For the last few weeks, Facebook has been ablaze with rants about avocado brunches causing the homelessness of millennials. Those were followed by the counter-articles, angrily declaring that millennials are eating smashed avocado because they can’t afford to buy homes. Recently, Noah Smith wrote something about millennials actually being better savers than we think. I also have some thoughts on the frugality debate (although they’re not quite as technical as Noah Smith’s).
Smash that avocado, in your millennial face
Here are some prize quotes by avocado-brunch-hater Tim Gurner, from his 60 Minutes Australia interview:
“When I was trying to buy my first home, I wasn’t buying smashed avocado for $19 and four coffees at $4 each. We’re at a point now where the expectations of younger people are very, very high.”
On whether he believes young people will never own a home: “Absolutely, when you’re spending $40 a day on smashed avocados and coffees and not working. Of course.”
“When I had my first business when I was 19, I was in the gym at 6am in the morning, and I finished at 10.30 at night, and I did it seven days a week, and I did it until I could afford my first home. There was no discussions around, could I go out for breakfast, could I go out for dinner. I just worked.”
Then, in his article “Moralisers, we need you!“, this from ‘demographer’ Bernard Salt:
“I have seen young people order smashed avocado with crumbled feta on five-grain toasted bread at $22 a pop and more. I can afford to eat this for lunch because I am middle-aged and have raised my family. But how can young people afford to eat like this? Shouldn’t they be economising by eating at home? How often are they eating out? Twenty-two dollars several times a week could go towards a deposit on a house.”
Why Rich People Think They Are Wealthy
You don’t have to squint to read between these lines. According to Mr Salt and Mr Turner, you get rich by:
- Avoiding brunch; and
- Working extremely hard, seven days a week. From the time you start (after you finish with gym at 6am in the morning, of course), until you finish at 10:30pm at night.
Basically, you’ve got to spend your young adult years as a brunchless gym-attending slave if you want to eventually live as comfortably as a modern millennial.
Why Rich People Think Other People Are Not Wealthy
Still no squinting required. According to the Salt and the Turner, you stay poor and home-ownership-less by:
- Eating out all the time; and
- Not working.
And, I guess, if all the not-wealthy people would simply get off their backsides, stop relying on welfare, and transform their spendthrift selves into frugality grinches, then they’d be able to lead a less poverty-stricken existence?
I’d like to hazard a reason for why this attitude persists. When people look at their current wealth status, they credit (or blame) one of two things:
- Their life choices; or
Importantly, we swing between those two. The human tendency is to self-ascribe good fortune to our good life choices. And then to blame bad luck for everything negative.
Thanks to this particular bias, the wealthy have a causality crisis to deal with. If their wealth is the result of their hard work and choices, then they can enjoy it in full measure (because they ‘deserve’ it). If their wealth is the result of happenstance, then that is more troubling.
Clearly, the path of least resistance is to assume that your wealth is both earned and deserved.
And you can even rest untroubled by the many poor people who work from 6am in the morning until late at night, working double-shifts in their waitressing jobs in exchange for a pittance. Because either they’re about to earn their due reward – or if they don’t, then they’re probably being a bit spendthrift anyway.
But if you’re forced to view your wealth as providential, then you’re left with a moral conundrum. Should you feel guilty about your purchasing power if you did very little to deserve it? Do you pay for the business class ticket when you could just as easily fly coach, and donate the difference to charity? Is it pure hedonism to enjoy anything beyond subsistence-level spending?
The Frugality Flipside
I don’t want to seem one-sided here. I think that the opposite is also true: for the non-rich, the rich are rarely seen as wealthy because of their hard work and/or life choices. Instead, their wealth must be the result of:
- Good fortune (and/or historical prejudice in their favour); or
- General nefariousness.
The reason for this perception is probably the same. If the wealthy are wealthy as a result of their life choices, then the implication is that the non-wealthy are making poor life choices (literally).
So we’re stuck.
The wealthy moralise about laziness, while the non-wealthy preach about privilege.
The Half-way Truth
If we’re honest (and harsh about it), life circumstances are probably a product of both life choices and luck.
The genetic and environmental lottery matters more than the rich would like to think. And some avoidable-for-anyone life choices have real financial consequences.
But even so, I doubt that smashed avocado (and the extravagance it represents) is the real problem.
In fact, it’s only a problem for those already-well-off young professionals who sit on the cusp of being able to purchase a $1.5 million house in Sydney – if only they’d economise by eating at home all the time.
And that’s also assuming that it makes more financial sense to buy the $1.5 million house than rent it.
It probably doesn’t.
So brunch away.