Remember when debt was debt. Those were the days. When if you didn’t have the cash you didn’t buy anything. When there was a thing called “Saving up”. Remember that?
When I moved into my first rented flat in London I slept on a camp bed and sleeping bag until I could afford a bed. We had Honda c70 motorbikes to get around. They did hundreds of miles to the gallon. Economy over pride. We serviced them in the living room. Furniture was a luxury. Holidays were for toffs.
In my day you earned things. You budgeted. At university we had to live in the red light district of Southampton next to a brothel, it was all we could afford and we had to barter for life’s essentials. The girls next door got an emergency response team, we got our laundry done.
I managed for the whole of 1979 to budget on eleven pounds a week. Why? Because that was all I had. At the time a meat pie and chips in the refectory cost 55p. 65p with baked beans.
I had to “borrow” eight meals a week. It was in the budget. Getting drunk at the weekend would require an ultimately predictable but eminently ingenious bag of tricks including starvation and failing that, teasing drinks out of unsuspecting members of either sex. All in the budget.
My first car was paid for with cash I earned cutting cress in Whitwell for 10 hours a day, six days a week for 10 weeks in the summer. I had to stand or kneel all day in water, bending up and down. Health and safety at work was a thing of the future. The car was a Deux Chevaux 2CV6. It was all I could afford.
It was a rust bucket and within a year I had to personally remove the engine, in the street, re-weld the chassis forks and rebuild. When one of the bleed screw holes threaded on the brake drum I couldn’t afford a new one and consequently drove for a four week windsurfing holiday in Cornwall (very hilly) using the hand brake instead of the foot brake. On the holiday I took the drivers seats out, reversed them and slept in the car. If the weather was nice I rolled back the roof and those memories of watching the stars from the luxury of my 2CV as the waves rolled up Sennen beach are some of my most pleasurable and enduring.
Rich people were different. They didn’t service their own cars, they drank wine, went to restaurants, the cinema, didn’t use a Laundromat, had a vacuum cleaner, had a walkman, talked about skiing, belonged to a tennis club, had flown on aeroplanes and represented a minority we wrote off as toffs and wankers in a noble attempt to divert the interest of our girlfriends back to us.
I can’t quite remember when it all changed. I think it was when the big yank investment banks arrived in London in the early 1980s. When the stockbroker I worked for offered me a company car and a subsidised mortgage. They had discovered an access to credit we had previously known nothing about and they handed it on to us. I went straight from a ten year old Mark 4 Cortina (which I loved) to a brand new Black Ford XR31 with fat low profile tyres and racing stripes (still the best car I have ever had).
I didn’t know what a mortgage was, but with a 5% deposit they told us we could borrow three times our salary. So we did. I moved from Brixton to Clapham. The rat race had started.
That was about 1985. The year the world moved from “I want, I work” to “I want, I get” and "I want I get" has certainly been the experience since.
As long as there was equity in our house we have wanted for nothing. Our kids have wanted for nothing. Want an iPod...just pout. Shazam...iPod. This is the way. Spend don't save, want and you get. It is a glorious principle that we have instilled into the next generation.
Or have we?
Kids always do exactly the opposite of what you tell them and it seems to be working on the subject of debt. Where we saw it as a source of endless expenditure, my twenty plus year olds now see it as kryptonite. Something that will have to be paid off. Something that will burden them. Something that will limit their options. Something that will restrict their mobility. Something that is dumb not clever and something they do not want to inevitably have to spend their lives with as we did.
One of mine has even been heard to text "Sorry Dad but I can't afford it".
What! Don't they know I still have equity left in the house?
They do. But they don't want it, and after years of seeing us paying it back they don't want to put us on the hook for it again.
They are moving out now, and I am encouraged by what we've taught them. To do exactly the opposite of what we did. . And I thought they were stupid.
(I had trouble not breaking into Monty Python whilst writing this article...."You think you 'ad it bad. Luxury"..."We were stuck in wet paper bag in't middle of motorway"....and all that stuff).
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I think you forgot to mention that you had a LOT of fun that money just can't buy!
Through adversity we build courage, resilience, and experience. That is worth more than money.
I can certainly identify with living a poor but vibrant lifestyle. In 1975 I was walking around with only one thong on my feet Someone said hey mate you loose a thong. I said no I found one. Maybe Afterpay is the future of modern debt. At least it’s interest free. Free money now that sounds like the best way forward. Cheers
Advice can only be given: wisdom is learned. I'm a millennial and very grateful to my ordinary, hard working parents. I remember my mum buying our first digital camera on lay-by. Good times :)
That sounds exactly like my younger life Marcus. But don’t you think Margaret Thatcher deserves some credit for the way life improved for us all after the 70’s.
Marcus you always tell a great story for all generations.. maybe more so ours.. and teach a great lesson at the same time.
Luxury. You call that tough. We worked down pit 15 hours per day then 8 of us would share a tin of baked beans before going to work as stock brokers. We dreamed of a pair of shoes let alone a motor bike or car.
Had a brief conversation with a young lady who told me there's no difference between Afterpay and layby. I said I thought there was a difference between consuming now and paying later vs and saving up to consume later. I recall being shocked when I first saw banks advertising loans for holidays, cosmetic surgery etc. I still think there is only one good reason for debt, and that is to buy something productive i.e. that will yield more than the cost of the debt. I think Keynes gets misinterpreted. Anyway you had it easy Marcus. Clive James had to sleep in a discarded plastic bag in London (if I recall correctly).
maybe, but in the old days you didn't need 10 times the average annual salary to buy a mediocre apartment in a major city of Australia.
Fun to read. I too lived in Derby Rd whilst at Southampton, drove a rust bucket that was a Triumph Herald and know Sennen well from cousins living at Penberth. I fortunately fell into Stockbroking (your descriptions of the City in the 80s are too accurate) and was able to prosper. Keep up the fun and worthwhile commentary
Blimey Anthoy Talbot - Derby Rd in Southampton - that was where we lived - next 'tut brothel. But 'it were t'step up from't year living in't wet paper bag in't middle of mowterway, and stuck in't ice-cube made to keep up wi't grey'ound.
It's interesting after being in my twenties through out the 90's where money was everywhere,(I bought my first house in 94 at what I thought was a super cheap rate of 8.8%) All I had to do was to ring my 'guy' at Westpac, (they had enough staff back then to give you a 'guy') and magically money would appear. Fast forward 10 years where I managed to spectacularly time owning a business at the GFC and finding out the hard way that money was no longer in supply. I look at things like Afterpay and Zip which I have long suggested was stupid and have slowly changed my view to one where my children don't have to live under the burden of 'bad' debt. Funny, only when you get on a bit do you see how one generation learns from the mistakes of the previous. Oh and as an aside to others. Definitely try the 14 day trial on MT. From our point of view the education alone is well worth the money let alone the returns from acting on perspectives shared.