There is a relatively new trend in the financial press of using young people’s experiences to generate outrage clicks.
Articles normally go something like this: young person reveals their spending habits, usually with the aim of buying a house in mind, prompting Twitter rage at how much they spend, how much they save, how many coffees they drink, and so on.
A recent article in the i newspaper was a good example of this in action. Headlined ‘How I live on a £69,500 salary while saving to buy a two-bedroom flat’, it pushed all the buttons of the genre.
The 29 year-old who wrote the article described how her bid to save for a deposit had led her to downsize her rented house, cancel a £150-a-month gym subscription and buy cheaper flights for her weekend trips abroad.
Reaction was predictably negative, prompting the usual moans about avocados and lattes. In fact, the complaints were so fervid, the Daily Mail wrote a story about the outrage.
Headlined ‘The moaning millennial on £69k a year!’ the article was complete with a picture of the woman in question having a nice time, clearly taken from a social media profile after some top-level stalking. This prompted the i to remove her name from the original piece.
The reaction to the article was indicative of a mindset that refuses to take either young people or money seriously. It was assumed a young person who was speaking about their finances was ‘moaning’ about how unfair it all is. Because that is what young people do.
In reality, the article was far from moaning in its tone. Kate Smith, as she was renamed by the i, had made a number of sensible, if dull, decisions about spending to save for a house. But because she was also spending some of her money on having fun, rather than putting every single penny away, people jumped in to criticise.
If anything, the article was too resigned to the realities of living in London nowadays. To afford even a one-bed flat in Bethnal Green, Smith has to put aside £1,500 a month: more than one quarter of her monthly salary.
Add pension contributions of £264.25 (which she did not give up as part of her property-funding efforts) and travel costs of £110 (which would be higher if she lived outside London), and you have a picture of the challenges facing a young person saving.
Of course, a £69,500 salary is far from average for most people. But one of the unspoken truths of the article is this is pretty much the minimum salary required for someone to afford a mortgage in London.
It is likely much of the outrage stems from people who were able to afford a house by saving hard when they were young. But the London housing market is so distorted, the best you can hope for, even on a close-to-£70,000 salary, is a one-bed flat (assuming you do not fancy an hour-long commute).
Articles about how under-25s have managed to get on the housing ladder invariably run along lines of living with parents for years and not going out for fun. It is a puritan approach that may appeal to some.
But it is hardly realistic or fair to ask everyone to forgo fun (and by that, think friendships, a romantic life, sports, cultural activities and things generally supportive of wellbeing) just to add a bit of capital to their name.
But aside from lame ‘life hack’-style saving tips, there does not seem a lot on offer for young people other than to appear as objects of fun and mockery.
Articles like this money diary may occasionally inflame tempers. (Did she really need a weekend abroad every week?) But they also deal with money in a reasonable and realistic way. Those jumping on the ‘moaning millennial’ bandwagon would do well to remember this.