The buy now, pay later generation

PERUSING the designers' floor at Harvey Nicks, Georgia Stewart runs her newly manicured hands over the delicately hanging fabrics.

A pleated front cowl-neck Miu Miu top catches her eye and, putting down her shopping bags, the 27-year-old brand manager from Leith instantly falls in love with the garment and excitedly takes it to the sales till.

It costs 415 and she's already just spent nearly 200 on footwear - and that's after her platinum Barclaycard got a hammering at Zara as she clocked up a further 150 on an orange, wool swing coat.

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But Georgia doesn't have time to stop and think about her splurge - nor does she want to - as she's running late for her hair appointment at Charlie Miller, which will freshen up her highlighted locks for a mere 60.

In little over two hours, Georgia has clocked up more than 800 but she shrugs it off, saying she deserves it . . . despite only having a disposable monthly income of 900 after paying her 1200 bills.

Food, petrol, Friday night cocktails at Tigerlily, her monthly 80 gym membership at One Spa and extra pampering spa treatments also have to be paid for but Georgia simply funds her narcissistic spree with one of her many credit cards from her patent Mulberry purse.

But Georgia doesn't worry - she's relying on a bigger wage as her career progresses that will eventually pay off the massive debts she's running up.

"Many young, professional women are working their way up the career ladder and don't have a problem with spending beyond their means," she shrugs. "One day we'll have the money to pay off that overdraft or credit card bill."

Young, professional and tie-free women who want more than a slice of cake as a little treat have turned shopping into the country's number-one leisure activity.

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Easily available credit and low introductory interest rates have turned us into a nation of binge debters, with many having a "one-off" indulgence on a daily basis.

A recent survey by ClearDebt revealed that around eight in ten women in their 20s spend more than they earn, and, of the 2000 women polled, half owed an average of 3830 on credit cards, and 40 per cent have been helped out by their parents.

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And the older we get, the worse the situation becomes. Research released last year by independent financial advisors Sesame revealed that, excluding debt, the average woman over the age of 35 owes around 8000 compared with around 3000 for the typical man. "Never mind binge-drink Britain, there is a growing epidemic of binge-debt Britain that could prove to be just as detrimental to women's financial health as binge drinking is to their actual health," says Sesame's Alastair Conway.

Hannah Morris, a sales executive from Dalry, is one such binger. "I'm about 8000 in debt and haven't even been to university," says the 21-year-old, who makes around 20,000 a year.

"I probably spend about 600 a month on absolute rubbish, such as clothes, make-up, shoes, as well as going out socialising. And that's if I don't get my bonus. It's scary to think about how much I spend."

Like many, Hannah's debts started when her bank offered her an overdraft and credit card.

"It was a novelty to 'pretend spend' on things and forget about it, but within a few months my parents started having to bail me out," she says.

"My weakness is going shopping after work. I'll go with the intention of buying shampoo or tights and, before I know it, I've bought half of Topshop.

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"I spend a stupid amount of money on T-shirts, bags and going out, and I also spend 35 a month on false eyelashes. With the amount I spend a year on eyelashes, I could buy a whole year's worth of bus travel."

Jo Stiles, 31, a recruitment consultant from Roseburn, also admits to being a binge spender.

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Although she earns around 35,000, Jo regularly exceeds her monthly income because she splashes out on city breaks, lavish meals and pampering treatments. She also has an enviable wardrobe from Jane Davidson and Cruise.

"When I fall for something, I just have to have it," she says. "I almost obsess over it and the way I see it is that I work hard, so why shouldn't I reward myself.

"I'm young, have no family to support just yet, so this is my time to be frivolous and enjoy my money. There's always a bonus or promotion around the corner and, right now, I'm living for the present, not the future."

It seems few are worried about how they will repay debts in the long term, choosing to live for now rather than plan for the future. Hannah adds: "There's a lot of pressure to look your best and many women will go to extreme lengths to do so, even if it means getting in debt.

"Credit is so freely available to everyone now that it's easy to get a loan or extend your overdraft.

"Twenty years ago, if you took out a loan it was to do house repairs or to start a business, and you would speak to the bank manager. Nowadays, it's almost become a lifestyle choice. If you want a new car, holiday or a pair of Jimmy Choo's, you apply online and a week later it's in your account."

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So why are we like this? Edinburgh chartered corporate psychologist Ben Williams has observed increasing levels of "self-rewarding behaviour" and believes it's stimulated by a combination of increasing pressure to have a so-called "successful career".

"It's also down to the effects of carefully targeted and cleverly designed advertising aimed at 20 to 40-year-olds of both genders," he explains. "This coupled with the aggressive selling of credit facilities by competing banks has led to mass over-spending by those who are unable to discern the trap."

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Money expert Alan Steel, of Linlithgow-based Alan Steel Asset Management, urges people to take control of their finances and not be afraid of switching credit providers to get the best rates of interest before paying regular sums off.

"The key thing is, if you are in debt, get smart debt," he says. "Get a proper mortgage and get the best rates by shopping around. Get a decent credit card with low interest rates - and you're an idiot if you have a store card."

Little changes do make a big difference - after all, as the saying goes: look after the pennies, and the pounds will look after themselves. Here's the L&S guide to saving pennies.

Check into shopping rehab

Avoiding top boutiques and, if something catches your eye, take a reality check by simply walking away to consider your options.

"Ask yourself, do I really need this?" says Edinburgh personal shopper Laura Wilton. "Stop, think, put it aside and walk away. Often removing yourself from temptation is all that's needed to realise it's an unnecessary splurge.

And it's vital to set a shopping budget and stick to it."

Become a credit-card tart

Why stay in a long-term credit-card relationship with extortionate interest rates when you can change lenders? You can cut credit card debt by transferring the balance to a zero per cent interest credit card and paying off the balance each month. And remember to switch cards again after the zero interest rate time is up.

Stay away from store cards

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Just don't go near them - that's the advice from people who know about money. But if you have one, transfer the balance to a low-interest/no-interest credit card. Store card interest rates can be as much as 30 per cent - twice as much as the typical credit card rate.

Shops lure customers into taking a card by offering an introductory discount on shopping.

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Carrie Heron, senior financial planner at Edinburgh investment management company Bell Lawrie White, advises: "If you are a savvy consumer, you would open a store card for the money off and pay off the balance straight away before closing the account."

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