In 2017 an Australian rich lister named Tim Gurner made headline news proclaiming that millennials can’t afford homes because they spend too much money – mainly on avocados apparently!
“When I was trying to buy my first home, I wasn’t buying smashed avocado for $19 and four coffees at $4 each
Either way, I am definitely siding with the millennials on this one.
The issue with Gurner’s preaching is that he started his empire with a $34,000 (Australian) handout from his grandfather in 2001. Inflation adjusted, that is $48,000 in today’s dollars. The equivalent of $52,500 in New Zealand dollars. Not a bad helping hand is it! So, excuse me if I find it hard to swallow this advice.
The $52,000 inheritance would buy 2,736 smashed avocados on toast at $19 each. That is a heck of a lot. It would take seven and a half years of eating avocados every day to reach these levels. I don’t know any millennial eating this many avocados.
Other quotes from the 60 minutes interview that show how out of touch Mr Gurner is include:
“The people that own homes today worked very, very hard for it and saved every dollar, did everything they could to get up to the property investment ladder
“We’re at a point now where the expectations of younger people are very, very high. They want to eat out every day, they want to travel Europe every year
That millennials are spending too much money to save for a house.
That millennials have expectations that exceed reality.
That I was able to buy a property with hard work (even though in reality I received a handout, so not really hard work - my ad lib here), so why can’t everyone else.
There has never been a more difficult time to buy property than today. Houses are ridiculously over priced in New Zealand, particularly in the main centres.
The median house price is $520,000 nationwide, or $861,000 in Auckland.
The median household income is $82,000 nationally, or $92,500 in Auckland.
This makes house prices 6.3 times more expensive than household income nationwide, or 9.3 times In Auckland. For comparison, the United States sits at about 3.7 times income, the UK 4.7, and Australia 5.6. According to the internationally recognised housing affordability index, any value above 5 is considered “severely unaffordable.” Auckland, sitting at 9.3, is almost double severely unaffordable whatever that is. In honour of our friend Tim Gurner we could maybe term this level of 9.3 as “so unaffordable that I am going to drown my sorrows in avocado cocktails.”
How many times have you heard someone say “well millennials shouldn’t be looking to buy a middle of the road house?" "They should be looking for a cheaper starter home.” I don’t disagree with this, but it is all relative. Yes, most first homes should be cheaper than the median, but most millennial incomes are also lower than the median due to the early stage of their careers. This doesn’t change the unaffordability.
If house prices continue to increase at 8% per year, and our salaries/wages only increase at 3%, it is only getting progressively worse.
The income used in the data is household income too. So, if you are single, the mountain is even larger.
In my experience, I don’t see millennials spending money needlessly as Tim Gurner suggests. Firstly, not every millennial wants to buy a home. The ones he is seeing eating avocados every day and travelling to Europe every year are not realistically trying to get a foot on the property ladder. They are out there enjoying experiences and buying a house is not their priority. He shouldn’t base his assessment of all millennials on this group.
There is another group of millennials that are working extremely hard, trying to save money. Many still living at home with their parents. It is tough out there and if I or anyone else wants an avocado every now and then I say go for it. A few dollars here and there will make no difference whatsoever in our ability to get on the property ladder.
The biggest savings we can make are the big expenses of transportation, food, travel and accommodation. If we can live at home with the parents or share an apartment with several other people, then this can make the biggest difference to our ability to save money. I would much rather have a roommate if it means paying $150 board, instead of $300. That $600 a month savings will go much further than worrying about the little expenses.
Or if we can manage to go without a car, we can make some real dents in our savings there.
Many millennials I know are doing this. We are making sacrifices. But each time we think we are getting somewhere, house prices jump another 5%. The further that house prices get away from us, the more likely we are to see home ownership as unattainable. Gurner couldn’t be further from the truth, saying we are not trying hard enough.
Not only do we have record house price unaffordability, but tuition costs are also rising at a rate much faster than inflation. We are leaving university with growing levels of debt, then we get welcomed into the housing world with growing levels of prices there too. It is a double whammy.
Some millennials are slackers. The majority are extremely talented and hard working. It is no different to any other generation. There are winners and losers. The only short-term choices many have are to get financial help, find a higher than average paying job, find a sugar mummy or daddy, or move into a cheaper area leaving behind our friends and family with no guarantee of work.
A few tips for my avocado eating friends
- Don’t assume you can’t ever afford a home. This is about not giving up on your dream. Keep saving your money as best you can. Eventually, house price affordability must re-align more with reality.
- Understand that this may be a long-term goal. Get ready for the long haul. Mental preparation will help with the tough road ahead. Consistency is the key. Slow and steady wins the race. I’m all out of clichés. Setting short term goals will make the long-term goal more achievable. I guess I had one more in me after all.
- Examine your budget and stick to it. Are there any cuts you can make besides avocados? The big things: SKY TV can save us over $1000 per year. Renting with other people could save us anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000 a year. Selling our car and using public transport if possible in our location can save us a lot. Can we save on our grocery bill by shopping at the farmers markets? What about switching electricity companies? Could save us another few hundred a year. Some of these things hardly affect our quality of life. We can make good savings without sacrificing too much. Just pick which expenses are LEAST important to you and cut them first. Keep the most important expenses if necessary, then we don’t feel like we are deprived. The more we do sacrifice the quicker we will get to our goal. It just depends on how much we want the end goal, how much we should cut from your budget.
