Charlotte Gill

Young people’s ‘yolo’ spending is a symptom of a much bigger problem

Young people's 'yolo' spending is a symptom of a much bigger problem
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'You’ve got to stop eating those croissants,' my parents tell me. I know they’re right, but have they seen the croissants? As crisp as a Hilton bed sheet and golden like the sun.

They caution that they’re a waste of money, and I get it. In the early stages of my addiction I forked out £1.50 apiece; then the coffee shop grew hungry for more. £1.75 they demanded. That’s £8.75 a working week. Think of a month’s worth. (You do the maths - because I can’t).

I try not to think about the cost. I stuff the pastry into my mouth and close my eyes, the pain crumbling away. Just like all the things I spend money on. I purchase stuff I don’t need all the time. Last month it was a sketchbook at the Barbican after I felt inspired by Brutalist architecture.

For years I’ve had enormous remorse over my unnecessary spending, believing myself to be the naughty one of my friends. But then a company called RateSetter made me see my croissant addiction in a different light. In its study, which was published earlier this week, it found that enormous swathes of 18 to 30-year-olds spend money on similar items - such as coffee, takeaways, fashion and Netflix. Researchers have described this cohort as 'yolo' (you only live once) spenders.

The problem with yolo spenders is that we don’t save anything, which is worrying everyone - from mums and dads, to think tanks, to the government. In fact, 59 percent of this age group prioritises live-for-now spending rather than saving, and 69 percent have no plans for retirement. I would dig out more numbers, but like my bank account, I’d rather not look.

Speaking about the findings, RateSetter’s CEO said 'it is all the more important for young people to ensure they get on top of their finances'. A hardly surprising statement - because everywhere they look, young people are nagged: save, save, save! Even magazines edited by twentysomethings are full of advice for how to tuck the pennies away. Frankly, if I see another recipe for a lentil stew, I will lose my mind.

All of this advice has done little to help young people; it has given them immense guilt over spending money. I know, because whenever I purchase a croissant, I feel like the protagonist in Crime and Punishment.  I'm a little offended, though, by the conclusion that splashing out on Netflix and takeaways makes you a 'yolo' spender - which suggests a degree of recklessness. When I think of someone being out of control with money, I imagine them going on a bender around Soho - not watching Stranger Things. In a developed economy, it should be perfectly healthy that people want to buy coffee and clothing. Frankly, I’m more concerned about non 'yolo' spenders - they must be the most depressed people on earth.

Instead of lecturing the young to save, people - especially the baby boomers, should have more empathy. A cup of coffee or a mortgage shouldn’t be a choice; in better decades, you could have had your cake, eaten it and bought a house. Nowadays, everything is swallowing up young adults’ salaries - rent being the main offender. Across England, between 2013-2014, tenants paid an average of 47 percent of their net income on accommodation. The figures get even worse if you live in London (72 percent of salary), and abysmal if you’re 16 to 24-years-old (88 percent of your salary goes on rent). All in all, it’s a lot easier for young people to splash cash on quicker, concrete buys while giving up on the bigger picture. With prices soaring all the time, the idea of saving seems not only a faff, but utterly pointless.

Deep down everyone knows the solution to this survey isn’t getting young people to save more; it’s giving them more money to save. But that’s difficult, so we will continually be told to give up all the items that cushion against the Kes-like conditions we find ourselves in. I know croissants are a ‘waste’ of money, but if they are the main thing stopping me from buying a house - something has gone seriously wrong.