A little Oxfordshire town randomly became home when I got my first teaching job at the tender age of 22. I was the first amongst my friends to properly ‘live with my boyfriend’ in a sweet little flat with colourful kitchen tiles and a balcony for the cat. It felt terribly grown up, being out on our own, working hard to pay the rent while a lot of our contemporaries were still pulling student all-nighters or living with their parents. It was the year of the recession, and although we had quite good savings back then, we weren’t even thinking about mortgages. We probably wouldn’t have been able to get one, anyway.
Eighteen months later, the rent was increased on the flat with the colourful tiles, and we moved to another one, a little less charming, but spacious, and right in the town centre. We filled it with books and watched the cat lounge across the hot spots of the underfloor heating. Cue happy times baking in the huge kitchen, and parties, now we had space for friends to stay.
Then the rent went up again. We realised we could rent a proper house for a little more money, and although it was a bit of a financial stretch (I was working part-time then), the lure of more space and a garden was very appealing. So we moved again, and we loved that house. It was the sort of the place we’d happily have bought and stayed in forever. It had more space than we needed, and it was pretty. It had a wood-burning stove. It was great.
By this time, the economy was a bit better, and my friends were starting to discuss mortgages. Shit. Oh yeah. Sort of forgot about those.
I’d funded my own MA, and we’d had a lovely wedding. We didn’t really have savings any more, which we know is a bit stupid. But were we really so stupid to rent through our twenties? What was the alternative – put our relationship on hold while we lived at home and sponged off our parents? Should we have lived in a shared house? A hovel? We didn’t spend extravagantly. No big holidays, apart from our honeymoon to China – and that was our wedding present from our guests.
We worked hard through our 20s, and I really believed we deserved nice places to live. The trouble is that we’re now 30, and still renting. Perhaps naively, we followed our hearts and moved to a ridiculously expensive area. We wanted to experience cosmopolitan city life before we got too grown up. And I don’t really regret it. Not really. I love where we live, even if I do get stressed about the rent.
A lot of my friends have bought houses now. And yes, I’m jealous. I’m also in wonder as to how the hell they did it. Well, they didn’t choose to live in Oxfordshire, for a start – the most expensive county outside London. Some of them inherited money, which lets face it, is the most depressing way of getting on the housing ladder. I don’t want my relatives to die so we can buy a house. Some of them are better paid than us, and live in cheaper places – so the maths isn’t hard. One couple just didn’t leave their cheap rented flat for eighteen months, budgeting £4 a week for anything fun.
Most of them got at least a little help from their parents, and this is a tricky one. I would never ask for help. We had help with the wedding, and fully appreciated it. But we’d never ask. (I’m not sure my parents are open to us buying a permanent home anywhere other than right next door to them, anyway).
At the moment, we’re remaining firm members of Generation Rent. We’re not in a position to save much at the moment, but in a year or two, our jobs might change, and we might feel a little better off. There’s more to life than a big financial plan, right? After all, we’ve had eight years of living together, in places that have made us happy. We’ve invested in each other, even if we’ve been a bit crap (but not explosively terrible) with money. We’ll get better at the money stuff. Here’s hoping, because memes like the one below are really scary…