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Why the recession was good for me...

Before the recession hit, I was very much an unknowing Celtic Tiger cub. My family wasn't incredibly well off, but my dad worked in a business directly associated with the housing boom, so we'd had a profitable few years. We lived in a nice house, had two cars, and took long-haul holidays often.

BY the age of 20, I'd travelled more than my entire family put together. I was attending Trinity College where my parents had paid for me to repeat a year when I decided to switch courses, and had been sent to a language school in Rome for a month before it was decided that learning my ancestral tongue was not for me.

I had my own Visa card which hadn't required my parents' signatures -- nor was it a student credit card with a low limit -- and in between classes at Dublin's most eminent university I would take myself shopping on Grafton Street, blitzing the pricey MAC Cosmetics concession in Brown Thomas, and spending a fortune in River Island, TopShop and Urban Outfitters.

I was living the high life without even realising it -- to me it was normal, and in fact I wasn't even one of the affluent ones. At Trinity I was surrounded by those far more well off than me, toting Louis Vuitton handbags and Alexander McQueen scarves. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I often felt embarrassed that I didn't play hockey growing up, attend a private school or have a summer house in West Cork. I even demanded real UGG boots one Christmas, just to fit in.

Oh, how times have changed, and in a way I'm glad they have. In some respects, I would even say this recession has been good to me, elevating me from a materialistic, spoilt brat with an inferiority complex to the level-headed, ambitious and cautious woman I am today. I no longer have a sense of entitlement, or expect success -- I realise I have to go and work hard for it.

It was awful for a lot of my peers coming out of college to no jobs, but the recession has inspired a sense of adventure in many that previously didn't possess one, and so many of my peers are gaining invaluable experience around the world.

Sure, it's horrible that many have been forced to leave in order to make a living, but I'd wager that the experience abroad will stand to them in the future, both personally and professionally.

In fact, there are many reasons why this crippling economic climate has been good for me and my generation. I know how gut-wrenching, soul-destroying and livelihood-decimating the recession has been for hundreds of thousands of people -- those who've lost their homes, or their jobs after 20 years' service -- but I also see the positives in it every single day.

I'm not making light of the harsh realities people have suffered, but taking comfort in the fact that as a nation we haven't been defeated, and may come out the other side wiser, and stronger. In my opinion, the recession has taught us some important lessons.

While still in college, I scored the job of my dreams on a national magazine. I left home and moved with my boyfriend to a small one-bedroom South Dublin apartment with an extortionate rent of €1,200 per month.

My wages weren't enormous but afforded me the ability to pay rent, buy food and clothes and have a social life. I was lucky to get my foot in the door before budgets went from flexible to tight to non-existent.

My boyfriend and I lived an idyllic life for a year, until spring 2009 when it became apparent that the recession was more of a crash than a dip. Wage cuts were one thing, but when he lost his job, company vehicle and benefits, we were in trouble. For the next year and a half, we survived on my junior level paycheck. Our rent was reduced, but we had large credit card debt as well as car loans, insurance, motor tax, utility bills and more to pay each month, so we were living by the skin of our teeth.

My job perks included free make-up and complimentary nights out and while they were brilliant and helped me blow off steam, they didn't ward off phone calls from Visa. As a result, my credit rating is messed up and I curse all the times I bought ice-cream at the cinema and drinks in clubs with my plastic, not realising the interest those purchases would accumulate.

At 21, I didn't understand interest rates properly, or the detriment all those missed payments would have to my future. So if young people can't get credit cards nowadays? Good. They simply don't need them.

The worst part of it all wasn't scaling back our expenditure, or the ramifications of living large and then being cut off. It was seeing my boyfriend's confidence ebb away with every unanswered job application and trip to the social welfare office.

CRACKING

After 18 months with him out of work, we were probably only a number of weeks away from joining the boomerang generation and returning home to our respective parents. God knows how close we were to cracking under the strain -- he was feeling very low, and I was just trying to keep things afloat.

Then Lady Luck smiled upon us, and he was offered a job. Just like that, we were liquid again. Then I was promoted, and thanks to a salary bump, we had a little spare change for the first time in ages.

Back in the old days, the mentality would have been to run out on a shopping spree, buy a car and upgrade our accommodation, but if my boyfriend's unemployment had taught us anything, it was caution and wariness, as well as the importance of having something to fall back on.

For the first time in my life at 25 years old, I opened a savings account -- something I should have had as soon as I started working at 16.

Relaxed

My partner's unemployment changed our priorities. He was always obsessed with getting on the housing ladder and having something to show for his life before he reached 30, but now that's simply not an option, we're much more relaxed.

He knows that owning a home isn't the be all and end all, and actually, such permanence frightens us. We want to be able to up sticks if we have to, and we live in a convenient area we like rather than one in which we could afford the mortgage.

At our age, we prize flexibility and happiness over what we think we should have achieved by now. He will always be scarred by his experience, but my God, did he learn from it. We both did.

I'm sad that my father has to work harder than ever in his 50s, and yes, I live in fear of the rug being pulled out from under me yet again. It's awful that cuts to healthcare and social welfare mean that thousands are struggling, and that pensions are at a standstill.

But I'm glad the culture of greed that put us all in this mess is over, and that we all realise now what really matters in life -- and that's not updating your car every two years or wearing designer clothes.

I read a tweet the other day where a visiting expat friend commented that Ireland wasn't doomed, it had just returned to normal. That really struck me, because it's true.

Our high streets are still crammed every weekend, but we've learned to cut back. We also haven't let the all-important craic diminish, and still socialise -- just more carefully.

New statistics from the Jobs and Enterprise Minister show that around 2,200 people are starting new businesses each month in Ireland, so there is hope.

The most popular acronym on Twitter these days is YOLO -- you only live once. Thanks to the recession, I learned that life isn't about buying or owning stuff, but about striving for personal satisfaction, and that could be the greatest lesson of all.


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