Moving Back in With the Folks? 7 Tactics to Help New Grads Survive

Adult child and parents
Photo by SpeedKingz / Shutterstock.com

You’ve graduated with a great transcript but not a single nibble from all those job applications you filled out. Or maybe you got a job, but it doesn’t pay enough to cover both student loan repayment and rent on a place of your own. So you’re back in your old bedroom, trying to line up job interviews and coexisting uneasily with parents who still think they can tell you what to do.

You’re not alone. According to the Pew Research Center, 15 percent of U.S. residents ages 25 to 35 lived with their parents in 2016.

“This is 5 percentage points higher than the share of Generation Xers who lived in their parents’ home in 2000 when they were the same age (10 percent), and nearly double the share of the Silent Generation who lived at home in 1964 (8 percent),” the Pew study says.

Don’t look at this as a step backwards, though. Seize it as the great opportunity it actually is.

Bailey Kay Cummings didn’t expect to live with her mom after graduation. “But since I don’t really have a choice (thank you, bad economy!) I’m forcing myself to see this unexpected reality as a blessing,” she wrote on her blog, Becoming Bailey. After all, she’d be saving a bunch of money while she looked for a job in her field that paid a livable wage.

Trouble is, moving back in with the folks can feel like going backwards in time. Sometimes it’s tough for parents to see their 20-something kids as actual, functioning grownups. They’re remembering the babies they rocked, the kindergarteners who cried on the first day of school, the teens who needed three attempts to pass their driving tests.

In most cases, the solution is simple: Step up and be the adult you wish they would see, and prepare to (gently, politely) point out that you’re now a roommate, not a dependent.

Getting surly and growling, “Jeez, I’m not a kid anymore! Quit asking me where I’m going!” doesn’t help. Neither does staying up all night playing video games, then sleeping until midafternoon and waking up to complain, “There’s never anything good to eat around here.”

Use some (or all) of the tactics below to move past the parent-child dynamic and into a healthier relationship. You don’t need to be a peer — just a fellow adult.

Tactic No. 1: Draw up a contract

Don’t just show up with a big bag of unwashed laundry and an even bigger bag of attitude. You and your parents should first develop an agreement for your temporary residence. Among the topics it should cover:

Your reasons for being there: “Because it’s easier than finding a place of my own and I miss Mom’s cooking” doesn’t cut it. Ever think about whether your parents want you back home for an indefinite amount of time? Although some cultures do expect unmarried adult children to live with their folks, it could be that your parents were just about to start having lives of their own.

However, it’s unlikely they’d turn you away if the reason were: “Because I can’t find a job in my field and the temporary job I did find pays just a little over minimum wage, so it will take me a while to launch safely.”

Your exit strategy: A really specific exit strategy, Cummings says: “This plan should have solid timelines and action items, instead of just ‘When I get a good job and can afford to (leave).'”

A sample timeline and action items list:

  • “I need $3,000 to cover moving expenses and set up an emergency fund.
  • “After my rent here, minimum student loan repayment, commuting expenses and walking-around money, I can set aside $500 per month. That means that within six months I should have the money I need.
  • “As you know, I’m looking for a part-time second job so it might be sooner than six months. I’ll keep you posted.”

What’s expected of you: When you were a teen you probably had household chores. Expect to have them again, and make sure you do them.

How much rent you’ll pay: Yes, rent. You’re an adult, remember? Plus you’re costing your parents more in utility bills and groceries and, if you’re using their vehicle, in auto insurance rate hikes.

Maybe your part-time retail job is barely enough to cover the minimum on your student loans. If so, you can …

Tactic No. 2: Contribute in other ways

News flash: Your parents are not your maid and concierge. Discuss a reasonable amount of cleaning and/or yard care you’ll do as your part in keeping the household running.

Be specific, too. “I’ll help with the cleaning” is irritatingly vague. Instead, try something like:

“I’ll dust and vacuum twice a week and clean both bathrooms once a week.”

