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When Lisa McCarthy pays her bills each month, there's barely enough to go around which is why this 36-year old isn't an investor. Like so many other Gen Xers, the money she manages gets spent rather than stashed.

OppenheimerFunds recently surveyed over 1200 people, mostly women, ages 21 to 34, about their spending and saving habits. Not surprising to anyone with kids in that Gen X age group, 71 percent of the women interviewed had some type of personal debt including student loans, car loans, mortgage payments, and credit cards. Men surveyed had the same kinds of debt, but didn't carry quite as much on their credit cards as their female counterparts.

Even with their debts, both sexes agreed that saving for retirement is important even though only about one-third participate in the programs offered by their employers.

When it comes to investing, more men invest in stocks than women, (43 percent to 37 percent); more females buy bonds than males ( 39 percent vs 24 percent): more men own money market funds than women (29 percent to 24 percent): and, men tend to invest more in mutual funds than gals ( 40 percent to 33 percent).

Ask these young people about the long-term performance on various kinds of investment instruments and less than half knew that the best returns came from the equity markets. When questioned about which investment went up the most over the past 30 years, 41 percent said stocks; 21 percent didn't know; 18 percent thought it was money market accounts, 9 percent thought it was CDs; 6 percent, bonds; and 5 percent savings accounts.

Even though most Gen Xer's knew that savings accounts didn't return much over the long haul, it is the one spot they often chuck retirement dollars: Sixty-five percent put some or a portion of their retirement money into savings accounts. And while both Gen X men and women think that they'll live at least until age 80, when asked if they knew they had a 50-50 chance of living until their late 80s, only about half would save more money for retirement.

Rifle through the results of the survey and you'll see that today's Gen Xer probably isn't much different than their parents or younger siblings are---most would rather spend the bulk of their disposable cash on stuff rather than on the long-term goal of retirement.

"I'd rather spend $200 for great tickets to see AC/DC than put that money into a retirement account, " says McCarthy, a Ft. Lauderdale resident. "You know, live in the moment. And, I don't have a lot of extra money. If I were making big dough and had lots of money, things might be different."

It's easy to understand McCarthy's thinking. But the one thing she's missing is that it doesn't take "big dough" to start a long-term investment plan. All it takes is a desire to do so and a plan that's doable.

For example, in McCarthy's case the first thing she can do to improve her financial status is a no-brainer: Move the money she's got in her bank savings account into a money market mutual fund. That simple transfer ought not cost her a penny and will at least double the interest she's earning on those dollars.

Her second move is a tougher one--- deciding to become a long-term investing. Once that decision's made, the one that follows is figuring out how much money you can live without from your paycheck. McCarthy admits that she could invest $50 or $100 a month if she put her mind to it. If you're like her, there are hundreds of mutual funds that you can invest that amount of money into each month. So, there's no excuse for her, or anyone else who has put off investing, not to set up a personal or qualified retirement account today and begin to contribute to it on a regular monthly basis.To read more articles, please visit the column archive.

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