3 Secrets to Living with Your Parents

Returning home in your 20s isn’t easy, but these strategies can help avoid family spats.

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Shortly after landing my first entry-level job after graduate school, I moved back home with my parents. It wasn’t exactly glamorous, but it helped me save a decent amount of money on a tiny salary. It also gave me the chance to live at home with my parents and sisters one last time before starting a family of my own.

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A significant chunk of 20-somethings make this same choice. As the Network on Transitions to Adulthood points out, the number of 20-somethings living with their parents has increased by 50 percent since the 1970s. That means parents are paying for their children’s housing costs for longer. In fact, the Network estimates that parents pay about 20 percent more in shared housing costs. Sometimes, the added strain on parents’ bank accounts causes financial stress and even hurts family relationships.

How, then, can families successfully navigate these increasingly common multi-generational living arrangements? After interviewing families who have managed to cohabitate and remain on speaking terms, I found that a few common themes emerge. First, the details of the arrangement are discussed in advance as well as on an ongoing basis, and any problems are addressed immediately. Second, the 20-somethings help their parents out, too, financially and otherwise. And third, the adult children usually have an exit strategy in mind. Here are the details:

1) Constant communication, before, during, and after: Whenever I write about intergenerational living, I think about the Hewsons and the Smiths, a family I profiled in Generation Earn. Shortly after getting married, Keith and Katy Hewson decided to live with Katy’s parents, Cindy and Gary Smith, in order to save money. The two couples lived in a three-bedroom Houston townhouse, but they managed to avoid cramping each other’s styles by going their separate ways after dinner.

Each couple had a separate television and entertainment area, so there was no need to fight over whether to watch Parenthood or The Good Wife. And whenever Katy felt like she needed some extra space from her parents, she just told them, and the older couple went outside for a walk, or vice versa.

2) Giving parents a hand: As much as the Smiths helped the Hewsons by paying the mortgage, they never felt like they were being taken advantage of, because they also came out ahead financially. That’s because the Smiths handled all of the utilities, including cable, gas, and electric bills. That meant the Smiths could delay tapping into their retirement funds, while still affording regular cruises around the world. Plus, whenever they did decide to travel, they had built-in babysitters for their dog.

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3) Saying goodbye, eventually: Living at home is comfortable—sometimes, a little too comfortable. But even if a one-year stint stretches into two, parents are usually happiest when they know there’s an end-date in site. Former high school vice principal Phil LeFavor welcomed his two 20-something sons back home as they got on their feet after college, but he wanted to know they had an exit strategy in place. "We said, 'You can stay as long as you've got a plan. You're not going to stay here and blow money,'" says LeFavor. His sons did just that, and have since moved out and into their own homes.

When I was living with my parents, I paid them rent—far less than I would have paid to live in a one-bedroom apartment, but enough to offset the cost of housing (and feeding) me. After all, I had a job at the time, so I could afford to contribute to my expenses. I also had the added benefit of a built-in move out date, since I was engaged to be married at the time, and unlike the Hewsons, didn’t plan to live with my parents post-marriage.

Have you moved back home with your parents, or housed your adult children? What strategies worked for you?

Kimberly Palmer is the author of the new book Generation Earn: The Young Professional’s Guide to Spending, Investing, and Giving Back.