe they have enough saved to live comfortably in retirement.

When it comes to retirement, talking about how you visualize this time in your life can help motivate you to save. Set a savings goal, and consider setting up an automated savings plan along with maximizing your company’s registered retirement savings plan programs.

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Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996)

In comparison with baby boomers, millennials have shelled out more to pay for the cost of college, and the cost of home ownership has increased exponentially since the boomers were 40. This has impacts on millennials’ bandwidth to save for retirement and home buying, let alone their day-to-day needs.

Many millennials (and Gen Zs) have taken advantage of the cost savings associated with remote or hybrid work. More than a third of millennials say working remotely has helped them save money by cutting costs on expenses such as clothing, commuting, and dry cleaning.

Experts also suggest paying off debt while also saving for other financial goals, and creating a monthly budget.

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Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012)

Fledgling adults have never had it this tough: research by Deloitte from May 2023 suggests Canadian Gen Zs are more likely to feel stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed about their finances than any other generation. The cost of living is of great concern for this generation, many of them living from paycheck to paycheck and worrying they won’t be able to cover their expenses.

In a 2023 Canadian study, 37 percent of Gen Zs (in contrast with 21 percent of the boomers surveyed) agreed that financial advice would be more beneficial if it focused on the emotional aspect of money management.

Conscious Economics—a not-for-profit organization headquartered in Canada focused on economic education and financial literacy programs—recommends that Gen Zs find their “emotional support human,” someone in their circle who can provide guidance on navigating one or more of the financial steps they’d like to take next.

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Cozying up to your cash

Our path to healing our relationship with money is the same regardless of our age, says Aseel El-Baba, CEO of Holistic Optimal Wealth. In her experience as a financial therapist, she has found that the biggest difference in how the generations handle financial stress comes down to their level of emotional literacy.

That’s because improving our financial emotional well-being starts with an awareness of how we relate emotionally to money. For instance, it could involve engaging in feelings that come up for you when you are trying to pay your credit card debts.

El-Baba also endorses building a relationship with money and seeing it as an entity you’re getting to know and trust.

One way to build that relationship involves scheduling a “money date,” says El-Baba. The date could include elements such as pouring yourself a glass of your favourite beverage, lighting candles, and finding a cozy seat before delving into money matters.

“Now you’re associating money with things around you, and it’s something you start looking forward to,” she says.

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Golden years?

A special look at seniors 

Retirement may not be as rosy as it sounds: in Canada, seniors are among the most financially vulnerable.

For example, an article released by Statistics Canada in 2019 looked at changes in debt, assets, and net worth among “senior Canadian families” (described as families whose major income earner was at least 65 years of age) from 1999 to 2016.

By 2016, the proportion of senior families with debt was 42 percent, up from 27 percent in 1999. Consumer debt increased from 24 percent to 37 per cent. It’s suggested this all could be due to factors including easier access to credit, rising house prices, and consumerism.

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At the mercy of outside influences

In a 2023 Canadian survey, eight in 10 Gen Z respondents agreed that external factors, including inflation (78 percent) and the cost of everyday essentials (75 percent), influenced their ability to manage finances.

If you or someone you know is struggling financially, remember that Food Banks Canada is there to provide support when needed. Visit foodbankscanada.ca to locate the nearest food bank near you, or to find out how you can support Food Banks Canada’s important work.

This article was originally published in the January 2024 issue of alive magazine.

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