Sam Dunn: It's common sense at last, but out of the mouths of babes
The 'yoof of today' are more grounded than we think, and maybe they'll sound the death knell of our spend, spend, spend culture
Sunday 26 November 2006
"Look, bro, it doesn't work like that - you won't always make a load [of money] and, if you mess up, you can lose it all easy," says the first boy, referring to stock markets.
"I reckon I'll get a house, though," his pal retorts, "when I'm in a job... and make money on that instead. Yeah, get a box place but do it up nice and move on to something bigger. The girls'll love that."
It was too much to ask for them to include pensions - and - at that tender age, probably a good thing for their health.
But if this banter between a couple of teenagers overheard in a tatty part of north London recently is anything to go by, the financial future of this country might not be as gloomy as predicted.
Clarion calls for Britons to save more, invest more, curb excessive spending, avoid racking up heavy debts and generally look after their personal finances are 10-a-penny these days.
Concerned at a populace in hock to credit and mortgaged up to the eyeballs while failing to save for retirement, politicians and business leaders are desperate to get the message for prudence out there.
So the confidence and knowledge of the two boys was illuminating: no financially illiterate "yoof" here. Clearly the message is getting through at one level, and, arguably, it's the most important level of all.
If such an attitude can carry on through their late teens, into their twenties and onwards, then there's definitely hope for a less credit-dependent nation.
Of course, much lies in their way - it's all very well being clued up when you're young and have little money to fritter away. It'll be a different story with a monthly salary coming inand banks and retailers desperate to push credit card and loan deals under their noses.
My biggest worry for them is today's spending culture - fuelled chiefly by a surging materialism and historically cheap credit - that often threatens to drown out everything else.
In a speech on the importance of long-term saving last week, Stephen Haddrill, director general of the Association of British Insurers, drilled it home. "We must attack the spending culture - as long as the word on the streets is that it doesn't pay to save, people will do other things with their money."
It's hard to disagree and such a sentiment is worth spreading.
But not every messenger gets it right. Last week also saw another crucial effort to drive home the importance of kicking the spending habit, but its impact was deadened by a crass and thoughtless approach.
David Cameron's Conservative Party is the culprit, its blunt tool a debt website called sort-it.co.uk. This sounds harmless enough but log on and consumers are offered three startling options: "Take the tosser test", "see the tosser inside", or - intriguingly - "look what my tosser did".
Click through a few pages and it becomes clear that the "tosser" in question is the impulse to overspend on credit cards. The site is actually helpful and offers some basic debt advice. But aside from possible revulsion at the vulgarity, website users might also genuinely take umbrage at the implied tone: that being in debt is idiotic.
It may well be for some credit-card junkies but there are millions of others for whom debt is a lifeline, a lifesaver and a vital tool that can be ably managed to keep personal finances in order.
A Tory spokeswoman says: "Not in a million years [are we] saying [consumers] shouldn't do their best for their families. But we are saying that there's a big problem out there." She is right on the latter point but such a mixed message on debt helps nobody.
The clumsy execution of a decent website undid good work earlier in the week when the party called for school pupils to learn how to tackle personal finances.
Maybe the politicians themselves could take a lesson or two.
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