On the latest episode of 'Millennials Are Idiots', we have a painfully privileged millionaire berating my generation for choosing brunch over house deposits. Ignoring the mathematical inaccuracy of this claim and the fact that home ownership makes little financial or logistical sense, I do think that criticism indicates a wider cross-generational miscommunication.
The contrast between buying avocado toast (or takeout coffee or spirulina bites or bubble tea) and saving up for a house illustrates the gulf between the values of my generation and older people. Millennials are not dumbasses who fail to understand that money spent on brunch cannot be used for a deposit. We don’t splurge all our money at Pret, then scratch our heads at the sight of a negative bank balance, forlornly asking “Where did it all go?” We are not too stupid to realize that it is possible to make your own avocado toast.
The point is that millennials tend to have different values to our parents and grandparents. On the whole, we don’t dream of a detached house with a picket fence and 2 car garage. Or of a marriage that lasts a lifetime. Or of 2.4 children trotting off to school in their neat uniform to get straight A's and make us proud. Or of a stable 9-5 job where we stay for decades, working our way up the ranks until retirement.
Nope. We prioritize experiences over possessions. Avocado toast isn’t just a meal. It’s an opportunity to spend time with friends. Or to try out and support the cute new independent vegan cafe in town. Or it provides somewhere to work for the afternoon, for those of us who don’t have an office and need some way to force ourselves out of pajamas. Or it’s an opportunity for a bit of luxury on a day when we forgot to buy groceries and need cheering up. I don't even particularly like coffee, yet I head to a cafe almost every day because working remotely requires a change of scenery if I plan to retain my sanity.
Most of the things millennials are criticised for have a deeper meaning than it would seem on the surface to those who grew up in a different world.
Maybe we like tattoos because they provide a sense of permanence in a world which sometimes spins too fast, where people come and go and nothing is certain. Maybe we prefer polyamory, open relationships and one night stands because so many of us saw our parents torn to shreds by messy divorces. Maybe we value travel because we see chunks of the world getting destroyed each day and we want to experience it before it’s gone. Maybe we don’t want kids because we are scared of the world they will grow up in. Maybe we heard our parents and grandparents lament that they have worked too hard, not taken risks, settled down too young or not followed their dreams and we don’t want to do the same. Maybe we want to found our own companies because we’re sick of corporate greed and want to change a tiny slice of an industry.
The reason I, personally, am quite happy to spend money on brunch and takeout coffee is because I have no intention of spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on a house, car, expensive possessions and wedding. I would much rather invest in experiences while renting, taking buses and making do with minimal belongings. Though I’m partial to brunch, I’m not clueless about finance. And still, the staff at my favorite lunch haunt, coffee shop, and bar all know my usual order off by heart and greet me by asking how the writing is going. Millennials aren’t financially illiterate. We just have different priorities. With the proliferation of personal finance blogs, being illiterate on the topic has become a choice.
Switching to a minimalist lifestyle lead to some dramatic changes in my perspective. One of the biggest realisations has been understanding that home ownership is not an intrinsically important goal. On closer inspection, it makes very little sense. We forget that a house is just another item we have been socialised to covet. Home ownership has become the ultimate signifier of maturity, success and achievement. It's funny how many of the things we are told are the biggest milestones in our lives -buying a house, learning to drive, getting a degree, a wedding- happen to involve spending large sums of money. I am certainly not opposed to any of those, but I do think we need to stop measuring people's success by how many expensive purchases they tick off a predefined list. It is yet another unseen script we follow without thinking.
Those of us who chose brunch and travel over mortgages have realised something important; years of self-denial for the sake of future stability does not make anyone happy. Autonomy and the ability to treat ourselves on a regular basis do. Although big purchases have their places, we are defined by the day to day choices we make with our money.
People set their priorities based on what makes the most sense to them, given the current cultural, economic and personal climate.
A home, car and dramatic wedding might have once made perfect sense. They don't anymore. That is not a moral failing, it is a simple manifestation of the fact that the world changes and someone is always going to get annoyed.
Heck, in 20 years I will probably be blogging my frustration about young people selling their kidneys to pay for Hyperloop tickets or something. For now, I'm going to enjoy sitting in this coffee shop with mismatched chairs and plants everywhere, with my black Americano and turkey sandwich. Maybe I'll even take some selfies and book a tattoo later.
Edit: I love this calculator which shows how long it would take to save for a house if you stopped eating out at your current rate. For me, it would take 19.2 years to save up for the 20% deposit on an average house in my current neighbourhood (which isn't even particularly expensive.) Give it 80 years and I can buy an entire house, just in time for my 99th birthday.