I’ve often heard that those under about 35 will be the first generation to be poorer than their parents. This, my, generation will be “generation rent” — those who cannot afford to buy a house, will struggle to live to the same standards as their parents. This, it is said, is proof of a broader societal failure.
I’ve come to see things very, very differently. There are always two sides to “prosperity”. The first is the notional, the easily visible. To own a house, to own a car, to own 20 televisions, the cat, the dog, the whole kit and caboodle. Add to that the holidays to the Costa del Sol or, for the more discerning, Tuscany and you have all the elements of modern “prosperity”. Replace the Costa del Chav and Tuscany with Cabo San Lucas and Napa for North Americans or Bali and Japan for Antipodeans.
But there’s another side to this “prosperity” — there always is. And it’s ugly. It’s rare for people to actually “own” a house. They take out mortgages. They have to pay for insurance, pay for maintenance, pay taxes. All to often, it takes two people to qualify — just — for the mortgage. Add to that car payments and car insurance, the associated taxes and fees as well as maintenance required to keep MoT/DMV/RMS happy and that’s even more money. How many of those televisions were paid for in cash and how many were paid for on credit? How much of the kit and how much of the caboodle is actually owned outright, or merely financed?
I belong to a small group of people who remember the pre-credit boom days, came of age during the boom years and then entered the workforce during the height of the economic collapse. I also remember when technology was peripheral to daily life and when we had to function with the likes of land-line telephones, telephone books, dodgy internet and one computer per family. Most baby boomers and older Gen-X weren’t doing so well. They aren’t doing so well. For them to maintain an illusion of prosperity they had to go deep in debt. Many went bankrupt when the economy crashed, some lost almost everything and a few never recovered.
Those in my generation have a great chance to reconsider our priorities. Do we really need a big house, or would a flat suffice? Do we need a QLED television with no smaller a screen than 76″? Do we need to “buy” or, shudder, lease new cars ever 2-3 years? Do we really need so many things, things we can’t use, things that serve no purpose other than to collect dust? We have the chance to simplify our lives and to cut out things that only bring stress, aggro and misery to our lives. It took some humbling on my part to learn this lesson, but after scaling back my expectations I’ve concluded that a simple life is the only sensible way. I do not have much, but I do not need much. I live very well for £670 a month. I have a good work-life balance and I lack nothing. Most importantly, my life is my own.