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Houston expert on tips on overcoming financial uncertainty across different generations

Houstonians in particular expressed more stress than other communities in terms of household finances and physical and mental health. Photo via Getty Images

Whether you’re a millennial or baby boomer, financial uncertainty is not limited by age, with new data from Northwestern Mutual’s 2023 Planning & Progress Study revealing that most Americans are losing sleep at night because of it. Houstonians in particular expressed more stress than other communities in terms of household finances and physical and mental health, according to a recent survey.

While the types of financial stressors might vary across generations and cities, the most important step to managing financial uncertainty is initiating a conversation with an adviser. Just like going to the doctor regularly, routine financial check-ups are incredibly important to catch financial headaches early on and stay ahead of long-term financial health.

As a Houston-based financial adviser, I help my clients overcome their unique generational financial uncertainties by equipping them with tips and resources to get them on the path to financial wellness.

Understanding where financial uncertainty comes from generationally

  • GenZ: Studies have shown that even while Gen Z is the most confident that they’ll be prepared for retirement when the time comes, they still struggle with feelings of uncertainty on how to achieve their specific financial goals. In my experience, I have found that uncertainty among this age group often stems from a lack of financial literacy surrounding their finances. A recent financial literacy study revealed that Gen Z respondents averaged the lowest at 43 percent in answering finance-related questions correctly.
  • Millennials: Millennials equally suffer from feelings of anxiety about money, with 54 percent of millennial respondents in the P&P study indicating that financial anxiety causes them to feel depressed compared to just 20 percent of baby boomers. Millennials have lived through a pandemic, The Great Recession and slow economic growth, making their mental health and financial wellness a top priority.
  • GenX: Even while financial uncertainty typically starts to recede later in life at this age, Gen X is facing a turning point as they get closer and closer to retirement. Studies have shown that most Americans believe they will need about $1.27 million to retire comfortably and yet, I see many individuals only recognizing the importance of retirement planning between the ages of 40 and 50. With Gen X holding about six times more debt than their parents did at that age, it’s important for this age group to consider some proactive debt and retirement strategies.
  • Babyboomers: This group has the lowest amount of financial uncertainty, but that doesn’t mean it is nonexistent. I hear a lot of baby boomers state that they wish they had started investing sooner or they wish they had conversations about their finances sooner. As such, this group is typically the most concerned about managing their existing assets and living comfortably for the rest of their lives.

Overcoming financial uncertainty

  • Increase financial literacy: Both millennials and Gen Z grew up in the digital age and expect their financial experiences to be reflective of that. For employers with Gen Z employees, working with a Northwestern Mutual financial adviser on resources to increase financial literacy can be a helpful first step. This could include on-demand webinars, digital toolkits and interactive online portals to access and view their finances.
  • Ensure every dollar has a job: Across all generations, it’s important to ensure no dollar is wasted. In other words, understanding how much of your income should be allocated toward expenses, retirement, savings, etc. is crucial. I typically recommend a budgeting rule that no more than half of an individual’s income goes toward expenses.
  • Initiate financial planning discussions early on: While it may seem daunting, results from the P&P study show that an average of 76 percent of individuals who work with a financial adviser have an overall boost to confidence. With Gen Z often heavily relying on family members for money management, it is important that family members from older generations encourage them to start saving or to consult with a financial adviser at a young age.
  • Take proactive steps toward your finances: No matter what age you are, there are always active steps you can be taking with your finances. Consider increasing the contribution amount to your 401(k) savings plan or working with a financial adviser to diversify your existing investments – or talk to your financial adviser about refinancing opportunities or debt strategies that tackle higher interest loans you may have.

Whether you’re in your 20s or your 50s, financial advisers are uniquely prepared to help you at any stage of your life – and overcome whatever uncertainties you may be facing.


Chelsea Williams is a financial adviser at Northwestern Mutual. She's based in Houston and has clients across the country.

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