“I’ll load and unload the dishwasher daily, walk the dogs every morning, and scoop the back yard twice a month.”

“I’ll mow the lawn in the spring and summer, rake and bag the leaves in the fall, clean out the rain gutters every so often, and put that anti-moss stuff on the roof as needed.”

Got your own wheels? Offer to run errands, shop for groceries, ferry younger siblings to soccer practice or orthodontist appointments. This can really help your parents, especially if they both work. If your sibs are really young, offer to stay home every now and then so your parents can have a night out.

Some of this work will boost the household budget, since your parents won’t to pay a yard service, a housecleaner or a baby sitter for a while. Knowing you’re doing your part should provide some measure of satisfaction.

Note: Even if you’ve been jobless for months, try very hard not to ask for money. Your parents should be thinking about their retirement, not slipping you cash so you can go out with your friends and pretend you aren’t temporarily broke.

Tactic No. 3: Make a financial plan

Why are you living with your parents, anyway? Because you can’t find a job with a livable wage, because you aren’t sure what you want to do with your life, because you want to save toward a big goal?

Having your goal isn’t enough. You also need a plan. Jen Smith, a 28-year-old Florida acupuncturist, vowed she’d live frugally and pay extra on her college loans while living with her mom. Instead, she financed a car and ran up almost $2,000 in consumer debt.

“I had really good intentions, but I didn’t have the whole picture to make a plan that was feasible and smart,” says Smith, who blogs at Saving With Spunk.

Once she’d paid off the credit card, Smith stopped saying, “I deserve this dinner out/new shirt/whatever.” The blogger suggests that new grads first identify their dreams and then list the steps they’ll need to get there.

“Identify what you want to say ‘yes’ to, so that saying ‘no’ to the short-term things is easier,” Smith says.

Suppose that your goal is to move out as soon as possible. Start monitoring rents in your area and also determine related costs (apartment and utility deposits, the U-Haul rental, some basic housewares). As you get close to moving out start watching “manager’s special” ads, which can net a month for free if you sign a six- or 12-month lease. Put it out in the universe that you’re looking for a shared housing setup.

(And if you want to live by yourself, “Done With Roommates? 48 Ways to Afford Living Solo” can get you started.)

Drowning in debt? Money Talks News articles can help you save yourself. Want to go to grad school? Study for entrance exams and research grants and scholarships.

As the old saying goals, people don’t plan to fail — they fail to plan. Create a checklist, and have fun crossing off each step.

Tactic No. 4: Be prepared for conflict

It’s so easy to slide back into old family dynamics. Maybe your folks still have the habit of telling you to do something rather than asking (which rankles), or assuming you’ll want to spend your one day off per week visiting various relatives (family closeness is fine, but once or twice a month should do it).

Check the mirror, though. Maybe you’re letting your parents assume most of the household’s work and worry, just like you did in high school. Perhaps you lie on the couch texting and waiting for someone else to make dinner. And maybe you really do leave the lights on in every room.

If you want your parents to treat you like an adult, it helps to act like one.

Not that parents are always blameless. Smith says her mother’s passive-aggressive tendencies caused some real battles. For example, she’d say that it was fine if Smith wanted to stay out late, but then she’d complain that she couldn’t get to sleep until her daughter was home.

Remember that contract you drew up with your parents? Add a codicil about comings and goings. As a legal adult you shouldn’t have to account for the way you spend your evenings, but you may have to hammer out a compromise. Perhaps you could agree to text if you’re going to be out really late; even if they silence their phones at bedtime, they can check their messages if they wake at 2 a.m. and you’re not home.

Consideration of others is a hallmark of adulthood. Don’t race the engine as you enter the driveway, don’t slam the front door and do turn down the volume if you decide to sit up to play a little XBox. Oh, and don’t invite a bunch of friends over to hog the television and eat everything in the fridge without checking with your parents first; it might be one of those nights when they’re looking forward to a little peace and quiet.

