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Financial Literacy

‘We’re very different’: Gen X and Y compare their views on finance

As these two CPAs show, priorities and lifestyles can shift considerably between generations—especially when the economy is also evolving

Young woman discussing over smart phone with parents while sitting on kitchen island at homeThe younger generations’ tech savviness has an impact on the way they think about financial literacy (Getty Images/Maskott)

When we think of the differences between Gen X (people born between 1965 and 1980) and Gen Y (those born between 1981 and 1996), we often emphasize their contrasting views on the workplace, with Gen Y often considered to be less career-focused than their older colleagues.

But how do the generations’ views compare when it comes to finances? We asked two CPAs who belong to those cohorts themselves: Carolyn Goodwin, senior manager, operations, with CPA Canada’s corporate citizenship department (a Gen X-er), and Stephanie D’Souza, finance manager at ACTO Technologies Inc. (a millennial, or Gen Y).

Here is how they see some of the main differences.

CPA CANADA: What is the most important trait that defines and divides the younger generation from the other generational “norm” when it comes to finances?
Carolyn Goodwin (CG): I’d say the biggest difference has to do with affordability. Gen X were laser focused on getting a job, paying off student debt and getting into the real estate market. That dictated how we wanted to work and the kind of careers we wanted to get. But Gen Ys tend not to prioritize their career as much because they can never afford what their parents had. They know they might never become homeowners—unless they have family help or someone to co-sign with them.

Stephanie D’Souza (SDS): Yes, I also think Gen Ys are just not as interested in home ownership because they want to chase their passion, and that may require them to be somewhere else in the world.

They also want to enjoy their lives. They don’t want to be locked down with a 30-year mortgage. So I think the end goal has really changed.

CPA CANADA: How do the younger generations’ tech-savviness and ability to access data instantly via the internet change how they think about financial literacy?
CG: That tech savviness has an impact on where you go for financial advice. When I was growing up, we sifted through books or talked to parents or family members. But now, parents are too busy, so people are turning to fin-fluencers on social media to get advice.

SDS: Having access to so many resources also changes the way you approach investing. When the pandemic hit, a lot of millennials turned to robo-advisers and robo-investing. I don’t think previous generations would have been comfortable doing that. But we want to do things on our own. That’s why I think a lot of people also call us the “me, me, me” generation because we want to do everything for me, me, me.

We’re also cost-conscious. Gen Ys aren’t as interested as their parents might have been in having financial planners because it brings yet another cost.

Portrait images of CPA Carolyn Goodwin (left) and CPA Stephanie D’SouzaCarolyn Goodwin, CPA (left), is senior manager, operations, with CPA Canada’s corporate citizenship department. Stephanie D’Souza, CPA, is finance manager at ACTO Technologies Inc. (Photos provided)

CPA CANADA: The average age of marriage has been rising over the generations and people are having children later, if at all. How is this impacting savings goals?
SDS: With marriage it’s the same as with everything else. We don’t always want to go with the norm. We are quite rebellious. We’re getting to the root of existence and realizing we don’t need marriage to make us happy.

These days, too, a lot more women are freezing their eggs because they want to wait for the right time to settle down.

So we are focused on the end goals and we’re working backward to make our savings reflect them.

That said, I think we’re split. Some of us are really prepared and some are completely unprepared—in which case, our savings are all over the place.

CG: Some of my friends have kids the same age as mine who are just travelling the world—and their parents are funding it.

But the result is that the kids are now 30 years old and haven’t even completed a degree, or they are working on a second degree or postgraduate designation but have yet to enter the workforce.

What is their world going to look like? Maybe they are just waiting for their inheritance? After all, we are going to see trillions of dollars coming through as the baby boomers hand over their assets.

CPA CANADA: How do the generations differ in terms of their expectations regarding pensions and workplace savings plans?
SDS: Currently, with the cost of living being so high, cash is king and people don’t want to lock away their savings. So, rather than just offering registered savings plan (RSPs), employers are starting to bring in more flexible options. For example, they might help reimburse you for your student debt. I think we should see more of that.

CG: That’s right. For the first time, we have four generations in the workforce. And the same solutions won’t work for everyone. Employers should ask a planner sit down with hires and say, “OK, here’s your stage of life. Here’s what we’re going to offer you because this makes the most sense for a 20- to 30-year-old.”

That said, not everyone has a workplace plan. And that includes my son, who works for a private contractor. I encouraged him to have a life insurance and really good disability insurance plan. So he bought a great package to cover himself in the event of an accident at work.

Early on, I also had my kids read a book about financial independence, because you cannot expect your job to be your only source of income. You need to put a portfolio together. Your income should serve as the bonus. It takes a while to get there, but potentially you can.

CPA CANADA: In the end, do you think having access to so much information has made Gen Y more financially literate?
SDS: Not necessarily. It’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, we have all this information, but on the other, it’s hard to consume all that information at once.

Gen X seems more financially literate than we may ever be, because they were forced to learn. I think many of us rely heavily on the internet for that knowledge.

CG: Yes and no, there is so much information, and when it’s accessed, you have to wonder, Is this Canadian? Does it relate to our tax act? So you almost can’t believe everything you read or see. That is the beauty of the financial literacy resources at CPA Canada. They’re meant for all Canadians and they have been vetted by CPAs.

CPA CANADA: What is something new that you think the younger generation has brought to the workplace or would like to see in the workplace regarding financial literacy?
SDS: I think Gen Ys demand financial literacy the most. We either can’t or don’t talk to our parents about finances for a variety of different reasons, so we’re relying on employers to fill our knowledge gaps.

CG: Also, I think what young people need to learn in the workplace is that financial literacy doesn’t need to be scary. You learn it in pieces, little sound bites. We don’t need to talk to young people about real estate prices and mortgage prices when they’re not even in the market to buy a house. Instead, we can maybe talk to them about their TFSA or their RRSP because those are the vehicles they are using right now.


These CPAs are sharing money management and business advice on social media platforms like TikTok, YouTube and LinkedIn. And find out more about fin-fluencers.

Plus, stay on top of key financial issues with CPA Canada’s award-winning financial literacy resources, including the Mastering Money podcast and our innovative financial literacy publications, from surviving unemployment to planning for retirement and putting an estate plan in place.