Behind the indulgence and spending money on yourself, are the kids really alright?
Every day, I walk fifteen minutes to the nearest Tim Hortons for a coffee run.
Logistically speaking, there’s a Starbucks in our cafeteria, a Toby’s Estate in our basement and a Coffee Bean somewhere within closer proximity, but my large Tim's iced coffee costs less than the smallest craft cup at any of those places, so I walk. Taking into account how much I spend on transportation and the fact that I have coffee from home still toasty in my lunchbox, it’s still 105 bucks more than I should be spending. But I’m gonna be honest here: my chances of making it through the day without that are bleak, slim to downright dismal. Not because I need the caffeine, but because the taste of sweet, syrup-infused coffee makes me happy. It’s money I shouldn’t be spending on a daily basis, but it keeps me sane. That cup of coffee is my 18-ounce oasis.
Sometime last year, I caught wind of a phenomenon from Korea called shibal biyong, which can be loosely translated into “fuck it expenses.” The “fuck it” you murmur when you decide to ditch the daily commute for a more expensive Grab ride. The “fuck it” you chant in your head as you whip out your card to treat yourself to dinner. The kind of “fuck it” propelled to the universe when you throw all caution to the wind and book a trip out of town.
Jeongmin Kim, the analyst and political scholar whose tweet about sibal biyong put the concept on my map, defines the neologism as “an expense that might seem unnecessary but that helps you get through a bad day.” Alternatively, it’s one that would not have incurred sans the stress in your system.
Image via Jeongmin Kim
It takes the concepts of instant gratification and retail therapy a harrowing step further. As Kim puts it in her essay for Foreign Policy, “The term implies that you might as well make yourself happy right now because your prospects in the long term seem bleak. Buy that nice coat because you’ll never get on the housing ladder. Eat that steak because you’ll never save up enough to retire.”
Sometimes, I catch myself wondering how I'd survive if I were to be diagnosed with a serious disease. If by that time, I were living away from my parents, would I end up bleeding my bank account dry in the attempt to heal? What if my dog suddenly got sick? What if I were to get pregnant? What would become of me then?
For many a millennial in the creative industry, the odds skewed out of our favor. In a few weeks, I'll be hitting my fourth year in the workforce, but I'm not proud at all of how much (or little) I've saved up since I started working. Months when I can put aside the 10% that all the adults tell you to save up are the best months, but even with my day job, my side hustle of writing press releases and a burgeoning business on the side, it's still a task I struggle with month to month. It's a lot of sad things to stress over. It took me over two years to get an appraisal in my first job. While my current one has proven to be much more just with payment and raises, publishing in general is a high-stress, low-pay environment––in this country, at least. While I've accepted that I need to leave the country in order to fully capitalize off the career I’ve dreamed of, it still feels like a slap in the face.
I stress over not having enough. I push myself to do more, write more, sell more. I get upset that I'm not being paid enough for my efforts. I end up with a cup of comfort coffee in hand. Rinse, repeat.
Although, I'll admit, I'm one of the lucky ones. Everyone's carrying their own crosses. In the face of a tough day, I can still (albeit with the weight of self-inflicted shame heavy on my shoulders) go for a ramen run or take a Grab home. I still have the means to say “fuck it” and spend. But what of the people whose choices have been bottlenecked by circumstance? Those who need to “be creative” to simply make it to work?
Image via Jays
Not to be a downer, but reality check: the future is looking bleak.
It's easy to blame this generation's materialism for this behavior, but maybe there's more to it. Fuck it expenses are a generation-wide consequence to the feeling of despair that lives inside of us, to being overworked, to the industries of our dreams turning out to be low-paying talent mines, to a government that has fucked us over for administrations on end.
From the outside looking in, it may look like self-indulgence. But for the generation that lives it, it’s a means of survival.
Art Alexandra Lara