This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
Nick* considers his early upbringing pretty normal. He comes from a "middle-class family" and spent his teenager years earning his keep in restaurant jobs. Then, at 17, his parents sat him down at the dinner table and told him that his grandad had created a trust fund for him and his cousins. They would each be receiving £90,000 (AU$170,000)
"I think when a lot of people hear 'trust fund' they seem to assume upper-class spoilt kids," says Nick. "Although I definitely grew up in a middle-class family, I've worked in hospitality since I was 14."
Young people are set to be one of the worst-hit groups by the coronavirus pandemic. After living through the 2008 financial crash, coronavirus has almost guaranteed another a recession for a generation just graduating or early on in their careers. This week, the Resolution Foundation think tank estimated that without government action, 600,000 people under the age of 25 would end up unemployed after graduating from school or university during the pandemic. It seems like the worst financial decision you can make today is to be born between 1983 and 1995.
So, what’s it like to be a twenty-something who suddenly ends up with hundreds of thousands of pounds? While your friends are struggling with gig economy jobs, using a third of their salary to pay rent or wondering how on earth they’re ever going to make it onto the property ladder, you receive five times their yearly wage in one bank transfer. It can often be a lot more complicated than it seems.
Nick was in his second year of university in Scotland, working in a restaurant between his studies, when was first able to access his grandad's money. The owner of the restaurant decided to sell and Nick saw an opportunity. At the age of 21, he decided to buy a 50-percent share.
This has led to some awkward questions about how exactly he had ben able to afford it. “I generally have not told anyone about the money,” Nick tells me. “I felt a lot of shame about it. A lot people would say to me, 'Wow, you own a restaurant at 21, you must be like Richard Branson or something'. It really made me cringe, to be honest, because in reality, I'm just a privileged trust fund baby.”
Of the friends he did tell, Nick says that it had a negative effect on their relationship. “Many of them wouldn't pay me back if they owed me money, or expected me to buy everyone round at the pub,” he says. “I also found when I told girlfriends about it they acted totally different.”
It's unusual to receive a large sum of money from a living relative. For those who do inherit money in early adulthood, the experience is usually complicated by grief. Molly* received £80,000 after her mum died of breast cancer when she was 22.
“I never really had any savings,” Molly says. “When I was 22, my mum got breast cancer, and my sister and I got her pension between us when she passed away.”
“It was way more money than I would have ever been able to save myself or had ever had,” she adds. “It was a weird experience because it meant that I was financially fine... but obviously, it was literally because my mum passed away.”
Now 25, Molly has spent some of the money on a Masters degree. She plans on using the rest to pay for a deposit on a house.
Although her friends know about her mum passing away, she hasn’t told any of them about the money. “I just think it makes things weird,” says Molly. “I guess you do feel guilty. I still think there's so much completely fair resentment about people having this money if you don't have any. I used to get really resentful of my friends who had deposits and inheritance.”
How do you deal with these feelings of financial guilt when the money is also entangled with the loss of a parent?
“It's such a weird one,” says Molly. “Obviously, you'd always rather have them back. You'd always want your parent to be there. My mum had cancer, so we all knew what was going to happen. I think she very much saw it as like: 'This is to kind of to make it a bit easier for you and your sister'.”
While many choose to keep their inheritance or trust fund secret, Kat Roberts has no issues being open about the £100,000 (AU$189,000) she inherited. Roberts, who lives in Leeds, also found herself inheriting thousands of pounds at a young age when her dad suddenly died while out on a walk.
“It was just really awful,” she tells me over the phone. “I was 26 and it was New Year's Eve, and I got a phone call that my dad had passed away, suddenly. It was so horrendous. We were like best friends, we spoke to each other every day.”
Did she tell her friends when she first received the money? “I'm not very good at keeping secrets,” says Roberts. “I'm quite open anyway and you know – people do ask. You can't just turn up with a new pair of Louboutins and go to Paris three times without people being like, ‘Oh, where did you get your money from?’”
Economic disparities in the millennial generation have never been so pronounced. With little hope of earning enough to afford a mortgage, many will find themselves stuck in rented accommodation for the rest of their lives, or struggling to pay off debts. For those who do receive big sums of money, whether through a trust fund or in the case of a bereavement, the advantages are huge.
When we finish speaking, Roberts tells me proudly about her father.
“He got a CBE from Prince William,” says Roberts. “He was amazing. He'd be dead pleased I put [the money] towards a house. And less pleased to know I went on a few wild nights out with it. He probably expected exactly that of me, anyway!"
*Some names have been changed.