Technically, I’m a Baby Boomer, born in 1963 and just nipping in before the shut-off date for those born post 1964. The way things are going, however, maybe I’ll start to claim I was actually born in 1965, because the Boomers aren’t getting much good press these days. We’re becoming the generation that looked after ourselves and ruined it for everyone else following on.
You’re probably quite familiar with the arguments because hardly a week goes by where there isn’t an article or opinion column in the press outlining them. Books have even been written about the subject. But, as a later member of the Boomer Club, I find myself in what feels like a kind of no man’s land watching the youngsters and the oldies lobbing bricks at one another.
A lot of today’s pensioners aren’t on the Easy Street that the Press and some young people seem to think they are. They’re not even close to it. My old mum, living in Scotland, has the luxury of two small private pensions to top up the state one, but she worries a lot about her friends who are really struggling to get by. Although she would happily meet them in town and blow a fiver on a coffee and a cake, they can’t afford it, at least not on a weekly basis. As for going away for a weekend or taking a week abroad (England counts as “abroad” by the way) forget it. She’s nobody to go with. I honestly find it difficult to believe that the majority – the majority – of pensioners are probably like my mum’s friends, but it’s probably true. It must be galling for them to read that they’re the Boomers too.
The affluent Boomers, on the other hand, gripe that they worked hard, saved hard and therefore deserve every penny they’ve got. No, they’re not about to downsize, they grafted for that family home which they’ll be handing over, hopefully tax free, to their kids. In the meantime, they’ll act as Bank of Mum and Dad if they can, and will take as many steps as possible to protect the financial future of their family. They’ve paid their taxes, national insurance, built the NHS and, if they’re living longer, it’s nobody’s fault but their own.
Many of the generation sired by the Boomers, however, believe that their financial futures are a lot less rosy than that of their parents. Mind you, I think that many of today’s youngster’s financial expectations are ludicrous compared to what mine were, at least in terms of material goods and spending. They need to cool their jets instead of boarding them for the stag or hen weekend in Vegas. Their fixation on bling, brands and gadgets is endless, even if they could afford them. Which they can’t. They seem to live for today with an expectation that “today” should last fifteen years. But it’s maybe that they have a much more complex financial and economic environment to cope with than I had.
I feel, when I was younger, I had a very simple view of financial matters. Saving was good and debt was okay – basically I felt there was nothing wrong with the latter providing you could eventually pay it off. My folks avoided credit cards for decades, but I had one as soon as I qualified for it. The next generation though? For a start, if they choose further education, they’re saddled with an horrendous amount of state sponsored debt. Then, as soon as they start working, they’ll be bombarded with credit offers from the banks. I was talking to the son of a friend the other day who was telling me, with a glint in his eye, that he has five credit cards and therefore a potential twenty five grand of combined spend across them if he maxed his limit on each. He probably doesn’t earn much more than twenty five grand. But he is thinking about going to Vegas and maybe upgrading to Business Class if he can rack up enough miles on one of the cards to qualify. One way to do that? Book the flight on the credit card.
I can’t decide whose side I’m on. I do feel I’m in quite a fortunate position in many ways. After graduation with no debt whatsoever (the state paid for nearly all of my education), I managed to find a job with a lucrative Defined Benefit pension scheme that I contributed to for almost fifteen years. My foot went on the property ladder along with my first year of employment – I think the first deposit I needed for a flat came in at just over one thousand pounds (5% of the purchase price!) The bank would only lend you three times your salary at the time, but that was enough to give me a few options. I lived in a world of relatively conservative financial rules and regulations that allowed debt within reason. Those early lessons stayed with me. I have never borrowed more for my mortgage than three times my salary despite the fact that in 2008, a financial advisor offered to get me a multiple of six. Or more.
I was also brought up to believe that pensions were a good thing instead of a worthless con not worth the digital screen they’re displayed on. I believed that both a decent free school education and a free NHS would be there for both me and my family throughout our lives and, pretty much, they have been so far. For how much longer, realistically, is that going to last?
I wonder if there is a middle class generation aged around forty to sixty today that is somewhat of an outlier and is experiencing a kind of lifestyle that neither the preceding generation or the one coming up will get? It does sometimes feel to me that a lot of my generation have had it pretty good so far.