With baby boomers and millennials grabbing many of the marquee financial headlines, Catherine Collinson, president of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, called Generation X "the neglected middle child."
In a study of 36- to 49-year olds, research from Transamerica's "Retirement Reality Bites Unless Answers Are Implemented" revealed most of the demographic is still struggling to cope with the aftermath of the Great Recession. While 57 percent of respondents said they are in the process of recovering from the financial downturn, only 14 percent said they were not affected by the recession and just 12 percent claimed they were fully recovered.
Nearly three-fourths of respondents said the Great Recession negatively impacted their fiscal standing, as 12 percent lost jobs and one-fourth either had their hours or wages reduced. Homes values hurt the generation even more. More than one-third of respondents said they lost value on their homes or other investments because of the recession, with 4 percent losing their homes altogether.
Finding the Right Path
Just 24 percent of Generation X respondents said saving for retirement was their top financial goal, as nearly half are placing emphasis on current needs such as covering living expenses (21 percent) or paying down their debt (27 percent).
"It's really common for people to never plan for retirement," Nancy Coutu, an Illinois-based financial planner, told USA Today. "They are so busy planning their everyday lives - first they go to college, get a job, then they get married, have kids and buy a house. All of a sudden they are 50-something and it's like, 'holy cow.'"
In spite of those less-than-stellar financial statistics, it's not too late for Generation X to right the ship and live comfortably in retirement. The median amount of retirement savings Generation X workers believe they will need is $1 million, although 31 percent stated they believe they will need to save $2 million or more.
Collinson said people have the ability to change their "retirement destiny," but they need to strike as soon as possible.
One of the first steps Generation X needs to take is saving more money. While it's easier said than done, the demographic should utilize any retirement savings programs offered by their employer. That could include a pension plan or a 401(k). Coutu told USA Today people need to figure out how much they'll need to live comfortably in retirement. The report from Transamerica stated just 12 percent of Generation X respondents had used some type of retirement calculator.
"I see these 50-somethings all the time," she said. "They say, 'How do we figure this out? We saved a little in a 401(k) and some in an IRA.' But they have no clue how to figure out how much they need for retirement."
One thing is for certain: Don't tap into a 401(k) plan for something other than retirement. The Transamerica study revealed 27 percent of Generation X respondents tapped into their 401(k)s for intentions other than saving for their post-employment years.
Next Avenue reported many people take out loans against their balances or cash out of their 401(k) when they swap employers. This is not a good idea.
Create an Emergency Fund
A large portion of people are tapping into their retirement savings when adversity strikes, but that is what an emergency fund is meant for.
"If we learned anything from the recession, it's that if you find yourself unemployed, you need a cushion to carry you over," Collinson said.
So think about creating an emergency fund. It can act as a safeguard against going into retirement funds in case an unfortunate event were to strike.