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Is there a generation gap in saving?

Bank teller offers an insider's look at how young people manage their money.

By Karen Datko Nov 16, 2009 11:42AM

This post comes from J.D. Roth at partner blog Get Rich Slowly.

 

I’m old school: I went to the bank to make a deposit the other day. (I make most of my deposits in person, inside the branch.) While I waited, I chatted with the teller, whom I know from many previous visits. “I’m writing a book about money,” I told him. “What’s the one thing you wish you could tell people about banking?”

 

Save!” he said. He told me there’s a huge generation gap between savers and spenders. “The people who save are generally older. They don’t look like they have money, but they do. They’ve got a ton in their savings account and they chase the best CD rates. But the reason they have money is because they didn’t spend it when they were younger. They’ve been able to let it grow.”

“And that’s not what kids today are doing?” I asked.

 

“No way,” he said. “The young people I see spend all their money. They’re trying to impress their friends. They buy all this new stuff. Their bank balances are always low. They’re not going to have money saved like the older generation does.”

 

Then he gave me another great example. “There are people who come in here and you can see why they have money. You look at their account history, and the only thing that comes out is the big stuff, like their mortgage or their utilities. There aren’t a lot of $5 or $6 transactions.”

 

I laughed and said, “I’ll bet most people have tons of little stuff.”

 

“Oh yeah,” he said. “It’s all little stuff. But it’s that little stuff that kills you. That’s what will make it so you don’t have anything saved when you’re older.”

 

Before I left, I asked him if he had any tips or tricks I should put in my chapter on banking. We talked about a couple of ideas, and then he came up with something moderately clever (though it applies to just a few people): “If you’re going to overdraw your account,” he said. “Do it all at once.”

 

“What do you mean?” I asked.

 

“Well, let me give you an example. The other day, a lady called me to complain about overdraft fees. She’d been hit with a bunch of them at the same time. But when I looked at her transactions, I couldn’t believe it. She’d gone to the same grocery store four times on the same day, so she was hit with four overdraft fees. If she’d just gone once, she’d still have overdrawn her account -- but only once.”

 

The teller also mentioned that nobody seems to know their bank balance anymore. “They don’t use a check register,” he said, “so they have to call to ask how much they have. But the problem is that what we show you have and what you actually have can be two very different things. It can take up to a week for some transactions to show up. You should track your spending, and not just trust what the ATM says.”

 

I thanked the teller -- who looks like he’s 25, by the way -- and left.

 

I wonder if it’s true that there’s a generation gap in saving. Has the older generation always saved? Or did they start out trying to impress their friends, too? I feel like I’m at a middle point, moving from the “spend to impress” mode of operating to a “who cares what other people think?” way of life. The latter is more liberating and it helps my bank balance.

 

I’m going to try to find time to interview my neighbor for my book’s banking chapter. I think she’s a manager at a nearby bank. I’d be curious to see what advice she has for people. But really, it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of fancy things you can do with a bank account. As long as you’re saving, you’ve shopped around for a good account, and you’re not afraid to ask to have fees waived, I think you’re golden.

 

Related reading at Get Rich Slowly:

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