I live in a generation of Yuppies. They walk with a confidence born only in the lap of luxury, toilet trained with 3-ply hypoallergenic toilet paper and a golden-plated potty for all I know, and years of never wanting for anything. They worked student jobs to pass the time and buy extravagant gifts for their girl/boyfriend rather than supporting themselves. Because what else are parents for but to sponge off and stock the fridge right? Young Urban Professionals. You know the type. The upwardly mobile, affluent 20 somethings who drive around the city – strike that – hi-tail it for the tram in the mornings – because let’s face it, they’re also pretentious assholes who want to prove they’re reducing carbon emissions and lowering themselves enough to get public transport with the plebs.
I live in a generation of Yuppies and contrary to the sincere attempts I make in loving the body I live in and the life I lead, I feel embarrassed about the fact that I shop at second hand stores, when in reality, this is something that I enjoy doing and am proud of. Against the deep-seated pride that I have in my ability to support myself, to pay for my own education, travel, and the long term investment in myself, I find myself ashamed that I don’t spend as much as my peers, for the fact that I budget, and that I am judged for this.
I recently got involved in a mentoring programme for students from a regional high school, many of whom have no plans to go to university, and some who have never been to the city and seen people working in a professional environment. I find myself wondering what we can possibly offer them that will empower them to dream bigger dreams but still be relatable to their lives and families, and the more I look at the people around me the more I feel like our lives collectively are so far removed from the reality of many of these families. How do we, with our neatly tailored corporate suits, touch screen laptops and carefully manicured shellac nails (except me – I’m still an old fashioned do-it-yourself girl) – how do we say anything that can remotely relate to these students who are struggling with the idea of a sense of self, of the logistics of moving out of home and living in the city, and perhaps do not know of anyone in their family who has done so.
I live in a generation of yuppies. Over the last few months, since I moved out of home for the second time with a new awareness of the differences between me and my peers, I have noticed things I didn’t before. This heightened sense of awareness is the result of growing older partly, a slightly better grasp of self-possession (because you have to learn the rules before you break ‘em) and the time and space to observe social differences when the demands of life at its most basic level have settled.
I’ve had people ask me with slow surprise if I am financially independent from my parents. The short answer to that is yes. And then comment that they can’t possibly imagine what it would be like to be financially independent from their parents. While that is refreshingly honest, it is also shockingly ignorant. As a woman in her mid-twenties, it is somewhat expected that I would be working full-time, be flatting, or have my own place. That I’m able to pay my bills on time, cook and clean, hold down a job and possibly a relationship at the same time. It’s what most people around the world do. Would I change it? No I wouldn’t give up my independence for the world. But would it be easier to take a backseat in my own life and be financially dependent on other people – yes of course. So comments like ‘wow I can’t imagine what that [being financially independent] would be like’ only entrench my own sense of self-sufficiency and yet emphasise the disparity I feel exists between my values, beliefs, goals and stage of life and that of many of my peers. I’ve thought long and hard about it – this difference I am so aware of. And the answer is that I live in a generation of yuppies and I struggle to relate to them and they cannot possibly relate to me.
We all have different dreams and aspirations, financial commitments and goals, but there is this strange illusion that we are all the same. It was my goal to move to Australia and get a job in a Big Four or Mid-Tier company. The consequent results of that such as paying off my student loan, moving out of home, paying rent and bills etc, are part and parcel of the decision that I accepted. Luckily, I have parents who taught me to save, so working from the age of 17 and saving by habit helped me. I have trouble understanding the concept of ‘saving for something’. I am constantly asked ‘What are you saving for?’. It’s difficult to answer that I’m not really saving for anything right now but I’m saving for all the things I will no doubt want in the future so I find myself giving socially acceptable answers like ‘travelling’ and ‘buying a car’. I didn’t know I would have to pay off my student loan in 10 months time but I did, and luckily I had the money saved to do it. I don’t know what wants and needs I will face 10 months from now, but I know that if I save now, I will have the resources to do it. Frankly, I do not need to justify my decision to save money, or put away a part of each pay check.
