Treat : verb ‘an event or item that is out of the ordinary and gives great pleasure.’
Ah, millennials. The generation of soaring house prices, astronomical rent and avocados. We live in a ‘here and now’ age; one unconcerned by pensions or even by savings accounts. I realise that perhaps this is a generalisation, but few people I know in their twenties actually have an emergency fund to their name. Instead, the focus is upon paying the bills each month and then using the excess to facilitate a lifestyle. With credit cards readily available and even ASOS offering finance schemes, do we really need to worry about the future? The ‘treat yourself‘ mentality and the sense of entitlement that accompanies it is damaging us as a generation of spenders, rather than savers, and when that rainy day comes, none of us have any idea whether it’ll be a drizzle or a storm.
I want to put a disclaimer right here before I get a torrent of abuse that I am not referring to those living in poverty. I’ve got no real understanding of how horrific it must be to have no idea how the next food shop is going to be funded or whether rent will be met and if you want to read a good, honest post about that struggle then I suggest Mia’s.
Are we too entitled, or just having fun?
Most of the people I know earn enough to pay the bills and have something left over each month. To go out for dinner once a week or so, to get drinks after work and to place that Topshop order without really having to worry about how it’s going to be paid for. That’s great, but if after your Saturday night out and your new boots you’ve got next to nothing left before the next pay cheque lands, it’s arguably a really irresponsible way of living.
There is a sense amongst society that the millennial generation is a very entitled one, and to an extent I’d be inclined to agree. I include myself in that generalisation, by the way. We feel that we deserve nice things, we worked hard so we should treat ourselves and we begin to tie up stuff and money with self-worth. We say ‘yes’ at a moments notice to drinks out or to a weekend away but in doing so we are potentially neglecting our future selves.
Recently I saw an Instagram caption that referenced buying an expensive designer handbag as justified on the basis that the owner would never be able to afford a mortgage in London anyway. It makes a good, ‘likeable’ caption and I absolutely do not mean any negativity to the person who posted it, who was probably semi-joking, but it isn’t actually that funny that we’ve begun to prioritise transient ‘stuff’ over security. I know plenty of people who fully intend to own houses one day, but haven’t actually really stopped to think about how they will afford that or what they may need to sacrifice now to make that even a potential reality. I’m not naive; almost all of the people I know buying properties (especially in London) either have immense family help or have worked since the age of 16 and accessed ‘Help to Buy’ schemes. It isn’t easy and giving up the odd Starbucks isn’t about to amount to a deposit any time soon, but I do find the defeatist ‘fuck it, if I want a Gucci I’ll buy a Gucci‘ attitude a bit uneasy. A recent study in the US showed that 44% of millennials spend more money on coffee than they put into their savings. My espresso just got that bit more bitter…
In attributing the way we spend our money to our own self-worth and a sense of entitlement to own nice things, we have destroyed the concept of a ‘treat’. I see the phrase banded about excessively across social media and I’m guilty of using it too. A bad day is an excuse for a Dominos. A date is a reason to buy a new dress. A promotion justifies blowing the weekly food budget on prosecco. We will always find a way to justify unnecessary spending and when it seems that everyone does it, it becomes all the easier to succumb to what appears to be generational behaviour and to blame things beyond our control for why we have no money left at the end of the month.
Buying stuff makes us feel good, but the glow that comes with a new purchase is superficial and short lived and fundamentally money (unless you have an infinite source of it) comes down to priorities. Last year I had to spend about £100 on dental treatment, and recently I spent £152 on glasses. I resented every single penny. Yet I can easily justify dropping double that across the year on takeout food or even in a single transaction on ASOS. The reality is that I don’t know anyone who couldn’t cut back their spending, even a little. I often see people take to social media to vent frustrations about not being able to afford certain things but largely it comes down to considering the ugly truth behind how we choose to spend, or to save, our money.
I started earning money as young as I could, and I have always had savings of my own accord. Yeah, I know, ‘good for you Beth.’ Growing up I didn’t come from a wealthy background but I didn’t miss out either. My mum was no stranger to a credit card and when I became old enough to understand the impact of the debt that had been racked up to allow my siblings and I to enjoy a lifestyle, I vowed that I would never own one. That being said, my savings account would be far flusher if I thought twice about hopping in an Uber when its wet and I’m late. One look at my Deliveroo history makes me feel really bloody guilty because the amount of food that I could’ve got at the supermarket for the money spent is almost disgusting.
Personally, I try to put any ‘bonus’ money (freelance work above my usual earnings for example) straight into savings and I have a standing order set up out of my current account each month. If, after the boring bits and the bills are paid each month, we put even 10% of whatever disposable income is left aside most of us probably wouldn’t miss it, but it does slowly rack up. I would probably consider myself an ‘above average’ saver for my demographic, but I only have to print out a months bank statement and highlight all the unnecessary expenditure to shock myself into realising that I’m too blasé about money or too quick to justify a ‘treat’.
I realise this post won’t be sitting comfortably with all of you, money is an uncomfortable topic. I am not trying to preach that we should all start staying in all week and scrimping away every penny we have, in fact I don’t want to preach anything at all. Rather I’ve noticed a trend (in myself and amongst my friends, for a start) and I think its important to talk about uncomfortable things. I don’t hope to achieve anything from this post but to open a discussion about a taboo topic and as much as anything it’s my way of forcing myself to think twice and address my own spending habits. I can so easily wave off a £25 Chinese now and then, but four of them is a hundred quid and even just one takeaway a month is £300 a year. On Chinese food. And here I am buying the £10 ASOS version of the Gucci belt I want…