Generation spent

People in their 20s can’t save money and we’ll never buy a house

There is a point in your mid-twenties when people become suddenly – unpleasantly – sensible of the future. The arrogance and ignorance of (real) youth is replaced by a keen awareness that life is long, and patterns established now will reiterate time and again. So those patterns need to be good ones. People go to the gym; people stop smoking. And once upon a time, they probably would have started saving money – eyes trained on the target of home ownership.  

Now, of course, saving is a fantasy –  no one has the spare capital (especially if you live in the capital). A study by Resolution Foundation published this week finds that most young people will be renting for the rest of their lives. It predicted that by 2025, that only 10 per cent of Britons under 35 on ‘modest’ incomes (defined, quite clumsily, as “10 to 50 per cent of the national average’) will own a home; in London, the figure is forecast at five per cent.

George Osborne has promised to tackle the ludicrous incentives for buy-to-let landlords and to enforce the building of more homes, though little of this – if it happens – is particularly relevant in the short term. Because we don’t have any cash anyway.

You can’t save money to spend on housing when you’re spending all your money on housing. “Horrendous rent prices in London are ruining life for all of the 20-something Londoners,”” says one 20-something PR assistant. London’s rents are the highest in the world: figures from property firm CBRE London state that rent is on average £2083 per month; the figure rose 4 per cent last year. 

Earning doesn’t mean you’re in a position to save. I am 25 and have been employed full-time more or less permanently since I graduated in 2011; I have two current accounts and am heavily overdrawn on both, a credit card (which is almost maxed out), and have just finished paying back a personal loan. I borrow money relatively regularly from my parents. The idea of saving sounds ludicrous to me. 

Clearly, I am not particularly disciplined with my finances; the middle class parental safety net breeds complacency. On the other hand, when I do look at my outgoings, I note that they do not include much frivolity. I cannot point to jeans purchased, or holidays booked. Mainly, it’s rent and bills and food, and the yearly outlay of agency fees. Largely, my money goes on the business of just being in London, rather than living in London. There’s usually something more important (boring) to spend money on – as soon as I get paid, I spend a morning shuttling money about accounts and paying off expenses like travelcards and debts owed to housemates. 

One 20-something writer saves “about £100 per month” but comments that she doesn’t have much of a system. “I’m not rigorous about it,” she says. “ It’s really hard to predict when I will be spending more money – one week, I can spend like £50 in total because I won’t go out, while the next I’ll blow triple that. I do keep to certain principles though – I bike around London to save money, I try to make my own packed lunch.”  Rent consumes 65 per cent of her income, and reckons that very few of her expenses are “avoidable” (fun, frothy things).

So while we are impotently angry that so much of our money goes on housing, we wouldn’t (couldn’t) leave London and largely accept it as the really boring Faustian pact of life in our 20s. Indeed, as the situations worsens I almost feel less angry about it – I’m so certain that I won’t buy a house that I have sort of chalked it up to things it’s not worth worrying about. It’s ludicrous and unfair, but it is strange how your attitude to money shifts a little.

“Housing is too far out of reach so people often think, ‘fuck it, why save’?”  points out a 20-something software developer points out. “[Saving] is impossible because if it’s a choice between foresight or having fun in the moment with mates, it’s a no-brainer,” comments another. “The concept of saving for a house is so far away that I chose to live in denial,” says Matt Williams, a 20-something PR who lives and works in London. “Money grows on trees right?” Perhaps it will in that future we’ve started thinking about.