MY STORY: What I learned about my money issues from someone older (but not wiser)
Stood in the middle of Topman in 2010, I was on the phone to my dad, crying. “Thank you, Dad, thank you!” I sobbed. “I swear – this will be the last time I ever, ever beg you for money.”
Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. No sooner had I hung up on the man I apparently saw as my own personal ATM, I was back to browsing through a rack of garish T-shirts. It wasn’t even the sales rack.
Once again, at the age of 21, I’d found myself in the jarring, but increasingly familiar position of not being able to pay my own rent. Because who needs a home when you have an insatiable polo-shirt habit to feed, right?
At the time, I was studying journalism in Sheffield, aided by a student loan and part-time bar job. Yet still desperate calls to my poor father – ‘poor’ in both senses, once I was done – were becoming common. Rather than say ‘hello’ when he answered the phone to me, he’d now sigh and ask: ‘OK, how much?’
Since those frivolous days, I’ve grown up, somewhat. Having worked in London for eight years, I now – bafflingly – have a mortgage. Occasionally over the years, I’ve made pitiful contributions to a pension. I think I have, anyway. I still don’t fully understand the ins-and-outs of it TBH. But that doesn’t change the fact that over the years I must have wasted more money than the Greek economy.
Still, like any self-respecting Millennial (I can call myself that at 29, can’t I?) what I’d really like is someone – or something – else to blame for this sorry state of affairs.
Let’s start with an obvious scapegoat: my sexuality. Are gay men at a disadvantage when it comes to being responsible with our money? Is it possible our journey encourages us not to financially prepare for the future?
As recently as my own adolescence, thinking ahead to what geriatric life would look like painted a far bleaker picture. Like almost all gay people I discovered my sexuality at a time in history when we couldn’t get married. Or call it that – at least. Chances of becoming a parent, in any capacity, were slim to none, to put it lightly.
Equally, examples of what an LGBTQ+ person looked like beyond 40 in the media were tough to find, even back then. With that in mind, is it so surprising some of us chose not to spend ‘the best years of our lives’ burrowing away our pennies for a future we weren’t sure even existed?
I spoke to Michael Lander, a legendary former journalist (so, basically, me from the future, yes?) about his experience. The plan was to gain some insight into what previous generations faced, and what valuable advice they have for us.
“I squandered money when young, risked it when older, and respect it now”
Chatting candidly about money, Michael – aged 70 – admits: “My attitude to money was that I squandered it when young, risked it when older, and respect it now. When I was younger I only ever saved when a major purchase was selected, like a new car, home or big trip – otherwise never.”
Well, that sounds quite a lot like me. But surely he had a better attitude towards, say, pensions than the likes of me.
“As a freelancer, pensions were very much an afterthought,” he confesses. “But as the final years loomed nearer, every effort was then spent in getting the full 30 qualifying years together so that I could achieve maximum state pension. Money now is a constant occupation and deliberation of whether I have really put aside enough.”
Grim reading, no doubt about it. But having secured himself a mortgage, at least that must be a load off for pension-dodging Michael, surely?
“I always took a mortgage then traded in the property after a few years when it made a tax-free profit,” he explains. “The mortgage I would then take with me to the next property. But if a better deal ever did come on the market I’d have no compunction in trading the old mortgage in for a sweeter deal. I’d always take business loans and played the banks against each other.”
Following? To me, and many others my age, this will all make as much sense as Shangela losing All Stars 3 to Trixie Mattel. But having lived and learned it, the gay generations that paved the way for us, in fact, have all the answers, if we’d only take our headphones out long enough to listen to them.
“I think, curiously enough, gay male couples get preferential treatment by banks”
With that in mind, I’m intrigued to know whether Michael thinks my generation is a lost cause when it comes to preparing for the future?
He says: “I think, curiously enough, gay male couples get preferential treatment by banks and always have had; banks really like the fact both are earners.
“I think people nowadays are far more aware of pensions and savings. At the same time they have been hit by stagnant wages and exorbitant deposit requirements, so much so they are forewarned but not forearmed as they have little room to manoeuvre and save.”
Those who have access to the Bank of Mum and Dad are in an extremely favourable position
But, to put it bluntly – who’s worse off?
“Today’s generations are far worse off than my generation because they have huge student loans and larger deposits to pay,” Michael says. “But those who have access to the Bank of Mum and Dad are in an extremely favourable position. Their parents have seen their properties explode in value and are thus able to lend far more easily than their parents before them.”
So – all is not lost then for us, thankfully. “Today’s youth have far more options available to them than my crowd, such as part purchasing, government initiatives, and first time buyer’s deals,” he says.
“But they face the hurdle of the huge deposit which my generation avoided. But then no-one said buying your first home was ever going to be easy.”
“We’re not stupid, just spoilt. Is that better?”
So, we’re not stupid, just spoilt. Is that better? Either way, let’s face it, saving money isn’t as much fun as another round of shots.
We all know we should be planning ahead. But sometimes that new pair of jeans or 90s Night in town just proves too irresistible. Of course, it’s not a problem confined to the gay community. No one likes being sensible – it’s dull no matter who you are.
But there is certainly some truth to the fact gay men, having survived the long fight for equal rights, which is ongoing, the devastating AIDS crisis, and general homophobia, might have developed more of a ‘live for today’ attitude over the years than most. And, admittedly, that isn’t always a bad thing.
Well, until the bank statement drops through the letter box anyway… Then we’re back to: “Erm, hi Dad. It’s me again…”
The expert opinion
“One very important issue for us is that older LGBTQ+ people are much more likely to have been in the closet,” says Paul Thompson of Equality Wealth. It’s a new service helping LGBTQ+ people get their finances in order.
“They faced a time when HIV/AIDS was a very serious consideration.
“Many of us in our forties, fifties and beyond lived through times when we could never have imagined an open LGBT life. Let alone having a gay old retirement.
“This meant that we just didn’t plan for something that we couldn’t imagine.”
Paul says it is never too early to start planning for your retirement.
“We believe that more than ever, we have an opportunity to plan towards our dream future. This means talking about it and starting as early as possible.
“At Equality Wealth we are happy to talk with people of all ages about planning for their dreams and helping them get there. We believe it’s really important to talk with someone who understands your lifestyle and shares your experiences.”