Gen Y vs. Gen X: Is There a Wallet Difference?

A quick Callahan & Associates office poll uncovers interesting trends regarding not just what people use in their wallet, but why.


There will always be differences between generations.  As people working in the credit union industry and in a small office with multiple age groups, we see examples of these differences every day.  Much of our research focuses on national payment trends.  We know the trends on average balances, we see the rise of debit cards nationally, but we don’t often take the time to think about our own actions as financial consumers. Doing a quick poll around Callahan & Associates we found some interesting trends regarding not just what people use in their wallet, but why. We’ll show you the overall results below for our colleagues over 30 and under 30, and then let a member of each group explain how they approach their finances.

Let’s begin with a simple question: “How much cash is in your wallet right now?” The numbers differed between generations, but both indicate a declining use of cash. For those under 30, the weekly cash average maintained in their wallet was $15. 

“Cash takes up space in my purse and takes time to fish out and get the right amount- especially change.  There's just no need for it,” a 22-year-old Callahan employee said. 

“Cash is faster than card readers at low dollar places. It just makes sense for small everyday purchases,” argues a 35-year-old. In fact, for our slightly greyer Gen X employees, the average amount of cash carried was double that of the younger group. 

This difference plays out clearly in the answers to the next question: “How do you pay for everyday expenses?” One hundred percent of our co-workers surveyed under 30 prefer to use their debit card. “Debit is far more convenient, and I like that I can track the payments almost immediately online and know exactly how much money I have in my account.” responded one 26 year old. 

But it doesn’t stop at convenience. For younger staff, the fear of credit card balances was another key explanation for why most use their debit card for purchases.  As one 23-year-old explained, “I use debit the most, but it really depends on my mood. If I feel broke, I'll use my credit card, but if I have cash, I’ll use that. It helps me manage my account better.”

Once again our colleagues over 30 disagreed. As the graph above indicates, there was an even mix between debit, cash and credit. However, the motives for payment methods used were different. “My bank set up an easy program through which I can track my credit card rewards, and I find it easier to track the balance on my credit card than on my debit card because credit card purchases seem to be recorded in a more timely fashion.  Plus, I’m getting rewards!  Why would I ever put my pin in?” exclaimed a 31-year-old. 

Whether these numbers come as a surprise or affirm your already existing beliefs, they indicate differences between how people view their payment options.   Here at Callahan, younger employees see their debit cards as a tool for managing their expenses better while those slightly older (and maybe more mature) may already have a solid handle on their budget and feel free to choose multiple payment options. Simple questions like these are easy to ask your credit union members and could lead to new opportunities to help serve them better.





Jan. 15, 2007


  • This is definite proof that our world and our credit union members are constantly changing. In order to provide the best possible service it's important that a credit union constantly track the marketplace, know the different cultures that exist in their membership, and offer a good product mix.
  • I fall right at the tail end of Generation X, so I have always felt closer to my Gen Y friends and co-workers. However, my "wallet philosophy" seems much more in line with my fellow Gen Xers. I'm very surprised that at the difference in spending decisions and cash management a couple of years makes. If we want to grow and succeed, we need to anticipate these differences and design products and services that encompass them.