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Thank goodness for the dog

I can forget about student loans for a minute

boy hugging yellow labrador dog
veroturg via pixabay

My son just moved into shared accommodation and there’s a friendly dog living next door. I’m grateful for that.

The whole children thing goes on and on, doesn’t it? Infancy gives way to childhood and then stormy adolescence finally mellows into kidulthood. They might grow up but they don’t move out and parenting is never done.

Although I have little time for the whole Millennial bashing thing, it is certainly true that the old rules about being an adult have changed. There’s even a new term for it — adulting.

 Adulting represents appearing adult while retaining the wide-eyed naiveté and barely suppressed panic of a child doing a grown-up’s job. The kidult is neither fish nor fowl. The law says she is grown, but she knows she is an impostor, playing games and shuffling in her mother’s too-large shoes. She also knows she may never acquire all the accepted trappings of adulthood. The deck is stacked against her and the house always wins.

Me, an adult? In this economy?

In 1978 a US student could work one minimum wage job and graduate college debt free. A 3 bedroom, 1.5 bath ranch home in Ohio cost $24,500. Average house price was $54,800.

In 1978 a UK student could get a means-tested government grant to live on while attending university without fees, work in the summer, and graduate debt free. Average house price was around twice average annual salary. Now the average home outside London costs eight times average salary.

Chained to debt

Young people start life burdened with debt. They are encouraged to get a degree with the promise of a better paying job. Once upon a time not so long ago, that made sense.

On average, UK students graduated in 2017 with £50,000 of debt, more if they were from poorer backgrounds or had longer courses and took larger loans. Interest rolls up from day one of the course, at rates up to 6.1% at a time when base rate is just 0.75% and mortgages can cost 1.5%. Student debt is being packaged for sale to investors, which can only mean ever higher charges.

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In the US, the average student loan debt for 2018 is $32,371 (source). Unlike the UK, debt is not forgiven after 30 years (subject to earning less than £21,000, a figure which has been frozen since 2012).

Just get a job – ?

All the jobs I did to support myself at university have disappeared. Clerical jobs and factory jobs alike are now done by machines. My son has worked at events where adults with index linked pensions and big houses treat the wait staff like servants. It’s not enough to repay his overdraft.

And only a small proportion of graduates will earn big salaries. Most will start at around £20,000 and expect to see little growth, in line with pay generally.

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I try to encourage him to save, but it seems pointless to him. How long will he have to save for a deposit to buy a house? Eight years, saving 15% of salary. Ten years if he wants to live in London.

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He might as well blow his salary (assuming he can get a decent job) on cars and holidays and whatever fun he can get. He knows he’ll have to work into his seventies and there’s no guaranteed pension pot at the end of the rainbow.

In my day…

Children are still taught to get educated, get a job, get a house, get married, have children. These are the aspirations of previous generations, but the world has changed. New adults are encouraged to mortgage their futures before they have one. Opportunities to build the assets now held by older generations are out of reach for many.

Is it any wonder that young people look at the disparity between the future they were promised in school and the reality, and find the older generation’s attitude wanting? They are not lazy or entitled. But they feel cheated.

Thank goodness for the dog

My son starts a paid internship this week. For once he will have a little money in his pocket and know some of the freedom that I remember, in exchange for his time and labour of course. There are so many years of toil and responsibility ahead, and I don’t expect him to follow my path in a world that’s so different.

A friendly two year old labrador lives next door to his shared house. She will help him miss our dog less, and to forget that the world has its hand in his wallet, even before there’s anything to take.

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Moving out, moving on

boxes-man_skeeze
skeeze via pixabay

Stuff surrounds us. We come into the world naked, and immediately begin to acquire things. A comforter. A stuffed rabbit. A book that squeaks when you press it. And they just keep coming, some more permanent than others.

Recently my son came home for the summer. Along with the changed dynamic I wrote about before, came lots and lots of his stuff.

Bags and boxes and consoles and a TV and a mini fridge now clutter the house, the overspill his bedroom can’t accommodate. Where did it all come from? How does an apparently impecunious student acquire so much stuff?

In my student days, my entire life fitted in the back of a small car. I remember wearing approximately four outfits and one pair of boots for most of my third year, because clothes cost money and I refused to wear secondhand. I didn’t need five pairs of Adidas trainers, but I guess life is different now.

We had so little when we moved into this house from a much smaller place. I dreamed of wardrobes in every bedroom. The years brought more possessions and less breathing space. I’m no minimalist but still I grow restless, hemmed in and surrounded by acquisitions.

Sometimes I feel like a hermit crab whose shell is so heavy with accretions that it can no longer move forward.

How much is enough?

Sorting through all those bags and boxes will be exhausting. But it must and will happen. I want to tread lightly, without the weight of excess possessions. We can discuss want vs. need when buying things and the fact that his gear has to stay within his (large) bedroom without encroaching on shared space.

There’s a happy medium between “one rucksack and a laptop” and “an episode of Hoarders.” I never want to feel trapped by things that need upkeep and dusting and bring back sometimes unwelcome memories. Things that have no utility are burdens, and nobody needs more of that.

It’s time for a ruthless edit.

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.
William Morris