Not-so-empty nests: When adult children live at home

What can you do about an adult child living at home?

There are more than 22 million adult children still living at home with their parents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Between 2005 and 2011, the proportion of young adults living in their parents' home increased. The percentage of men between the ages of 25-34 living at their parents' home rose from 14 percent in 2005 to 19 percent in 2011 and from 8 percent to 10 percent over the same time period for women.

Michelle Singletary, a personal finance columnist for the Washington Post, joins us to discuss the issue.

So why do so many adult children still live at home?

"A combination of things. People coming out of college, they don't get the jobs they expect, paying the money that they need or want. Lots of kids are not going to school because it is so expensive. I mean, right now to launch yourself it's very expensive to get the down payment for the apartment, transportation, and all of the things that you have to do. That's why a lot of young adults are at home or returning home," says Singletary.

Singletary says adult children hoping to live on their own should have at least six months' worth of living expenses saved in an emergency fund while they're getting situated. That emergency fund would include all that it costs to run their household -- rent, mortgage, food, utilities, cell phone bill, student debt repayment, etc. She also says that people should have a "life happens" fund for when things go wrong.

Having an adult child living at home can add financial stress on parents. A recent study from the National Endowment for Financial Education said about a quarter of parents with adult kids living at home go into debt. How can parents cope?

"There's lots of adults who come home and there's not a plan. They just come home and they use up their salary. They go out with their friends. They're still shopping. All of the bad habits that they had out on their own, they bring right back to the house. Parents are afraid to say anything, they don't charge them rent -- that's when they have trouble and they go into debt because they're still subsidizing that adult child. I have parents who are paying the cell phone bill of their adult child who has a job. That's not the situation I'm talking about. If you've got a trifling adult child at your house who's not doing all the right moves, kick them out."


Singletary says that in this economy there are a lot of adult children living at home and parents shouldn't feel like they have failed.

"Even if they come back in their 30s and 40s, just look at it as you're just helping them," says Singletary. "It's OK as long as you communicate and have a plan."

And Singletary has experience with the matter. Her sister, niece and 18-year-old nephew lived with her for about a year. She taught her nephew a tough lesson about how to get on the right path toward great independence.

"[My nephew] didn't really have a plan. He didn't know what he wanted to do. So he would get up in the morning and for about an hour or two would look at the want ads and decided that he'd look for a job and didn't want any jobs," says Singletary.

Singletary decided to charge him rent to motivate him. After a few months, he seriously started looking for a job and got one. Singletary then started adding up the costs for utilities and food. She started ramping up the costs to simulate what it would be like to live in the real world.

Several of our listeners wrote in seeking help. They include:

  • Carl, a 20 year old from Los Angeles, has a full-time job as a certified nursing assistant, making about $1,200 monthly. He moved back in with his dad, stepmom and half-sister after losing a job. They live in an apartment that only has two bedrooms and one bathroom so Carl sleeps in the living room. He is saving money to buy a car. He wonders what steps he has to take in order to move out.
  • Thomas from New Jersey wrote to us from Facebook. He has an IT job that pays between $40,000-50,000 a year. He is living at home to save money to buy a house. He's saving about $18,000 to buy a home. Is he on the right path?
  • Daryl from Oregon has two adult children who live at home. His youngest son is 23 and has pretty much continuously lived at home and another son had an accident that left him handicapped. He says he's spending about an extra $400-600 a month because of his two sons who live at home. He and his wife are ready for their two sons to move out on their own. He wants advice on what he should do.

To hear Singletary's advice, click play on the audio player above.

About the author

Adriene Hill is a senior multimedia reporter for the Marketplace sustainability desk, with a focus on consumer issues and the individual relationship to sustainability and the environment.
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Its unfortunate that so many young adults and their parents feel as if they must resign themselves to living together. There really are lots of different options available if the young adults truly want to leave the nest. I suggest this little book all of the time-- "How College Graduates Can Get Out of Their Parents' House". Its recently been listed on Amazon and its only a dollar and can be downloaded to your laptop. It lists lots of different jobs that provide housing and helps any young adult that really wants out of their parents' home and to be on their own.


