It all started with a tweet. “OMG! 25 year olds should be saving £800 a month into their pension. CBA with that,” the offending sentence read. (That’s “can’t be arsed,” by the way.) And it came forth from the Financial Times’ Twitter stream with all the grace and subtlety of my mother trying to convince my boyfriend she’s an avid user of “the Facebook”.
To add insult, it linked to an article entitled “Why millennials go on holiday instead of saving for a pension”. Conveniently, I can now comment on the substance of that analysis because the article was made available to read in front of the FT’s paywall – because if millennials can’t financially plan for their geriatric years, then they’re hardly likely to be organised enough to have sorted out a digital subscription to the FT.
“‘Save money into my pension? I’d rather blow it on a holiday.’ This is the typical response of a millennial – marketing shorthand for 20-something – when you ask them about financial planning,” the opening paragraph claimed – and it’s a paragraph which makes me want to claw my millennial eyeballs out and then send them in a sealed bag to the FT’s offices as tangible representation of my supposedly tragic lack of foresight.
“Entitled and loaded with unrealistic expectations, millennials’ lack of brand loyalty and demanding behaviour makes them exceptionally difficult to attract as consumers,” it went on. “They want loads of pay, loads of power, and loads of stuff for free... The millennials may be annoying, but they matter.” Just to be clear, that means they matter from a marketing perspective.
All those unrealistic millennials, eh? Their unrealistic expectations of the world include things like fair pay, reasonable hours and a housing market that doesn’t price them out of owning property for the next 45 years.
On top of all of that, they’re not saving that bare minimum of £800 a month towards their pensions. Instead, their rented flats are filled with newly-commissioned oil paintings and virtual reality headsets (filled with panoramic photos of their latest adventures in Fiji). Sometimes I look out my window and I see these millennials gathered round bins outside Tesco Metro, burning their monthly pay cheques because they don’t know what else to do with them. If only someone had suggested to me that saving up for old age was wise then I wouldn’t have bothered building that scale model of the Taj Mahal out of £50 notes in my living room.
Granted, there followed in the FT piece an acknowledgement of student debt, the financial crisis and the fact that you’d have to be making a minimum of £60,000 a year to put away £800 a month. But mostly it diagnoses a collective personality disorder: millennials are demanding, selfish and individualistic. They’re pie-in-the-sky Corbyn-loving socialists or dangerous anarchists and they’ve ruined the Labour Party. They’re savvy (and poor) enough not to merely buy into a brand, and they’ve become increasingly concerned about the additives in their food, so they’re unreasonable narcissists with martyr complexes. They’re everyone’s worst nightmare. And who’s going to look after them when they’re old?
There’s a particular rage I reserve for baby boomers demanding charmless advice about how they can wring more money out of my generation, even though these are the landlords who own our houses and the CEOs who decided to replace entry-level jobs en masse with unpaid internships. It’s hard not to feel resentful of those middle-aged money-grabbers when you come home from your long shift to wistfully browse estate agents’ offerings, only to find that all the reasonably priced flats are earmarked for a “cash buyer only” or as a “buy-to-let investment”. And it’s hard to live up to their expectations of a 30-year-old – married, beautiful baby, small but perfectly formed house with a brand new kitchen straight out of the Wickes catalogue – if your only viable financial option is living in a shared house with three other people you barely know.
We millennials weren’t raised to have ridiculously high expectations of the world, we were merely raised with optimism. Our parents told us that if we worked hard we would reap the rewards. But in an age where your best bet at making money is to fork out for another new-build apartment, stick some students in it and wait for it to appreciate in value, that is simply not true.
You may work a 52-hour week, including night shifts and weekends; you may be a junior doctor; you may have £30,000 in student debt that’s going to come straight out of your salary as soon as you start earning; you may never have even bothered opening a savings account because there’s no point; you may even be aware that, if you did try to scrape together a deposit, it would take you a projected 15 years. But the proverbial straw that will break the camel’s back is that gaggle of 50-somethings in gilets who have gathered at the sidelines of your life to point and laugh, and to criticise what few choices you’ve had the luck to have made.
Optimism of the kind those baby boomers bequeathed their children is dangerous. It makes you believe in fairness. It makes you stay positive while you accept the pay cut, the blocked drain, the eviction, the systematic signing of your rights away by moneyed politicians. It makes you believe in a light at the end of the tunnel.
That’s the real problem with millennials. It’s not that they’re brats, it’s not that they “CBA” to save, and it’s not that they’re over-indulged – it’s that they believed what their parents told them.
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