The Office for National Statistics has brought out some new data that shows some interesting (but unsurprising) details about what young people spend their money on. It is unsurprising because it shows that 15 year olds spend three times as much as seven year olds, and that the purchase of teddy bears and jigsaw puzzles is more popular with primary school students than secondary school students. But what is much more interesting in this report, is the revelation that the average 15 year old is spending around £25 per week on things like soft drinks, clothes and school dinners. I was pretty shocked at this figure, as I know plenty of adults who spend less than £25 per week on lunch and other discretionary purchases, not least of all because they understand that a spending habit of that size equates to a £1300 per year cost. Obviously there will be thousands of young people who never see anything like £25 per week to play with, but the data collected by the NOS is pretty robust and does represent a statistical insight into the real spending habits of the average young person in the UK today.
In order to get a true picture of what young people think about money, and how they use money, we would need the equivalent kind of data on their saving habits as well as their spending habits. It is too easy for too many commentators – and some of them are quoted on their reactions to this report – to start preaching to young people about the need to budget or the need to save, or some other kind of worthy remarks as soon as any data emerges to show that young people like spending money. Until we change the way we educate young people about money (and a number of other life skills) we will only have well intentioned, but ultimately futile, spasms of advice and stern warnings to give to them when the inevitable reality of reckless spending or other types of financial indulgence are brought to our attention. Telling young adults to learn how to budget is a waste of breath unless it is put into the right context. To do is is rather like encouraging them to read, when they have not been taught any grammar, or are unable to spell.
Our Keep the Cash programme is based on the proposition that an understanding of the whole system of money management is the only successful way there is of producing a generation of young adults who are able to make informed and sensible choices about what they spend, and what they save. Keep the Cash works because it puts every aspect of these knotty problems in their proper context, which allows the young people we work with to see things in the round, and to really understand what the consequences of their decisions will be. After that it is up to them, and if we know we have done all we can to inform and educate young people about finance, then we have not failed to do our duty to the next generation.