Boomers vs. Millennials: How Differently Do They View Money?

We found one of each and asked them.

Photograph by Donovan Witmer

Photograph by Donovan Witmer

You know the rap on boomers — those greedy oldsters who elected Donald Trump. And you know millennials — those special snowflakes who spend all their time on the Internet. We found one of each, a fairly typical father and son, and asked them, separately, about their philosophies on money. Dad Jeff Groff, 53, has worked in management positions in the health and dental insurance industries and is an Army veteran; son Matthew, 23, a pilot in the Army National Guard, bartends for extra cash and is engaged to be married. The pair recently went into business together, opening Fat Cow Coffee Roasters in Lancaster. 

PM: When you graduated from college, how much student-loan debt did you have?

JEFF: None. I graduated from the University of Virginia in 1985. My parents felt the best gift they could give me was a debt-free college education. I don’t think I fully appreciated that sacrifice at the time, but it struck me enough that I’ve always had the desire to pay that forward to my own children. I’ve encouraged them to find ways to try to fund 50 percent, but not through debt.

MATTHEW: I graduated in 2015 from the University of Richmond with zero student-loan debt. I was on a four-year Army ROTC scholarship that paid my tuition in full, along with a stipend for books. I was lucky enough to have my parents pay for my housing my first two years, and then I received an additional scholarship for running track and cross-country that paid for most of that.

PM: How long do you expect to work at the job you have now?

JEFF: Great question. As long as I enjoy it?

MATTHEW: I expect to serve at least the remainder of my six-year commitment in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. As far as my civilian job goes, I plan to bartend only until I can pull a salary from our coffee business. I plan on continuing the coffee business as long as it’s still fun.

PM: What’s a typical night out for you, and how much money do you spend?

JEFF: Fifty to a hundred dollars, which usually consists of my wife and I going to a dance lesson and then dinner.

MATTHEW: I’m a big fan of getting together over dinner and drinks, which will run me about $40.

PM: Where do you see yourself in five years?

JEFF: No idea. Depends on the answer to the second question.

MATTHEW: I see myself starting to think about children, and opening up a brick and-mortar coffee shop.

PM: Please rank these in order from most to least important: money, love, stability, happiness.

JEFF: 1) Love. What else is there? 2) Happiness. I’d rather substitute contentment for happiness. 3) Stability. I’ve found this is an illusion. 4) Money. Easy to rank this last when you have some, though.

MATTHEW: Love, happiness, stability, money.

PM: What did you learn from your parents about money?

JEFF: “It doesn’t grow on trees, you know!”—a phrase that somehow made its way into my own lexicon. Live within your means. Save and invest for the long haul; start young.

MATTHEW: I learned to take stock of where I’m at and where I want to go. I have memories of my father sitting me down at the dining room table with a piece of paper and helping me write out things to better visualize them.

PM: Rank these in order from most to least important: an active social life, owning a home, buying what I want, saving for retirement.

JEFF: Owning a home, saving for retirement, an active social life, buying what I want.

MATTHEW: An active social life, owning a home, saving for retirement, buying what I want.

PM: Jeff, do you feel your son is worse off than you were at his age?

JEFF: Not worse off; maybe not better off, though.

PM: Matthew, do you think your dad is proud of you?

MATTHEW: I’d like to think my dad is proud of me. From a young age, I’ve set goals and worked hard to achieve them while really focusing on being myself and developing into the man I want to be.

PM: What’s your biggest money concern right now?

JEFF: The cost of health care in the future.

MATTHEW: I’m quite content right now. I’m out there working hard to pay the bills while maintaining the lifestyle I enjoy. That said, I would love to be able to travel out of the country with my fiancée, which isn’t quite possible with my current financial situation.

PM: Rank these in order from most to least important as they pertain to your work: feeling fulfilled, making a difference in the world, making the big bucks, providing adequately for my family.

JEFF: These are hard to rank because I think they’ve held different positions at different points in my life. Now? Providing adequately for my family; making a difference, not in the world, but in the lives of those around me; making the big bucks, or at least attempting to be adequately paid for the value I bring to an organization;  and feeling fulfilled.

MATTHEW: Feeling fulfilled, making a difference in the world, providing adequately for my family, making the big bucks.

PM: If you had to cut back on your budget, what would go?

JEFF: Eating out and owning a nice car.

MATTHEW: Expensive beer!

PM: What’s your biggest splurge?

JEFF: Vacations.

MATTHEW: I tend to invest in quality goods. For example, when I moved into my new apartment, I invested in three really nice kitchen knives and a sharpener. I’m at that point in my life where if I need something, I’ll save up for a while and get something that will last.

PM: Do you feel fairly compensated for the work you do?

JEFF: Yes.

MATTHEW: On the military side, I’d say what I lack in monetary compensation I gain in fulfillment. I’m allowed to go fly multimillion-dollar helicopters a couple times a week and get paid to do it. I’m certainly not being compensated right now in my coffee business, but the sweat equity I put in will reap dividends in the future.

PM: How much money annually do you think a family of four needs to be comfortable?

JEFF: It depends on how you define “comfortable.” I heard a podcast recently quote a study that said incremental increases to income have a tangible effect on your quality of life up to about $75,000; after that, it’s all spent on “stuff.” So maybe $75K?

MATTHEW: I’m a little clueless when it comes to supporting children. That’s something that my fiancée and I don’t plan on mapping out for a little bit. However, at the risk of sounding super-unaware, I think we could work off a combined income of $60,000 to $70,000 and be pretty comfortable.

PM: How did your parents help you out financially?

JEFF: Paying for college—see the first question.

MATTHEW: My parents taught my brothers and me from a young age the value of saving, through a small allowance—I think a dollar a week in elementary school. We didn’t have things handed to us, though, so we all got summer jobs and learned the value of hard work and what can be gained through it. The biggest help of all was their offer to pay for all of us to go to college. That came with the stipulation that we study as hard as we could in high school and then apply for all available scholarships. Knowing we had that net, though, was huge.

PM: Was your education a good investment?

JEFF: Yes. I grew up. I learned to think. It was the pathway to my first job/career. It gave me a diploma from a recognized school.

MATTHEW: My education was a great investment. It set me up to be a lifelong learner, provided me with invaluable critical-thinking skills, and ultimately led to my commission as an officer. My education also led to internships that showed me what I didn’t want to do with my life, which nudged me into starting the coffee business.

PM: If you suddenly inherited $50,000, what would you do with it?

JEFF: I’d give 10 percent to the church and charity. I’d probably pay off any debt I had. I’d spend a little, maybe take a small vacation. And I’d put the rest into the college fund.

MATTHEW: I would throw it into my account that I have being managed by a financial adviser, to be used for a down payment on a farm. My dream is to have a good piece of land to live on and raise a family and to relocate our coffee business to a converted barn on the property.

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First published as “Money Talks: Boomer vs. Millennial” in the April 2017 issue of Philadelphia magazine.