Tactic No. 5: Take care of yourself

Remember all the dreams you had about your glamorous post-college life? Those dreams aren’t dead. In fact, you’re working toward them right now.

But having those dreams while back in your childhood bedroom can be a little depressing. No two ways about it: You hoped you’d be further along in your Real Life by now.

When such feelings arise, don’t ignore them. Talk to friends in similar situations. Look for blogs or message boards both to unburden yourself and to learn about tactics to rev up your action plan. Find inexpensive ways to nurture yourself, such as a regular game night with friends or binge-watching favorite shows with a buddy. Sign up for a volunteer opportunity doing something you love; bonus points if it’s in your field of study, since you may make connections that way.

If you’re on your parents’ health insurance plan, check to see if it covers counseling. You might not need it now, or ever, but it’s good to know your options. Do a search for “free or low-cost counseling in [your city],” too.

That financial plan mentioned above? Track your progress on it. Watching those goals be checked off can be a real boost: Just one more credit card payment and I’ll be free of consumer debt! Watching the numbers rise in your move-out account is encouraging, too.

One way to increase that account is to …

Tactic No. 6: Get a side hustle

Working part-time in retail? Look for a waitressing or pizza delivery job for the evenings. Or look for a weekend gig: In addition to her weekday job as an acupuncturist, Smith worked a Saturday shift and sometimes a Sunday one as well at a group home. Not because she wanted to give up her weekends, but because she wanted to goose that move-out account.

A part-time gig in high demand? Baby-sitting. Yes, you stopped doing that when you turned 16 and could get a “real” job, but parents are just as desperate for a night out now as they were then. More so, maybe: According to PayScale.com, the average baby-sitting wage is $10.15 per hour. Bonus: You’ll be paid that even after the kids are in bed.

Money Talks News has a bunch of articles on making extra cash. Use them to refine your hustle.

Keep your finances confidential, though. Cummings had agreed to pay rent, buy groceries and cook her own meals, help keep the house tidy and do her own laundry. Ultimately she got a second part-time job in order to save up enough money to move, at which point her mother wanted her to pay more of the bills.

Not because Cummings was using more than her share of resources, but because her mother was making some “poor financial choices.” After several months’ worth of loans she had to say “no more” – a difficult decision because she didn’t want to ruin the relationship.

“But I knew I couldn’t jeopardize my own future to help her,” Cummings says.

No one (including your parents) needs to know how much you earn. All that matters is that you’re making the agreed-upon contributions and that you are making progress towards your move-out time. Adults are entitled to privacy, so don’t reveal anything you’re not comfortable sharing — especially if your parents and/or siblings are financially dysfunctional.

You can and should pay your share, but, barring an emergency, you should not pay anyone else’s.

Tactic No. 7: Provide regular updates

As noted above, you don’t have to tell your parents everything about your finances. But it’s a good idea to let them know how you’re doing, goal-wise.

Hearing, “I paid off that credit card” or “I’ve saved two-thirds of the money I need to move out” will let them know you’re not just sitting around waiting for someone to fix your life.

Here’s another thing they might want to hear: “Thanks to that side hustle I’ll be reaching my savings goal much faster. Your letting me stay here has made a huge difference in the kind of life I’ll be having later on. But because I’m making more money, I’d like to pay an extra $50 (or whatever) a month toward rent (or whatever).”

That’s another hallmark of adulthood: Paying your fair share versus taking advantage of someone else’s kindness. Even if your parents refuse the money, they’ll be pleased by the offer.

“Thank you” is something most people don’t hear often enough, so try to express your gratitude regularly. Even if the situation isn’t ideal, it’s given you a chance to “set the tone you want for your adult life,” Smith says. A short-term detour right now sure beats years of scrambling to meet student debt payments while barely making ends meet.

Just don’t get too comfortable. “It’s great to have that opportunity,” Smith says. “But it should always be done with a plan to get out.”

Have you experienced living with your parents as an adult — or hosting your adult children as a parent? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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