It used to be so easy. You’d live with your parents until you were 30-something (and had settled into a hybrid and weird housemate-style relationship), you’d drink instant coffee instead of takeaway lattes, you have tins of homebrand tuna for lunch – eaten at your desk. Your colleagues knew not to ask you when collecting money for a going-away present or for charity.
You were saving for a deposit on a house – socking it away cent by cent, dollar by miserable dollar.
Once in a while you’d clip a Groupon for a $15 steakhouse meal. Entertainment was the TV, at home, where you’d watch The Block and feel a sense of investment in the plotline that sometimes scared you.
Brunch was for wimps who lacked the discipline to save money and the strength to smash their own avocado. Your life was generally joyless – but like a penitent you were deferring pleasure for a higher good. Your fever dreams involved sparsely attended auctions and deceased estates. Refreshing the browser on realestate.com.au became more exciting than watching porn.
But somewhere along the line real estate became to living what porn is to sex. The houses unattainable to Normals, auctions as entertainment, the whole thing an absurd fantasy accessible only to the super rich – or those who already had a leg up and the equity to negatively gear.
So it is galling to read the demographer Bernard Salt in the Australian at the weekend saying that if millennials just stopped going to “hipster cafes” and eating avo on toast – they too could buy a house.
Salt writes: “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.”
Hey, Salt – your maths is wrong! Houses prices in Sydney have surged beyond the price increases of smashed avo with feta on sourdough. The median house price is $1m. You would now have to save $200,000 to put down a 20% deposit on something not great, somewhere not grand.
Forgoing avo on toast for brunch once a week and you’ll save for your deposit in … 175 years! That’s 9,100 $22 smashed avocados on toast. With feta. And maybe some chilli flakes.
Last weekend a one-bedroom house (one bedroom – try raising a family in that!) sold in Sydney’s Camperdown for $1,230,000, up from $688,500 in 2013.
So what do you do when you can’t afford to buy somewhere to live? Well, you decide to live.
You get Ubers, you travel, you buy a good phone, you get a laptop, you go for brunch (many of these things – particularly travel and electronic goods have fallen in price, while house prices have accelerated way beyond income growth).
Brunch is the opiate of the masses. 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 – what’s the hot suburb to brunch in? What area has not yet been gentrified by wealthy brunchers and its possible to get authentic Israeli baked eggs for a tenner? What brunch place has just had a write-up in Broadsheet? 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.
Brunch is all we’ve got, Bernard! Don’t take it away from us.
When I interviewed Nick Shelton, the founder of the foodie website and newspaper Broadsheet last year, he said that research it commissioned has shown that young people (who treat Broadsheet as their bible) will eat out about nine times a week.
Brunch has become a lifestyle – fetishised as much as the property market (the New York Times calls it the brunch industrial complex). But the price point of entry is much lower than property – you have to take what you can get.
This is depressing, not because it stops young people from saving for houses, but because time in restaurants or lingering for hours over brunch means less time for the necessary activism or political action against the offensively unequal society we are now living in.
We’re rolling out of cafes, too jacked up on the third latte, groaning from the pulled pork mascarpone pancake stack, to meaningfully fight the man on income inequality, negative gearing and unaffordable housing. But, boy, we need to.
As I write this I am eating brunch (baked eggs with olives, yum – $16) in a suburb with million-dollar houses. I will never be able to afford to buy a house in Bondi, but I can afford to brunch here – and that $16 for those eggs is the toll I pay to linger here, just for a little while.
We should be angry about this. We want houses. Instead we get brunch. And then the baby boomers with houses try to take away our brunch.