Avocado Toast and Home Ownership

I am sure that many of you are familiar with the story from 2 years ago linking millenials brunch habits with their low home ownership rates that sent ripples of laughter around the internet. The story I am referring to is this one https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/may/15/australian-millionaire-millennials-avocado-toast-house where a millionaire informs young people that they need to cut down on their breakfast indulgence and $4 coffees to unlock the secret path to home ownership. I decided to try and put this to the test (only on paper of course because who wants to give up brunching and morning coffees) as an upcoming graduate heading back to London after graduation.
As someone lucky enough to be going back to London with a graduate job, I will be earning from September. Let's assume that I will try to move out immediately and begin renting in London. I will also use the average graduate salary for London schemes. The average graduate salary for an economics student is somewhere around the £29 000 mark. After tax, this would leave me with around £23 258. Now lets consider how much student loan I would begin to pay back: this works out to around £24.63 per week or £1280.76 a year. Our money left over is now £21 977.24. I am also going to assume, every year I get a raise of £3000.
Having looked at some properties in London,the prices are not low and with income in the first year equivalent to £1831.44 per month it is not unreasonable to assume that 50% of this income will be spent on rent and bills (and that's probably a conservative estimate). This leaves around £915.72 per month for residual living costs. Let's assume that I am particularly thrifty and am able to get a bus to and from work. With 25 days leave per year, this adds up to £705 per year on work travel (it costs £1.50 for a bus journey) adding a £58.75 monthly cost. £856.97 now has to cover groceries and leisure costs for the month. According to the Money Advice Service the average spend on food per person per month is £235. This leaves us with £621.97. Unexpected costs are bound to be needed so let's set aside £75 per month for this. We now have £546.97 for leisure and savings. Now for the avocado toast and coffees!
From my limited experience of brunching, avocado toast tends to be on the cheaper side of the menu around the £5 mark whilst more elaborate concoctions sit closer to £9. Let's average that out and assume each brunch excursion costs you £7 for food and £3 for a fancy beetroot latte. I will also add in the cost of a daily (workday) coffee at £2.75 a pop (you bring your own mug) adding up to £13.75 per week. I personally feel that assuming brunch is a weekly occurrence may be overstating things slightly but lets go with it being a weekly Sunday treat. All of this luxury adds up to £95 per month, or £1140 per year. This leaves £451.97 for savings and any other treats in the week. Because we are just testing the impact of avocado toast and coffees I am going to leave out other leisure for now and assume I can put away £451.97 every month for a deposit on a house. This adds up to £5423.64 of savings in my first year. Without avocado toast this would be £6563.64

According to Statista, the average house price in London is around the £475 000 mark. The recommended minimum deposit is now at the 20% mark so let's make that £95 000 saved for a property in London. Assuming an increase of £3000 every year, here is what the next 5 years would look like
saving with avocado toast year 2: £6293.6
saving without avocado toast year 2: £7433.6

saving with avocado toast year 3: £7163.6
saving without avocado toast year 3: £8303.64

saving with avocado toast year 4: £8033.6
saving without avocado toast year 4: £9173.52

saving with avocado toast year 5: £8903.6
saving without avocado toast year 5: £10043.64

Total saved in the first 5 years with avocado toast: £35818.04
Total saved in the first 5 years without avocado toast: £41518.04
This means that even after 5 years of salary progression, nonexistent leisure, low rent in an area probably far from your place of work you are still not even halfway to meeting your deposit on a house. Of course the dynamic changes if you and a partner are combining salaries. The reality is of course eating out adds up but the figures above are very conservative estimates of spending on these moments- if you don't spend it on avocado toast or equivalent meals and drinks with friends, is the plan to live between work and home religiously saving? Even if you do this it is likely you will be saving for at least 10 years before making the deposit. This is why it is ridiculous to say that avocado toast is whats holding the next generation back from buying homes- if only it was that easy!! So don't feel too guilty the next time you decide to catch up with a friend over a poached egg or two, it really won't slash your saving dreams.

Questions about the homeless and data problems

In this blog post, I write about an interesting question I would want to answer, and the reason why it probably won't get answered: The lack of available data.

One main thing economists do is answer difficult questions by using data. You could ask any kind of question and then try and find the appropriate data to answer it. One big problem occurs when there is simply no data available or the data that is available is inadequate. This can bring about big problems, because if everyone just studies the issues for which data are available huge areas of research can go completely untouched. This might be because data is difficult to acquire. For example, it's easier to find data for official government statistics on education that it is on people's attitudes towards important issues. In the latter case, you'd have to run a survey and this also bears the problem that the answers are self-reported and people might not always respond truthfully (whether it's conscious or unconscious). In a previous post, I wrote about the Gender Data gap and the fact that there is not enough data available on the lives and specific circumstances of women (especially in lower-income countries and areas). Similar problems are found elsewhere, in the post from last week Jocelyn writes about the book "Invisible Women" in which Caroline Criado Perez writes about how this world is designed for men and that one reason for this is that people don't make the effort to gather data on women.

The reason I'm writing about this is that I had a question for which there probably is no data available. I was wondering whether giving to the homeless is changing in the U.K. as the country transitions from predominately using cash to using cards. Usually, if things change drastically you see people adapting. If you walk around major cities in the U.K. today, most street musicians and artists have a small contactless device through which people can donate. Similarly, in museums, you can donate a specified amount using your contactless card instead of leaving some change. Clearly, the homeless could not adapt in this manner. You might even argue that homeless people with a contactless device would receive even less because people perceive them as less deserving. This question fits in the larger area of research on the homeless. While there is some data on how many homeless people there are or potential policies, there is less research on attitudes towards the homeless and their lives. A paper by Morgan, Goddard, and Givens from 2016 examines what determines people's willingness to help the homeless in direct face-to-face interactions such as willingness to give or volunteering in a homeless shelter. They find a strong link between the general level of empathy that a person feels and their willingness to give, but they also consider factors such as religion, gender, and race. Apart from attitudes towards the homeless, it might be also interesting to see what impacts their lives the most. Whether its services run by volunteers such as shelters or soup kitchens or direct giving from people on the streets. If receiving money from people on the streets is a major source for their food and clothing, a reduction in how much cash people carry with them could have drastic effects on the homeless. On the other hand, it might be that there is no effect at all because the people who give to the homeless will find a way to give with or without a card-based system. Or maybe, contactless won't have an impact on how much cash people carry in the first place. I think these are interesting questions to answer but clearly, there is not a lot of data available on the homeless. One could ask homeless people directly and conduct surveys but it would take a while until we'd have a sufficiently large data set. Furthermore, maybe homeless people don't know how much exactly they were given directly before the country moved to contactless. In this case, you could compare a country like the U.K. with a different more cash-focussed country such as Germany. But it might be that people in one country are just naturally more/less likely to give and that it actually has nothing to do with how much cash people carry with them.

I do not want to suggest that it lies in the public's responsibility to support the homeless, this is a huge policy failure, and governments should find ways to protect all its citizens and improve the lives of the homeless. Finland for example "solved" its situation with homelessness and while this solution might not work everywhere this suggests that through smart thinking and commitment it's not impossible to help the homeless.