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In our opinion: It’s not just millennials — every generation has a frightening savings problem

When it comes to understanding how survivors of the Great Depression felt about saving money, statistics are difficult to come by. But those who knew anyone from that generation may have heard a frequent mantra from that day:

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

That sounds quaint today, but the principle behind it is as current as your pocketbook.

Members of the so-called millennial generation have a savings problem. A new survey from Charles Schwab found that 62 percent of these folks (defined as being between 23 and 38) say they live paycheck to paycheck. Only 38 percent of them reported feeling financially stable.

This is in line with a recent study by the National Institute of Retirement Security, which found that two-thirds of millennials have so far saved nothing for retirement.

But it may be too easy to pick on millennials without understanding the nuances behind these numbers. Also, while financial problems appear to be growing with each successive generation (perhaps the farther removed we get from the Depression-era generation), the older folks aren’t doing so well, either.

The same survey found 53 percent of baby boomers living paycheck to paycheck, a figure that may be described as scandalous given their advanced stage in life. Meanwhile, 60 percent of Generation X reported themselves in the same condition.

Millennials suffer from unusually high amounts of college loan debt. Their median loan debt is $19,000, according to Pew Research Center. That compares to $12,800 for Gen Xers when they were the same age. They also carry credit card debt.

But even that doesn’t tell the full story. A huge gap exists between the earnings of college educated millennials and those with only high school diplomas. Significantly, the more educated members of this generation tend to marry and start families at a higher rate than those with less education. Generally speaking, marriage and family tend to lead to more responsible financial practices.

Statistics only go so far, however. It can be easy to find excuses for why Americans aren’t financially stable. The cures, however, are fairly simple.

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Farnoosh Torabi, personal finance author and host of the “So Money” podcast, told CNBC it can be a question of mindset. People of all ages should surround themselves with people who will help them save, not entice them to spend. That can be difficult in a consumer-driven economy, where advertisers bet sizeable sums they can entice people to spend.

People who survived the Great Depression didn’t have a lot of those pressures, nor is it necessary for people today to live as sparsely as many of them did.

But learning to make do or do without is a skill worthy of any generation, and one that will pay big dividends in life, regardless of what life might throw your way.