Did it ever occur to anyone in the podcast that minimum wage job may be the best you get with a degree? Instead of working as a retail monkey for the last decade those who earned a degree with sleep deprivation, starvation (skipping meals to pay bills) and juggling up to three part time jobs (because retail companies don't want to deal with a sick workforce) have had it. What's the point of working if there is no reward? Who do you have to screw over in order to be a CEO? They make 385x what the average employee at the same company does. "Trickle down economics" my @$$. It's all about the race card and affirmative action with gender discrimination thrown in for kicks. Getting a job based on merit just doesn't exist anymore as it's all about who you know, not what you know.

Today, unlike the whining elderly complaining about the younger generation here, you have to have an advanced degree to even apply, have experience or work for FREE, know the right people, speak more than one language - and compete with both illegal immigrants and legal workers on H1B visas for limited jobs. Let's not forget there is a world job market in which a grossly disproportionate amount of foreign workers are allowed in the US for coveted jobs while US workers are snubbed. We have 42.8 Million foreign workers here (with illegal immigrants) and they siphon off $128 BILLION in money that could be spent here but is sent home to Mexico, India, China, etc. Only 2 Million Americans work outside the US. Yet there aren't enough "qualified" American workers. Why do grads with computer science degrees have to work at McDonalds if all of these companies are so desperate for them? I smell a lot of lies here.

The older generation will start whining when their welfare checks start shrinking. The longer it takes for graduates to find jobs that pay living wages which allow them to pay off debt that's un-taxable income for elizaclark's welfare check. So you'd better hope junior gets a paying job out of college because they'll be so burdened with debt you'll have nowhere to go but straight to a nursing home dealing with funding cuts.

They'll cut benefits and raise the retirement age first. They should have done so ten or fifteen years ago. If people think it's rough now, just wait ten years and do nothing. No one wants to admit it but most people didn't live long enough to retirement age when they started the welfare programs. We need to keep the retirement age up in order to keep funding it. I would also argue people should only get out what they paid in, because then you're spending some other poor chump's only shot at "retirement".

I have 2 follow up questions:

1) Has Daryl's handicapped son applied for disability payments? If his handicap affects his ability to work, he can at least get some money toward the household through Social Security. And if he's too proud to accept a "government handout", why is he sponging off Dad?

2) So, Michelle, how's your nephew doing? Did your lessons in financial responsibility stick?

Having a plan to move out is a great idea. But.... The sort of security you advocate prior to moving out is unrealistic and more importantly, not helpful. My generation (I'm nearly 50) just had to deal with it. We didn't have the luxury to wait for a job in our field; we worked at restaurants, gas stations, etc. after college to make ends meet, to pay rent and bills, while we searched for 'real' jobs. We drove old clunkers or rode the bus until we could afford a decent car. We deferred payment on student loans based on hardship until we could start paying again. Starting out isn't always easy, and today's young adults need to understand that, and experience it. Otherwise, how will they know how to function later in life if a crisis hits and there are no parents to bail them out?

Ok, that's your generation's experience. Here's mine: Graduate from college in the middle of an economy that's in a mess, where the unemployment rate is *huge*. Where countless companies have downsized and cut corners to stay afloat, while others are less successful and just shut their doors entirely. Where just about everyone you know is either suffering through a job where they do the work of 3 people, trying to find a job and competing with 352352 other people for it, or trying to make ends meet with ways of building income that are extremely unreliable and often take years to turn into something consistent.

Sure, we can go out and try (key word *try*) to get a job that we're overqualified for, so that we can spend the few remaining hours of a stressful work day trying to find the willpower to look for something better. Sure, we can cut down on costs in many ways (frugal living is invaluable no matter what work you do). But, there's hard and then there's absurd. I mean, do you honestly believe that if it was just a matter of willpower and "throwing caution to the wind," that the unemployment rate would go way down?

Then there's the matter of, if you're not living in a static community of family and friends, then you may be trying to find your way with very little moral support. And if you're not talented at getting to know people, then you have yet another barrier to having your own support group.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that I think you're wrong. I think you're absolutely right that starting out isn't always easy - in fact, I doubt it's *ever* easy. And knowing how to handle yourself when you fail is invaluable. But let's be real here. There's a lot more working against my generation right now than simply having the wrong mentality. Just consider for a moment that for every success story where someone makes a major breakthrough, there's probably hundreds or thousands more who are barely making ends meet. I don't mean that in a negative way, but no one seems to want to admit it; that inspiring stories of success (even if through extreme hardship) are the anomaly, not the norm. If they were the norm, no one would notice them.

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