- Concentrate on your savings. If your average after-tax income is $50,000 for the next 10 years and you can save $10,000 of that (spending $40,000), then you will have $130,000 at 5% returns (not including Kiwisaver). 15 years will see you with $224,000 at 5% returns. If you can somehow ramp your savings up to $15,000 per year, you can reach $130,000 in just 7 years, instead of 10. An extra $5,000 in savings per year has saved you 3 years and $45,000. A couple can achieve this in half the time.
- If you are not likely to buy a home for at least another 7-10 years, look to put some of your money into investments that will return more than just bank savings accounts.
- Don't put home ownership on such a high pedestal. It may not be the dream you see it as.
- Don’t be in a hurry to pay off your student loan. Of course, you have to pay off the minimum, but student loans in New Zealand are interest free. Don’t pay more than minimum. Instead, put that money into savings or investments.
- Are you able to earn more by working overseas? Of course, you must be prepared to move, but some countries pay much more for doing the same work. You will need to consider your expenses in this country as well. If you increase your income, only to have expenses increase by the same amount, you are no better off. Renters have this advantage over home owners. As a renter, it is much easier to get up and go.
- Keep killing it at your job. Work harder than you are paid to. Eventually your tenacity and skills will be rewarded, and you will be paid your worth. Expense cutting can only go so far, but there is no ceiling to how much you can earn. The sky is the limit. Try to avoid ‘it’s not in my job description’ syndrome.
- Start a side hustle. Earn a bit of extra income driving for Uber (if you haven’t sold your car yet). Start a tutoring gig if you have a specialist subject. Babysit. Clean houses. Dog sit. House sit. Do some lawnmowing. There are many options for you depending on your skills. The extra money all adds up.
- Have a garage or trade me clearance sale for a bit of income. This involves clearing your house of all things you no longer need. You may be surprised at what people are willing to pay for.
- Consider buying an apartment as a first property. An apartment can be a great stepping stone for you to both live in, as well as renting out another room or two to help pay the mortgage. This is how I got started. After several years of paying down principle you will then hopefully have enough leverage built up to be able to buy a house if that is what you want.
- Don’t be in such a hurry. 5 – 10 years extra saving is nothing in the scheme of things. It is actually more expensive to own a home than rent in this current market. If I was currently making the decision to buy or rent I would choose renting. With the extra savings renting, you can put it away to help pay for the house when you are ready, or when the market is more favourable towards buying. Read my article here on why owning is not always best from a financial point of view.
- Live with your parents or other people to save big time on accommodation costs whilst saving.
- Set up automatic payments directly from your pay into a savings account. This is so that your savings remain disciplined and you are not tempted to spend your savings.
- Check your Kiwisaver balance. It is not always wise to withdraw money from your retirement account, but if you have exhausted all other savings options, know how much you have available here.
- Keep your eyes on the housing market. You never know when you may find a house selling well below market. There could be a motivated vendor or a mortgagee sale where they could entertain all offers, no matter how ridiculous.
- Pay attention to the news. Currently a minimum 20% deposit is needed for most people buying homes. This is likely to stay, but you never know, this may be relaxed in future. This is another reason to keep on saving and not get dejected. The rules of the game may change in our favour at any time. Just make sure sure that if you pay a smaller deposit, you have done the math on the cost of home ownership.
- If all else fails, consider buying a home with a friend or family member. There can be complications in doing this that need to be considered very carefully. Please seek professional advice before going down this path. Not my favourite option.
- Finally, don’t believe the crap that other generations throw at you. There is no switch that got flicked in 1980 on the cusp Gen X and millennial that made millennials a different species all of a sudden. We are all the same people, with the same traits, except millennials have been thrust into a time of rapid technological change. You are our future nurses, teachers, accountants, doctors, builders, lawyers and prime ministers.
Lazy, entitled, selfie-taking, avocado eating, coffee drinking, cell phone addicted, is what the media would like us to believe of the millennials. They are the ones that get the negative attention. Every generation has its slackers. There is no doubt that boomers didn’t work hard. I am sure many did, just as many millennials do. I bet my bottom dollar there were also lazy baby boomers that were lambasted by their previous generation for being lazy and entitled. It appears they are passing it on in spades. The circle of life, aint it grand. The difference is the economy is stacked against us more than it used to be. The statistics do not lie as to the growing unaffordability of homes and student loans. The ‘average’ millennial cannot afford a home – plain and simple. The ‘average’ boomer could.
Even so, this is not a reason to throw in the towel. This is our lot and we need to accept it. We may not be able to afford a home now, it will just take longer than we would like. We just need to keep on finding ways to get ahead and fight the good ol’ battle. You never know when opportunities will present themselves. Some of the tips provided will help you to make the most of any opportunities when they arise.
The truth of the matter is we all could do with a grandparent or parent to loan us $50,000. Then we may be able to get on the property ladder now. Then in ten years we can preach to the younger generation how they are not working hard enough and are spending too much money. Sarcasm aside, for everyone else, we must wait our turn, and keep our hands off the avocados.
The information contained on this site is the opinion of the individual author(s) based on their personal opinions, observation, research, and years of experience. The information offered by this website is general education only and is not meant to be taken as individualised financial advice, legal advice, tax advice, or any other kind of advice. You can read more of my disclaimer here
Comments are open. What are your thoughts on the whole boomer vs millennial debate?