Millennial to Millionaire: Stop Blaming Avocado Toast for Why We’re Not Buying Houses

Photo Credit: T.Tseng/Flickr

Millennials rarely get a fair shake when it comes to, well, anything written about them, which is why it isn’t surprising to see a misguided post from TIME magazine today blaming the low rate of home ownership among millennials on their apparently voracious appetite for avocado toast.

“When I was trying to buy my first home, I wasn’t buying smashed avocado for $19 and four coffees at $4 each,” millionaire Tim Gurner says, also blaming millennials’ annual trips to Europe every year as the reason why they can’t afford to buy homes.

He continues, “The people that own homes today worked very, very hard for it, saved every dollar, did everything they could to get up the property investment ladder,” conveniently failing to mention the housing bubble and subsequent crash that occurred in the last decade due to poorly regulated banks that approved mortgages for millions of people who they knew could not afford to pay them back. For Gurner, it’s easier to blame rampant spending on avocados and lattes for today’s low home ownership rates than on post-recession regulation of predatory lending practices that have prevented banks from handing out mortgages like candy.

Guess what, Gurner: According to the New York Times, Federal Reserve data shows that the percentage of Americans under 35 who hold credit card debt has fallen to its lowest level since 1989, the year Taylor Swift was born into this world. If millennials are having trouble controlling their spending, the data does not show it.

Poor financial habits have long been blamed as the root for our financial stresses. As long-time finance reporter Helaine Olen writes in her book, Pound Foolish, it was the finance guru David Bach who popularized the idea in the late-’90s that too many people were buying $5 lattes rather than choosing to save or invest that money. “Are you latte-ing away your financial future?” Bach’s idea became hugely popular in the personal finance world partly because of its simplicity and partly because it was easy to blame ourselves for our own financial problems. Olen called this phenomenon, “the latte factor.”

The truth is very few people have experienced financial ruin because of their spending on lattes and avocado toast. Much of our financial struggles can be attributed to years of stagnant wages combined with the rising cost of housing, education, and health care. Indeed, the number one cause of bankruptcy in the U.S. is due to unpaid medical bills.

The idea that we’re spending too much money on lattes and avocado toast continues to distract us from these bigger issues. Things like finding affordable housing, negotiating a better salary, fighting for affordable health care, and ensuring that employers offer adequate paid family leave do so much more for the average person than quitting a daily coffee habit ever will.

Let’s leave the “latte factor” concept back in the ’90s where it belongs.

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Further Reading

I highly recommend the book I mentioned in this post, Pound Foolish, by Helaine Olen. You can also take a look at a conversation I had with Olen in 2013 that still resonates today.