At what point does the penny drop that you’re rich? Is it the first time you nervously laugh as your friends complain about living paycheck-to-paycheck when you realise you could buy their home outright? Or when you notice that you haven’t checked the price on a piece of clothing before handing it to the cashier in months? Or when your platinum credit card drops onto your marble-floored doorstep? Maybe it’s when you can comfortably use #richkidsofinstagram without irony.
For millennials - the generation that is universally seen are doomed when it comes to their finances (and just about everything else, too) - expectations seem much lower.
For those that went to university, two thirds will never pay off their debt, according to the Student Loans Company. The housing crisis means that one in four people aged between 20 to 34 live with their parents - a figure that hasn’t been that high since 1996. Meanwhile, the lackluster jobs market means that they have little hope of improving their financial prospects as more than half of the UK’s graduates are not in jobs that require a degree. On top of this, a recent survey showed that 40 per cent of households earning over £100,000 said they were unable to live comfortably. Which leaves little hope for those stuck on the average UK salary of £27,000 or less. Meanwhile in London, those earning less than the average London salary of £37,000 can’t afford to live in two thirds of the capital.
So, what would it take for young people to feel like they were in the money? Being able to pay their rent without sweating about eating and getting to work every day? Being able to mortgage a house at an age which won't leave them worrying that they'll die before they can make the repayment? Or not having to choose between a baby or a career because they can't afford to commit to both?
At the same time, do any of them really care? Perhaps not being tied down to a home or having a stable job is liberating? (Although most would probably argue that just having the option to regret an old-fashioned lifestyle would be nice).
Emma, a 26-year-old who works for a credit card firm in Brighton, puts it simply: “we are ‘generation f***ed”.
“I’d have to earn at least £50,000 or more to feel rich. I'm not likely to be able to own my own home - which actually is not a huge thing for me because I have issues with the ownership of property - but I do feel like I'm never going to have the security to support myself without another person.”
“I'm more dependent on my boyfriend than I'd like to be in so much as if we weren't together I really don't know what I'd do or where I'd live.”
“We might not be together forever and I don't want to have to house share with stranger for the rest of my life. It's a huge worry for me.”
“If I had no outstanding bills, like zero bills, I would feel wealthy,” says 28-year-old Jon from Virginia, imagining a scenario only possible if he owned his own electricity firm.
“I would only feel wealthy if I got to a point where I didn't need to check my account, which only happens if my income consistently beats my outgoings,” says Hamid, a 29-year-old doctor from London based in Australia. “My income now massively outweighs my outgoings when I was a student, during which time I was actually pretty happy. But obviously as we make more money our outgoings increase to match our incomes. Which means basically, I'll never really feel wealthy.” However, he sees wealth as relative. He knows he is more privileged than most people in the world.
“It's weird. Objects are only valuable to a person in terms of their net worth,” he goes on. “I'd love to own a Porsche, but it's basically unattainable for me, while Zuckerberg could total one for fun and it would never cross his mind again. Similarly if I'm full in a restaurant, I won't finish my meal, though to someone else those leftovers are more than they'll eat all week."
"To me," says Shana, a 26-year-old from France who lives in London and works in marketing, "feeling wealthy would mean not only not having to worry about money but also being able to treat myself more often. I'd be able to afford an expensive holiday without worrying about my bills the next month, it would be being able to buy a nice dress or going out at a restaurant without checking how much things cost just because I know I can."
Anne, a 26-year-old artists from Brighton is even more specific. For her, wealth includes being able to save a measly £20 a month.
“If I had enough money to know that I'd be able to pay all of my bills, go out to do at least four nice leisurely type things a month - like the cinema, for a meal, drinks or similar - and be able to put away about £20 or more each month towards a holiday, without fail every month, then I'd feel wealthy. If I knew that I could definitely afford all those things, no matter what, without having to worry at all that I might not be able to afford something, I think that I'd feel very wealthy.”
“Even so,” she goes on, “I can't say that's true for me yet but sometimes I still do feel wealthy just being able to pay my rent and buy some food here in Brighton. I see so many people all around me really struggling these days and have had less money in the past than I do now, sometimes I do already feel pretty wealthy. Other times I'll be chatting with some of my very privileged colleagues and then remember what a pauper I actually am.”
Mollie, a 24-year-old based in London who works in the media, takes a more positive view. She's not sure what she'd do with a lot of money, anyway. “I think if I were to earn £80,000 a year I would feel pretty rich. Right now, that doesn't seem like it's ever going to happen though. The thing is, on my far lower salary, I already live a very nice life and am really happy so to be honest I don't know what I'd spend all that money on if I ever earned it!" she says.
Whether millennials find it liberating to be rid of the security of owning an home or a stable job, or simply anxiety-inducing, it seems they have little choice but to grin and bear it.
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