October 2014– “Fam, you might as well just cop it, you’re on some joke ting.” “Bro, one sec man… I’m tryna figure out if this even makes sense.” I was looking at a finance agreement for the first time. A few months into my first job at an investment bank and I was ready to blow half my pay check on a car fresh off the show room floor. I was whole heartedly embracing my street ni**a dream of pulling up to every motive in the new plate whip and stealing someone’s girl. But even then, I still had the feeling I was making the wrong decision…
“What do you mean ‘make sense’ bro? The whip is mad, cuz! Did you not feel that test drive? This car is moving! Plus, you got the all leather interior and the colour is sick – you need to cop it still.” It was the finest sales pitch South London could offer. I felt the stares of both my overexcited bredrin and the actual sales manager, as I leafed through the document. I liked the car a lot, which was the main issue. I was on a crash course to spending a lot of money on it and I knew it… “All right”, I nodded to the sales manager. “I’ll take it, just let me know the final amount I have to pay per month.” “I’ll be right back!” The manager scuttled away with a grin, knowing the two youths who’d come to the show room had let their ego and hood dreams get the better of them. “Ay, do you think they’ll let you drive it away today? There’s a motive later we could pull up at.” My friend and I debated for a bit whilst the sales manager got the paperwork together.
As the sales guy walked back to the desk, his facial expression was not one I had anticipated. “I’m afraid the credit check didn’t come back as expected.” My boy and I looked at each other before in shock before looking back at the manager. “So, what, I can’t buy it anymore?” I asked, my dream slipping away from me. “Absolutely you can,” the sales manager hastily replied. “It just means you’ll need to stretch your budget a bit more. We have alternative lenders that will happily take you on, but it does come at an extra cost though. I’ve already printed an updated quote here, have a look.” I grabbed the agreement and looked at the ‘updated’ numbers. My boy must have seen the look on my face because he leant in and had a look for himself. “What? An extra £90 a month, that’s light! You got that my guy.” I had a think before finally realising, that none of it made sense any longer; the numbers didn’t add up and I could barely justify it to begin with…
One Week Later– “Thanks again PB! We really appreciate you choosing us for your new car.” The sales manager looked through the open car window at me with a grin bigger than my bill. As he walked back inside the showroom, I started the car and set off, primarily ready to steal someone’s girl, but with the niggling thought that I was the one that had just been taken for a spin around the block…
Today– It took me three and a half years of paying off a car deal I knew I got shafted on to realise that I had to make some changes in my life. Now I’ve already used this platform to talk about financial security, so this is going to be a little different. This is going to be about an epidemic that’s sweeping through our communities. A condition that seizes the hearts and minds of millennials everywhere and threatens their very sanity. It’s called Designer Poverty. Now as a recovering individual of the condition, I’ll run you through the symptoms and how to spot victims of this affliction.
The first and major symptom is the victim’s willingness to subscribe to the mantra “image gang over everything”. Image gang are a select group of people who prioritise how they look and come across to the rest of the world over everything else. Image for some young people is more important than eating food; it’s more important than drinking water. Image gang is the essence of many young people’s lives and the thought of them getting anything less than 500 likes for an Instagram post preys on them endlessly. The problem with image gang is inherent in the name. The motivation of the movement is surface level, superficial and often expensive to fund. This has two main consequences. The first is that they perpetuate poor ideas about what it means to do well, be successful and live a happy life by suggesting: “If you don’t look and come across a certain way, you’re done out here.” The second is that it means that young people make poor financial decisions trying to chase the next trend, piece of clothing, car or piece of jewellery, and because fads are ever changing, young people continue making the same bad decisions. It ruins personal credit and produces a real headwind against building wealth.
Another symptom of Designer Poverty is how stubbornly resistant it is to basic, common sense. This is recognisable in the pattern of behaviour I described in my story. Everything pointed toward the purchase of the car being a bad decision. I knew I could live without it, and I knew I needed to save for my own place; I also knew that it was too expensive, but by some miracle, I managed to cook up an argument against all of that. What’s probably more frustrating is that this resistance to common sense is now justified by many young people as “living your best life”, “yolo”, and “fuck it bro”. It’s now a celebrated cocktail of short-termism, a lack of regard for consequences and an aggressive pursuit of recognition. This pattern of behaviour is key in being able to rationalise a Designer Poverty lifestyle to one’s self when fundamentally it makes little sense.
One last big issue with Designer Poverty is how it often feels like it specifically targets the black community. It feels a shame to say it, but urban culture, despite its huge contemporary success can at times be quite toxic. The level of competition between young, black people (specifically males) is something I have never witnessed with any other race. The willingness to outdo your peers at seemingly whatever cost has surely contributed to some of the crime we see in urban communities. Designer Poverty feeds into this struggle, young men buying jewels as big as their fists to take back to their mum’s council flats. I see black youths spending a third of their income on clothes just to wear their new clothes to the shops. This partly comes from the fact that the majority of the public figures and role models for young, black people are in sports and entertainment, which are inherently flashy, image driven and all about the shine.
Now we all know prevention is better than remediation and being a recovering sufferer myself, I feel I’m well placed to advise on how I eventually found myself in a better place. Whilst finance certainly has its considerable share of big, ostentatious bankers who are all about the image and up to their eyeballs in the facade, it’s the place I learnt about how money and life works. I realised quickly that if I really wanted a comfortable life, I needed to adopt better money management. The second thing I had to do was stop trying to please myself and everyone else in the present in order to get my life right for the future. I deleted most of my social media accounts, withdrew into myself a bit and took a long, retrospective look at what I was prioritising. I realised that many of my decisions had been based on wanting immediate gratification based on mostly external factors as opposed to my spending habits being a healthy mix of stuff I was both genuinely into and able to afford. There was also a huge sense of freedom I got from not chasing trends; I was able to take life at my own pace and be my own genuine person without feeling I had to catch up to others or look like the next rich, black guy – I attained some semblance of peace by living a low key life.
On the whole, going through my Designer Poverty phase was necessary for me to realise that whilst external validation feels nice in the moment, self-validation and taking life at my own pace is far more enjoyable in the long run.
The Poor Banker