One minute your mate's broke, they literally have no money so can you please stop asking them to go out. The next? They’re buying a house and renting out one of the rooms for extra cash.
When you’re in your 20s it’s not that obvious who has what money to their name. But suddenly, from the age of about 28 onwards, the distinction can become really clear. In some circles, people start getting houses or flats bought for them and suddenly the days of being dirt broke together are over.
Although the bank of mum and dad is feeling the pinch (the average parental contribution for home buyers this year will be £18,000, down 17% from last year's £21,600), more than one in four buyers are still expected to receive financial help from friends or family. In total, 27% of home buyers get assistance – up from 25% last year. Despite smaller sums being loaned, parental help is still a major factor in getting people onto the UK housing market. But how does it feel when you’re not one of them? And what does this do to friendships?
This happened to Natasha*, 32, who has a good job in PR in London and a decent salary, but not the sort that can afford a deposit for a flat in the capital. "Throughout our 20s, my friends and I all rented flats and houses of varying standards, complained about landlords and bills and damp until something changed. But at about the age of 27, my friends – who I thought were the same as me in every way – all of a sudden, weren’t. The same friends who joined me in lamenting their overdraft and how much they’d spent at the weekend, were suddenly buying flats. And in London, not the suburbs."
At first, Natasha thought it was a few incredibly lucky ones with very rich parents, and the rest would be renting forever like her. "But then everyone started to buy flats, even 'normal' people with similar backgrounds to me. I was shocked. It turns out that most people I know have parents with a nest egg large enough for a one-bedroom flat or, if not, the parents of one half of a couple do," she says.
For Natasha, this was never an option. "I am a single woman, my mum was a single parent. She has worked harder than anyone I know to ensure I’ve had a privileged life, and I know I’m luckier than most, but there is no nest egg. I couldn’t be prouder of my friends and their lovely homes, but there’s something so desperately unfair about being able to rely on your parents to ensure you’re not in a cycle of crap flat shares for the rest of your life."
Others agree and say it takes a toll on their professional lives, too. Filmmaker Elliot Cox, 31, from Birmingham, says that although he has benefitted from this and lived for cheap in places his friends’ parents own, he feels disadvantaged professionally. "People who don’t have to worry about money can constantly immerse themselves in the medium they want to work in. Having rich parents helps and they don’t have to worry about making enough money. If you took away that worry I’d have so much more freedom in my work," he says. As a result of renting and working in a creative job, Cox says he is now hugely in debt. "Credit card debt feels that much more urgent and I feel anxious all the time."
If you are doing fun things with your life and have a job that you care about, then some say it doesn’t matter how much money your peers have. "You can tell yourself it’s a choice," says actor Alastair McDonnell, 35, from Glasgow. However, he says, there is some resentment when people who have had houses bought for them moan about money. "One of my friends wanted to stay for free at an Airbnb I was renting in New York. There wasn’t much room so I suggested she just get a hotel, to which she replied, 'I’ve got no cash, I'm buying a house'."
He says this made him think: "You’re buying a massive house. You’ve already been given a huge advantage. You don’t get to leverage that more. You can’t be tight when you’re buying a property like that. I suppose the fact of her having a house is by the by. But when she complains about the expense of the giant house she chose to buy and how it prevents her from doing things, then she can get lost."
Financial help such as this can also cause tensions in relationships. Some people could never have afforded a house themselves but marry someone with rich parents and then feel indebted to them. Ben Barton, 33, lives with his partner, and his parents gave him money for the flat they live in. He says it creates "a massive divide" in his relationship and is a source of arguments when deciding where to live and what kind of property to buy, but he points out: "Getting rich off property your parents bought doesn’t make you a success. Any idiot could do it."
Others can end up resenting their parents and their own life decisions. "My mum lives in a massive house on her own, she doesn’t need all that space now we’ve all moved out. She should downsize!" jokes one 32-year-old Londoner, who says she’s the only one in her friendship group who hasn’t received any help towards a mortgage from her family.
Although this may sound like the ultimate middle-class, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses problem, it clearly does impact on how friends, family and couples interact with each other. Les Back, professor of sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, says that like so many aspects of privilege it can be really tough for those that go without, but it is important for those that do benefit from it to recognise the privileged position they're in. "Those who are buoyed by all that advantage feel benefit but often it is invisible to them," he says.
*Some names have been changed