When I turned eighteen I started to think that I was an adult. Leaving home and heading off to university seemed like the moment when I would transition to adulthood. In reality it only postponed the real learning by giving me one last hurrah – a hurrah that lasted three years mind.
Being able to manage my own finances; aka paying rent, bills and having a part time job, all seemed like the sort of thing that proper people do. That was true. But I was experiencing the most simplified version of what that meant. My responsibilities were surface level complicated.
My household costs and university fees were paid for by a combination of a few hours of bar work, huge student loans and a bank overdraft.
Banks are terrible. They really drag you, coaxing you to join open an account with them by offering student bonuses for signing up to an overdraft with them. You’re the kid in the candy store who’s been told they can have any sweet or chocolate they want. What you aren’t being told is that if you keep indulging like this then you’ll end with cavities and then painful visits with the dentist soon after.
Even at the time you know that an overdraft is a loan, but you don’t really understand the weight of that. You can open multiple accounts if you want to and it’s all interest free! Brilliant! Nope, not brilliant. You are borrowing money you don’t have. Money you may not be able to easily earn back (especially in this job market). Money that you could only pay back if you stop doing anything that costs any money to do for at least a year. This is unlikely to be feasible if you’re even only a little bit sociable or live in a big city.
Then I got a full time job and realised that those student exemptions to council tax were amazing. Who knew?
Apart from the huge chunks of money that get taken out as tax and national insurance – whatever that is, you have to pay to live in an area of the country and that, it seems, can be quite costly. So that’s just another one of those life costs and you learn to deal with it draining that much more of your bank balance. You save that much more of your pay each month, on top of bills, and you keep on working hard and having fun. And that’s it right?
Your still not done learning because what if something goes wrong? What if you get ill or someone in your family gets ill and you have to take time off work to help them? Well, you lose money. Or rather you don’t make as much.
That means that the little bit of money you were saving to pay off that still-interest-free-for-a-year overdraft is being used up on transport or eating out because you don’t have the time or energy to cook for yourself. If you manage to get by, scraping what you can together and feeling battered the whole time, then it’s back to working hard and paying normal, massive, bills, bills and more bills.
The lucky few will end up with jobs that earn them a decent salary and money will be a process of in and out. If you’re one of them then you’ll be able to plan a holiday here and there. If you’re unlucky/chose a career path that didn’t lead to being instantly the most employable graduate ever, you will have to keep working those long and less loved hours in what feels like a dead end job. Dead end because it’s not even remotely close to what you dreamed of.
By the time you start to realise that you are on a path where you are not only racing the other graduates, and also those who will being coming up after you for the jobs you want, each year adding more other people to the pot of choice for potential employers, you’ll start thinking again that THIS is what being an adult is.
Finally, this is adult life.
This is all of it.
You are the wacky racer who doesn’t have a car but has to run the driving race holding up a cardboard cut out of a car. It’s harder, painful and no one seems to care that it’s unfair. Being a grown up is fucking stressful because just when you think you understand how it all works, how you should be interacting with the world, you get shown something you didn’t even realise was a thing grown ups did.
This will continue every single year.
Worst of all, even once your twenty-five, you still won’t even have gotten around to thinking about retirement – as if that’ll be an option when you get to ninety.