Everyone knows that there are two types of drivers in this world: Those that ask for directions and those that don’t.
The former often have the reputation for being a little more responsible — drivers who know their limitations and aren’t afraid to ask for help as long as it gets them to their destination safely and more efficiently. The latter are considered a little more reckless. These drivers are too confident in their abilities to get from point A to point B—or else just have too much pride to ask for help—that they convince themselves they know where they are going even when every sign points to them being really, really lost.
A new survey from TD Ameritrade finds that when it comes to financial matters, older baby boomers are often a lot like the drivers who don’t ask for directions. More specifically, this age group is less likely to consult a spouse when it comes to making budgeting decisions.
(One quick note: TD Ameritrade defines older boomers as being 65-plus, while the Census Bureau says the oldest baby boomers are 64 years old. But it’s important to keep in mind that there has never been an official consensus on how the generation is measured).
In fact, 71% of younger couples surveyed, defined as those between ages 35-44, report that they make decisions about managing debt as a team. Among the 65-plus group, 55% report making decisions together.
So to be fair, the majority of older couples do make decisions about financial matters as a team, according to TD Ameritrade’s survey. But it’s still a significantly lower number than the younger generation. Also, 26% of couples ages 65-plus report that the breadwinner alone makes decisions about paying bills, compared to 17% of couples ages 18-34.
Which brings us to another point about those two kinds of drivers: More often than not we think of that driver who refuses to ask for directions as being a male. Along those same lines, we think of the breadwinner as being the man of the house. “We have to be careful when we talk about these things because it may actually be the male boomer not having as much of a voice,” says Diane Young, director of retirement and goal planning for TD Ameritrade.
In other words, the breadwinner might actually be the woman of the house.
But Young concedes that “the boomers started following more traditional lives” as they got older. So even if both partners in the household were working there were still traditional roles that needed to be filled. The implication being that the men would likely take over the financial decision-making for the house.
The point of the survey, however, is not to ignite a battle of the sexes. What should be taken away from this research is that boomer couples would be best served working as a team to get their finances in order. And if they are carrying heavy amounts of debt, it’s probably time for them to pull over and ask for directions.
Young says that boomers “have had a tough road.” They are a part of the first generation that saw the pension get usurped to a large degree by the employer-sponsored retirement plan. Many boomers are taking care of both parents and children. Now many find themselves with credit card debt, with three different 401(k) plans from three different employers, with tuition bills and with the realization that after they retire they may have 20-plus years for which they need to stretch their money.
“They have also gone through several market upheavals,” Young says. “In a lot of ways they are paving the way and the younger generations are learning from their parents.”
So where should boomers begin the financial planning process? Young recommends taking your most recent tax return, making sure you have all of your financial paperwork in order, and figuring out where every penny of your assets are right now. Many financial services companies, including TD Ameritrade, have calculators to help investors determine their net worth. Young says most people actually undervalue what they are worth.
Once a couple has calculated its net worth they should then determine the amount of debt they owe. After this they can begin the process of saving for the future and paying down their debt. If it all seems too overwhelming, they should seek out a financial advisor to help them map out a plan.
“You should embrace the process and stick to your plan,” Young says. “When people do this sooner rather than later they will begin to see a difference pretty quickly. People need to open the envelope and look at their statement and not sit there and hope this mess goes away. They need to take ownership of their financial future.”