I’m 27 and I don’t own a house. In fact, I don’t own any property. That’s right … I have reached my late 20s and I am a renter. *Gasp!*
However, I’m going to make an educated guess that most people reading this would not be alarmed by my lack of property ownership. You’re probably thinking, “She’s only 27! Have you seen property prices in Melbourne? It’s a renter’s market.” For years, these excuses have provided me with justification for my spending habits.
Indeed, fellow millennials regularly validate my life choices. We millennials bond over the lack of affordability of Melbourne real estate, bemoaning the ease with which our baby-boomer parents procured wonderful property in fabulous areas of this city, pre-gentrification. I am soothed by people around my age who tell me, “Relax! You are perfectly normal. Property ownership is increasingly uncommon.” Most of the time, I do relax and sleep soundly, feeling validated in my choices.
Millionaire to millennials: Stop buying avocado toast if you want to buy a home https://t.co/JVpbiLrvv5
— TIME (@TIME) May 15, 2017
And yet, my parents’ persistent voices are hard to shake. At the end of 2017, my Dad appealed to me, in a didactic and hopeful manner, “I think that 2018 will be the year when you finally get your act together and buy yourself an apartment. Your rent money is paying off someone else’s mortgage. Why not pay your own? Stop buying avocados and buy property!” Ah, that old chestnut. Clearly Dad watched the infamous interview with millionaire Tim Gurner on 60 Minutes.
Sorry Dad, but 2018 probably won’t be the year I buy an apartment. I’m spending a week at a writers’ retreat in April, heading to Italy in June, and travelling to America for a wedding in November. I cite “self-care,” “personal growth” and “furthering my education” as reasons for my lifestyle, which my parents see as being full of unbelievable indulgence. And I usually feel confident in rebutting their arguments with my well-rehearsed millennial rhetoric.
I can always find solidarity with a millennial peer who makes me feel infinitely better about my financial decision-making by stating the millennial mantra popularised by Parks and Recreation: “Treat Yourself!” My conviction, however, inevitably wavers after I talk to my Dad. Then I get this niggling thought that is hard to shake; a niggle that forces me to ask myself, have I made good financial decisions? Should I listen to my parents and abandon the feedback from my peers that has always been so formative in my decision making?
I have a permanent, full-time role as a teacher at a brilliant school. I earn a very respectable salary and I’m still new to my career. I don’t have a “budget” as such, but I do spend my money purposefully. A great deal of my wage goes to my two-bedroom apartment in South Melbourne that I rent with my sister. Another chunk of my wage is absorbed by bills … phone, electricity, gas, and health insurance. And then there’s the other expenses that keep me sane … my Pilates studio pass, my psychologist, my Netflix subscription, delicious fresh food from the market and brunches, dinners and drinks with friends.
And then, of course, there’s travel. As a teacher, I am privileged to have school holidays that provide me with time to explore the world. So, I save as much as I can in Melbourne and use those unspent funds on seeing new countries. I don’t give too much thought to what else I might do with that money, until my parents’ admonishments plant a seed of doubt in my mind.
So, no, I don’t own a house … but I have spent money on the only thing you can buy that I think makes you richer: travel. As a result, I’ve had a bloody grand time since I left home and moved to the big city at the tender age of 18. I’ve lived in hilarious share houses with five other people and eaten packet mie goreng for weeks on end to save money. I’ve also eaten beautiful meals (and, yes, many avocados), drunk endless beers in pubs and taken long weekends away from Melbourne to the Peninsula Hot Springs or Daylesford when I needed a break from the city more than anything. And it’s only when I see all this through my parents’ eyes that it seems excessive.
I can provide endless words to justify my spending, and for anyone who loves to travel, I know I’m preaching to the choir. But I don’t think I will ever convince my frugal parents that, right now, a two-week trip to Scandinavia is more valuable to me than saving for a house deposit. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe that cautionary voice, asking me to forecast and plan for the next five, ten or fifteen years – the voice I’ve always considered to be misguided – is actually a necessary one in the echo chamber of millennials.
Perhaps 2018 will be the year I reframe my thinking from I don’t own a house … but to I don’t own a house … yet. And that, Dad, is progress.
Katherine Barton is a secondary English teacher and wannabe writer. On a given evening, she can be found curled up with a cup of tea marking literature essays before chipping away at her Young Adult novel exploring female friendship. She is a graduate of The University of Melbourne (BA, MTeach) and is currently studying a Master of Education.