Treat yourself! The rise in emotional spending among young people

As the cost of living crisis hits the UK, many young people are giving up saving in favor of spending. Is it such bad thing?

Like most people in the UK right now, I started shelling out more and more of my money for rent, electricity and food. With my Monzo still dangerously close to zero, you’d think I’d limit spending and try to save as much as possible – but recently I’ve found myself doing the opposite.

I started picking up fresh limes to garnish the gin and tonic on a Friday night. If I go out to eat, I order the most expensive dish on the menu (plus a cocktail, plus a dessert) without flinching. More recently, I bought a range of syrups – salted caramel, hazelnut and vanilla – to go with the artisan coffee I got from a local cafe. Candles; bath salts; hardbacks – the list goes on.

I am not alone in this illogical and brazen behavior. Halima, our feature writer, tells me that they’ve been spending more on eating out lately. Another friend of mine recently became obsessed with the brand of sausage DAMN, which charge £3.20 for a six-pack (as my friend often reminds me, it’s worth it because “they’re 97% pork”). Another – perhaps worrying – is happy to spend hundreds of dollars on cocaine.

Meanwhile, Andy, 23, tells me he recently splurged on seven tickets for him and his friends to see Peter Kay; “self-care morsels” like face masks, journals, and a Headspace subscription; and “nicer” groceries. “In the past I might have thought ‘let me buy Sainsbury’s own tin of tomatoes’, but now I’m just going to think ‘crap, why not’ and go for the more expensive things,” he says. he. “Mutti tomatoes might cost £10 a box, and I would still buy them. »

Arguably, this shift in mindset has been on the rise for quite some time. Its origins can be traced back to the pandemic: in July 2020, the conclusions of barclaycard revealed that Britons have spent £40.6billion on dispensable lockdown purchases, which equates to around £770 per person. The majority of people bought takeaway food and new clothes – although one respondent bought a Slush Puppie machine, and another bought a hot tub (without having a garden). In 2021, writer Imogen West-Knights coined the term ‘treat the brain’ to describe this collective fall into emotional spending sprees.

This behavior hasn’t dissipated with the end of lockdowns either: according to recent data from the ONS, although online shopping spending is falling, it has remained consistently above pre-pandemic levels since October 2020. Arguably it makes no sense: in 2020, many of us moved to confinement and could save on rent and energy costs. Also, with the closure of restaurants, pubs and clubs, we were effectively prohibited from spending much of our disposable income, which left us with a surplus to spend on Uber Eats and ASOS orders. . Fast forward to now, however, and many of us have re-entered the private rental market and started frequenting hospitality venues again – in addition to inflation hits its highest level since 1981. We have less and less disposable income play with it – so why can’t we stop spending?

“I think from a psychological point of view it makes a lot of sense to focus on enjoying the present when you’re not sure what the future might bring.,” Explain Katharina Bernecker, social psychologist who is interested in pleasure and well-being. “The current increase in the cost of living does not appear to be changing this trend, but may rather be fueling it even more.”

Research confirms it. According to a study by the Yorkshire Building Society, around 19% of UK adults have less than £100 in savings. Additionally, a separate study by financial services company Fidelity found that 45% of Gen Z and Millennials “don’t see the point of saving until things get back to normal.” Statistics like these can often give rise to people like Kirstie Allsopp saying that young people could have greater financial stability and access the property ladder if they just gave up things like Netflix and takeout. and the gym, but analysis showed you’d give up a weekly Domino’s for over 125 years have enough to make a deposit in London. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why young people don’t prioritize saving (or aren’t able to at all).

Andy explains that he is happy to part with his savings from time to time to deal with his anxieties – “even if it seems counter-intuitive,” he says. “With the cost of living crisis, seemingly a new Prime Minister every two weeks and the climate crisis, I think I’m generally developing a stronger ‘fuck it, live in the moment’ mindset,” he explains. “I don’t deprive myself of the little pleasures of the here and now.” Halima feels the same: “I’m the poorest I’ve ever been, but food makes me so happy – it’s the only spark of joy I have on this terrible, terrible earth.”

It should be noted here that some purchases have the potential to be more “harmful” than others – dropping £30 at a local independent restaurant is different from spending £30 at a SHEIN transportation, for example. Also, if you’re buying things on impulse – and maybe using a Buy now, pay later like Klarna to fund your shopping sprees – you’re unlikely to ever experience the feeling of satisfaction you seek. In all honesty, in a capitalist and consumerist society, it’s easy to fall into the idea that true happiness is just another purchase – but, of course, that’s a mistake.

Our research shows that enjoying the present is important for wellbeing and mental health, but that doesn’t necessarily mean spending money,” Bernecker says. “It can be small experiences of walking in nature or spending an evening with friends […] happiness is related to experiences rather than expenses. We owe it to ourselves to get out of this materialistic mindset – and more importantly, we owe it to the exploited factory workers and the environment too.

Moreover, as BErnecker says, While this behavior may make psychological sense, that doesn’t mean it makes economic sense. “Oyou own research suggests that pleasure should be low if people cannot afford what they buy. Their bad conscience and thoughts about their overstretched budget will hurt the experience,” she says. “So spending too much is probably not a good idea, either in the short or the long term.”

Halima, who recently moved to London for their postgraduate degree, tells me that they often end up spending too much and feeling anxious about it. In addition to the “insane” cost of living in the capital, they eexplain that since they have dyscalculia – a disability that makes it difficult to understand arithmetic – they can often get their budgeting wrong. “I can’t read numbers very well,” they say. “I’m trying to understand money better now that I’m in my twenties, but when you have dyscalculia, it’s hard.”

It goes without saying that it would be foolish to knowingly live beyond your means, but it’s also a bit depressing to think that we’re not really talking about foie gras or Rolex watches here. For so many young people – even those working full time – a bar of chocolate or a weekly takeaway or 20 minutes of heating is what constitutes “a luxury”. Ultimately, the cost-of-living crisis is not a personal failure, but a systemic problem: as Martin Lewis despairs said last March, the current economic situation “is not something that financial management can fix. It’s not something for those with the lowest incomes, telling them to cut their belts will work. We need political intervention.

Until then, as long as you don’t bankrupt yourself, excessively fuel climate catastrophe, or fund modern slavery, I guess there’s no harm in buying the best olive oil. olive or a new plant. If it really makes you happy – as Andy says – “shit, why not?”

Join Dazed Club and be part of our world! You get exclusive access to events, parties, festivals and our editors, plus a free subscription to Dazed for one year. Sign up for £5/month today.