Gen X Lives Like It Never Got Over Graduation

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Conventional wisdom has it that older Americans -- think grandparents living on a fixed income -- set the cultural standard for frugal living.

Certainly anyone living on just a pension and Social Security may be justified in being creative with the household budget. But it's not really grandma and grandpa who lead the way when it comes to a spendthrift lifestyle. It's not their baby boomer kids, either (who have never really had a reputation as coupon-cutters).

No, it's those oft-overlooked members of Generation X, who apparently can teach the rest of the country a thing or two about living on the cheap in a weak economy.

That's the sentiment from a report by SymphonyIRI, a Chicago-based consumer-spending analytical firm.

According to the report, Gen X, as a group, is increasingly practicing "frugal ways," even though they hold a generally positive view on the economy.

That's an interesting point:

Even though Gen X holds a modestly positive view of the economy, members are still living within their means and holding firm to household budgets. That's more like their budget-conscious grandparents, who counted pennies during the Great Depression, than it is like their baby boomer parents, who spent willy-nilly in the run-up to the Great Recession.

The report also goes out of its way to note that Millennials, those Americans roughly 35 years old and younger, are even more of a penny-pinching lot -- understandable, given the high unemployment rate for that age group.

But Gen Xer's are generally employed and usually have money in the bank. So why are they tossing dimes around like manhole covers?

That's a good question, especially considering the lack of data on Gen X spending habits (SymphonyIRI calls them "the ignored generation).

One trigger might have been the stock market crash of 1987, which hurt Gen Xer's just graduating from school and entering the job market.

The study says:

Gen Xers were graduating from college and entering the adult world after the 1987 stock market crash and the recession that followed, so many were left jobless and moved in with their parents. This somewhat "bleak inheritance" shaped their future financial attitudes and shopping behaviors much like The Great Recession has influenced Millennials.

That "shaping" has led to some interesting budget-conscious moves by Generation X:

  • 37% buy consumer brands on sale rather than more expensive brands, (45% of Millennials do so).
  • 20% will "steer clear" of specific shopping aisles to avoid buying a pricey item, (compared with 22% of Millennials and 15% of suddenly hard-pressed boomers).
  • 69% make a shopping list before heading to the grocery store (more than both boomers and seniors).
  • 48% use coupons, and 49% take circulars with them when shopping.
  • 55% download recipes off the Internet, while an equal number download coupons off manufacturer and retailer websites.

SymphonyIRI says that the frugal habits picked up over half a lifetime by Gen Xers are deeply ingrained and will only strengthen as they grow older.

That's not a bad trend, especially if the economy continues to meander along at a glacial pace over the next decade or two.