"I worry about my – your, our, I’m never quite sure how to define these things – generation sometimes.
And never more so than when I read something like the results of Axa’s latest survey about financial trends. It revealed that 52% of people in their late 20s and early 30s are dumber than boxes of hair when it comes to dealing with their money and that they blame their parents for not teaching them financial skills as they grew up.
Let’s get the more minor issue here out of the way first.
Dealing with money is easy*. Know what’s coming in. Know what’s going out. Keep the latter figure smaller than the former. As Mr Micawber puts it in David Copperfield, ‘Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery’ – though you will have to adjust the figures for inflation.
This holds true even if people (banks) are offering cheap credit, even if your friends are all richer than you and you feel you must try to keep up with their lifestyles, even if there is no longer any social shame attached to being in debt. Even if you really, really want a better car/kitchen/house/ showercap than the perfectly nice one you’ve got, even if every cultural and commercial force in the western world is encouraging you to live beyond your means – you must know, if you have even the faintest pretence of sentience, never mind intelligence, that neither the numbers nor Dickens lie.
The bigger issue is that of personal responsibility. The Axa figures are saying that more than half of all fully grown adults – adults old enough to have been drinking, having sex legally and voting for over two decades, old enough to have homes and families of their own – are still blaming their parents for their own failings and weaknesses.
Handing the burden of guilt to your parents has to stop way before your 30s
This really isn’t on. There comes a point when handing the burden of guilt to your parents has to stop. And that point is way, way before your ‘early 30s’. Which I’m guessing isn’t exactly a sharp cut-off either. Which means plenty of 40-year-olds could be drifting round in similar states of denial and immaturity while their ancient, exhausted parents scurry round after them, brushing up the detritus and settling the chaos their solipsistic offspring leave in their wake.
Any type of relationship, but especially the familial, only works if everyone pulls their weight. When you’re young, this means pitching in with the chores and not – in the time-honoured phrase – treating the place like a hotel. When you’re older, it means shouldering the proper amount of responsibility and blame for your f***-ups, financial or otherwise.
Of course your parents will have failed you along the way. But, unless it’s in an extreme (abusive or neglectful) way, I’m afraid that’s life. They’re human. If they did anything like their best, that’s good enough, move on. How many times did you fail them along the way? And if they’re to blame for all the bad stuff that’s happened and bad decisions you’ve made since childhood, logic dictates they are responsible for the good stuff too. You can’t have it both ways. You either have agency in your own life or you don’t. Accountability for the crap things means you own the success too. Thus, in a bizarre and counterintuitive manner, accepting responsibility for yourself – uncomfortable and onerous though it seems – actually sets you free.
As long as you don’t end up spending more than twenty pounds a year in celebration, of course.
*For the avoidance of doubt, I am not talking here about students who are forced to incur massive debts in order to have a chance at a job later on, or those on minimum wage or disability or any other kind of benefits struggling to afford food, heating and shelter on an income that, mathematically provably, is insufficient to cover them. (Which, despite what the government would like you to believe so that it can save pennies on payments to them and not have to upset big companies by demanding they pay the tax they have been avoiding, is what benefits etc usually means.) I’m talking about supposedly independent adults with disposable income who absolutely could remain solvent if they put their tiny minds to it."
Email Lucy at lucy.mangan@stylist. co.uk or tweet her @LucyMangan