I love hearing about people my age who’ve achieved great financial feats – quitting their job to travel the world full-time, buying a house in a place you’d actually want to live in – and the rest of the country does, too.
Whenever these people become the subject of news reports, the article inevitably ends up being one of the “most read” on New Zealand’s media websites that day.
I’m tempted, too, towards blogs – by minimalists, by the FI/RE (financial independence, retire early) folks, by the stay-at-home mums who’ve saved for their kids’ university fees by replacing every conceivable cleaning product with bulk-bought baking soda and vinegar.
It’s inspiring to see people living lives independently of the consumerist hamster wheel that the rest of us, largely unquestioningly, spend our lives scrambling on, and claiming greater life satisfaction as a result.
This kind of content’s evergreen allure is surely down to the fact that readers want to know if these people are people like us. We want to know whether we might harbour the same personality traits and lifestyle factors that would allow us to realise the same dreams.
We want to know what their secret is, we want to know if there’s a catch.
For me, the catch is usually: the people able to do these sorts of things are coupled up.
I’m a woman in my late 20s, who’s never had a serious partner, who has a job I enjoy, but makes me less than $1,000 a week after tax and KiwiSaver. I spent just under a quarter of my take-home pay on rent, but for a long time, I spent a third.
I’ve already cut out major costs associated with modern life: I don’t drink coffee, or smoke. I eat very few animal products. I don’t have expensive hobbies (beyond drinking and eating), or an addiction to the latest tech. I don’t own a car. I walk everywhere I need to go.
I have a friend who has made something of a sport out of minimalism. She’s a super-savvy investor who prefers to live in a van. I love talking to her about money for the same reasons I love reading stories I’ve mentioned above.
But the more conversations we have, the more I feel like the financial freedom she has is beyond my reach.
I once told her why: because she has a long-term partner to split costs with, who also – to put it indelicately – acts as live-in entertainment. She said she’d never thought about it like that before.
As a single person, I do not have anyone to share the cost of rent with, or the cost of a house deposit, or mortgage repayments. I don’t have anyone to help pay for large, one-off expenses, such as furniture. If I’m travelling, I’m footing the accommodation bill alone; if I’m hiring a car, transport too.
When it comes to leisure time, a night at home alone is often severely appealing. But when I need the company of other humans, it’s not as simple as wandering into the next room for a cost-free chat with the bae.
For me, right now, any romance comes with a price tag – the Uber to and from the date venue, the cost of drinks and/or dinner.
More often than not, hanging out with friends does, too.
While I spend a decent amount of time socialising at their houses, we will inevitably order in dinner, to offset the preceding drinks. We’ll occasionally meet up for brunch.
It seems unreasonable to expect me to forgo simple pleasures like this, to save for some intangible unknown in the future.
If you’re part of a couple, these costs affect you less because you’re already ahead of the pack in terms of making your money go further. And, you can choose to forgo the brunch in favour of staying in bed, for example.
I’m hardly about to snag a partner to help me with my grocery bill. But in the same way people with huge inheritances shouldn’t be too smug about their property portfolios, I’m not sure the couples who’ve bought a house on the back of two decent incomes should be, either.
To slightly modify a Winnie-the-Pooh quote: “It’s so much cheaper with two.”