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HomecommentarySpend now and pay never, a very British obsession

Spend now and pay never, a very British obsession

A Union Jack flag flies near the Elizabeth Tower, commonly referred to as Big Ben, at the Houses of Parliament in central London, U.K., on March 29, 2017.Justin Tallis | AFP | Getty Images

It seems I've become a naive country bumpkin since leaving London six years ago. There I was last Friday in central London feeling a tad peckish having spent the day at the cricket. I found myself inevitably and ultimately forlornly looking for a table for two at an Indian restaurant, any Indian restaurant within twenty minutes of Oxford Street. There was nothing, not a hope in hell of finding any decent food of any cuisine for that matter. London was rammo, the pubs and bars were rammo. In fact, despite persistent augurs of doom, the post-Brexit vote on the surface looks a pretty upbeat place.

Everywhere I look, people I know and come across are spending money like it's going out of fashion, which is ironic because at work all I hear is that sterling is completely out of fashion because of imminent economic collapse on the back of Brexit.

All of which leads me to the conclusion that it's possibly not Brexit at all that's going to sink the U.K. economy, it's more likely to be the fact that as a nation we are collectively drowning in debt, revving up the credit card bills and saving at the worst levels on record.

If you listen to many pundits on CNBC it seems that people are pulling out their flexible friend just to pay utility bills and survive. As true as that may be for many, it's also the case that our obsession with consumption here and now is also fueling the trends.

I totally see how hard it's going to be for the millennials to save for a mortgage, put in money for their pensions and pay off student debts — it looks daunting but is probably not helped by the apparent necessity of upgrading to the latest iPhone X at horrendously high monthly subscription rates or eating out every night on takeaways.

My generation, the forty-somethings that should know better are just as bad. Most people I know drive a brand new or nearly new car. They don't own it, they just drive it. Nobody bothers saving any more, they just prefer to pay an extra 7 percent on a personal contract purchase, which means they pay an auto company, or an auto finance company, 7 percent for the privilege of borrowing a car they most likely will never pay off in full.

Saving is apparently pointless with pathetic QE-inspired interest rates. According to the ONS, U.K. savings fell to 1.7 percent in the first quarter of 2017. The Germans, incidentally, still save at around 10 percent despite negative interest rates over at the ECB.

This is the time bomb and everyone knows is ticking even if they are too busy in the pubs and restaurants, the car dealerships and the queue for the new iPhone to acknowledge it. With UK inflation providing a potential uptick in rates at some stage how long before our "have it now and pay for it never" attitude comes home to haunt? I'll wager before the oft-cited ill-effects of Brexit send us reeling.

(Steve Sedgwick is co-anchor of CNBC's flagship programme Squawk Box Europe)


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