I have lived vicariously in the past, booked international flights spontaneously after grabbing a brochure off a Flight Centre wall. There have been times when I have literally only had enough money to last me for groceries until the next payday but these were all decisions that I made and I look back and I’m glad that I booked those flights, that I travelled to those countries and had amazing experiences. But the days of booking flights on a whim are gone. For the time being. I am at a completely different life stage than I was two years ago and this is a natural part of growing up. You change, your wants and needs change. And the choices that served you well in the past, may now no longer be viable. While I understand this all too well, I have a strong suspicion that many of my peers do not. I constantly feel the need to justify my decision to not go out for dinner or a show – yes it is $25 I know but is it worth going into my savings for it and losing my bonus interest (this is then followed by a conversation trying to explain how bonus interest works on a savings account).
I’m 25 years old and I have never bought anything from a vending machine. I do not eat out unless I’m eating out with other people, as a social thing (unless I’m travelling of course). I never get takeaways and I try my best to avoid buying water (water should be free if you can drink it out of a tap wtf!?). I love finding bargains and buying clothes from second hand markets and vintage stores. I cook all my meals and usually take lunch to work most days, unless there is a group lunch I’m going to. I do not own any shoes over $50 or clothes over $100. I am often faced with a mixture of thinly veiled derision and pity that I bring lunch from home more often than not. I don’t know why because I have always done it, and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. Unless you have ever been broke, or known what it is like to struggle to find work, watched your parents move countries and struggle to find jobs to support their children, you will not understand the hesitation to spend money on something that you do not need.
These are all decisions I’ve made for myself that work for me, and that I’m proud of. I do not flaunt these choices because they are mine, it has nothing to do with anyone else. It is each individual’s right to exercise these choices. However, questioning my choices and assuming that I’m cheap because I choose not to go out for dinner because it’s not within my budget, or because I choose to shop at second-hand stores or my decision to take a packed lunch to work, only illustrates your inability to understand that every individual has different financial commitments and goals for the future. While I do not expect an explanation for other people’s decisions to spend most of their salary drinking, eating out, and buying luxury clothes and perfumes, I do not expect to have to give an explanation for my decision to pay for my own travel, education, to go to plays and musicals, to save for the future, and live within my means.
When I, a woman in my mid-twenties, find myself having to justify my financial choices and goals, then how are we, as adults who cannot grasp the idea that people are not the same, that we all have the right to make different choices, that not everyone is born in a lap of luxury – how are we to relate in any way to children who have grown up in a low socio-economic background, who believe their fate is to leave school and go into trade jobs, who work part-time jobs to help their parents support younger brothers and sisters. I do not come from an affluent background. I’ve been brought up with the ideals of working hard for the things I want, to live within my means, save for my future and to provide a good education and stable life for my children when I do have them. The choices I make are influenced by the childhood I’ve had, by the fact that I am a child of immigrant parents, by my own experiences with living out of home and my readiness for stability and space to put down some roots. I hope that in time, the affluent youth, the ones that clearly have no need to save as they look out at the view from their parent-funded Southbank apartments, are able to recognise that not everyone is the same, and not everyone has had the luxuries that they take for granted.
I recently heard Kyle Vander Kyup speak at a National reconciliation week event and I was inspired by his story of growing up black in a white family, trying to be proud of his culture and ignore the taunts of children at school. It’s a story I’m familiar with, moving to a western country at the age of eight and feeling like I looked different, talked different and definitely was seen as ‘other’. But the strength of his adopted mother in seeking funding and support for her athlete son in particular is what moved me. I guess the disparity that exists between people is two-fold, three-fold. It’s that of money and status, it’s a disparity in race and socio-economic groups, it’s a disparity that exists between normative expressions of sexuality and those that lie in the parameters. What I’m trying to say, in a roundabout way, is that there are many differences between people, and affluence is just one of them. However there is an intersection of wealth, race, and ‘normative-ness’ that is by far the most ethnocentric group of them all and it’s important that this group recognise the differences in each of us as individuals, in our goals and aspirations and the decisions that we make because of it.