Why the battle over avocado toast misses the point

avocado toast and eggs
CC BY 2.0 Stacy Spensley

Millennials are mad that grumpy baby boomers are so judgmental of their fancy brunch habit, but it raises a good question: Whatever happened to saving?

Baby boomers and Millennials are fighting over avocado toast. It all started last week, when Bernard Salt wrote an article for The Weekend Australian Magazine, expressing concern over how much money Millennials spend on brunch, while they simultaneously complain about the inaccessible housing market:

“I have seen young people order smashed avocado with crumbled feta on five-grain toasted bread at $22 a pop and more. I can afford to eat this for lunch because I am middle-aged and have raised my family. But how can young people afford to eat like this? Shouldn't they be economising by eating at home? How often are they eating out? Twenty-two dollars several times a week could go towards a deposit on a house.”

Salt has been raked over the coals for his comment, with Millennial bloggers pointing out that, if you eat brunch once a week, it would take 9,100 $22 smashed avocado toasts and 175 years to save a 20 percent down payment for Sydney’s median house price of $1 million. Writing for The Guardian, Millennial-defender Brigid Delaney describes brunch as “the opiate of the masses,” consolation for a generation that views real estate as an impossible dream.

“We are not going out for brunch instead of buying houses: we are brunching because we cannot afford to buy houses. And oh how we brunch! We watch the brunch market as carefully as the baby boomers watch property… We’ll queue up for it and Instagram it and use it as a social signifier in the way that people once used their houses as a mark of social status.”

Delaney’s defense, however, falls short for me. I’m all for living in the present, and I do appreciate a great meal, but I am also a Millennial who feels concern for the apparent lack of care for the future among my peers. This is about more than just avocado toast once a week. That toast represents a lifestyle that, more often than not, comes at the cost of not saving.

It’s as if Millennials look at the housing market, shrug their shoulders, and give up entirely. If they cannot have the single priciest item on the market, then nothing else is worth saving for. “You only live once” is the justification used for many extravagant purchases and vacations that, when considered all together, could add up to a down payment — perhaps not on a dream house (which many young people oddly think they deserve), but at least on something decent.

One commenter on Salt’s article articulated this problem well:

“I call it the ‘blueberry problem.’ One [basket] at $7, no problems at all. It is a superfood after all. The issue is that you have 3 baskets a week, plus some goji berries, a couple of smashed avocado-buckwheat sandwiches, a pea pancake, a packet of activated almonds every second day, and a thrice-fermented fresh juice (de- and then re-pulped). This sums up the diet of the high end millennial living somewhere near the downtown. No money. No assets. Always broke.”

When did saving money become so unfashionable? This is a real loss, because saving is a worthwhile, responsible habit that will benefit anyone greatly, even if one never ends up buying a house. Money in the bank can mean food on the table, less stress in times of unemployment, security in old age, better health care, a reliable vehicle, a family, additional education. It can even make more money, if invested properly. But, like it or not, $22 avocado toasts (and everything that goes along with them) do make that very challenging.

Millennials should not be so offended by Salt’s article, but rather, inspired to greater introspection.

Tags: Australia | Conspicuous Consumption | Consumerism | Finances | Housing Industry | Shopping

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