I’ve just left university, I’m a journalist and I’m not Jeremy Clarkson. So when my bank statement came through announcing that I’d spent £100 in restaurants that month alone, my response should have been something other than ‘woops’.
‘Woops?’ echoed my mother, when she stumbled upon it later. “Woops?!”
“I know, I know,” I sighed, “I should have used vouchers – but I’m just so bored by Pizza Express”.
“When I was your age,” came the inevitable reply, “we ate out once in a blue moon. Pizza Express would have been a rare treat.”
She was right of course – I knew she was right, and that I was eating way beyond my means. Yet while I freely admit to erring on the side of privilege, my spoon is but bronze in comparison to the 24-carat ladles in the mouths of some of my peer group.
Take, for example, Harriet: a Home Counties-born trainee lawyer who has been raised on diet of city breaks, Sunday brunch and cappuccinos to go – and has come to see this as the norm. Last week saw her jetting off to Milan with her boyfriend, another recent grad in a similar position. There they dined out, shopped and consumed culture voraciously, all from the luxury of their 4 star hotel. Are they rich? Well, no – at least not in a literal sense. Nor are they living off daddy. What they do have, however, are high expectations and an unhealthy reliance on that tempting timebomb called ‘credit’.
Ah, credit… that once uplifting word that has since been so fatally twinned with ‘crunch’. These days most sensible adults have cut up their credit cards, or at least hidden them in a locked safe in the freezer. Yet for me and others of my generation the sense of being a child of the so-called ‘expendable eighties’ hasn’t really worn off.
Born onto a booming bubble of credit, we floated through youth on a rising tide of materialism, freedom and glamour. Shops and restaurants were everywhere – and when we hit university, so too were the seemingly limitless overdrafts.
Eating out became a weekly occasion, as natural to us as drinking. Even the most cash-strapped of students could afford Orange Wednesdays for a midweek cinema trip. When there was a ball, a new dress was in order. When there was a party, a new dress was in order. When there was a 0.5° rise in temperature… well, you get the picture: we bought a lot of clothes. And while the final weeks of term proved almost impossible as our student loan for the quarter ran dry, we never once thought to question the delicate balance that exists between lifestyle and living.
And why would we? After all, this is what we were raised on, when the economic sun was shining and the living was easy. Maybe shops and restaurants weren’t so prolific when our parents were younger (certainly my grandparents weren’t so immersed) but when there’s a Starbucks or a Costa on every street corner, it’s pretty hard not to get sucked in.
We’ve been fed on a diet of rampant consumerism – witness the Guardian’s finding that we spend £625 a year each on clothes – and while older (and wiser) folk might remember the previous recessions and their lessons, its us twenty-somethings that are getting our fingers burned.
‘I live in my overdraft’ admits Emma, a PR manager who hasn’t left the red for months. ‘When I’m out in one account I move money to another, or from a credit card. I spend in the moment, and I have absolutely zero life plan”.
That Emma and friends are more the rule than the exception is demonstrated by Halifax’s survey of potential first time buyers. In it, the bank found that two-thirds of young people without their own home believe they have no prospect of ever doing so. Of the four thousand questioned, half think renting the norm. Yet while higher deposits and tougher lending criteria are significantly to blame, our inability to save can’t be overlooked.
Each month my pay slip reminds me of my lack of pension contribution. Each month I choose to ignore it, and though I doubt that I’m the only 23-year-old to think pension plans premature, there’s no question that this denial is symptomatic of a wider attitude.
“Mañana, mañana…” as the old song goes – but when mañana arrives, what then?
The term champagne life-style, lemonade living might have been coined in the eighties – but it seems it’s the noughties paying the price.