4 Tips for Living With Relatives

Multigenerational households are becoming increasingly common.

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Many college graduates and adult children move in with their parents because they can't find work, get divorced, or are laid off. Conversely, sometimes elderly parents move in with their kids because they can no longer safely care for themselves or can no longer afford to take care of themselves.

For the first time in decades, America has transitioned to "multigenerational households," in which several generations of family members live together. According to the most recent Census data, 16 percent of Americans live in multigenerational households. That's more than 49 million people, and the trend keeps growing.

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Living with relatives comes with its share of headaches and stress. But setting up rules and boundaries can help the entire family function effectively, and reduce stress for everyone. Some ways you can reduce stress when you live with relatives include:

1. Set up Basic Ground Rules. If you occupy a specific space, such as a bedroom or basement apartment, then everyone needs to understand that this is your space--especially if they're renting out a room in the house. They should knock before entering, or even call if they want to see you. Keep private spaces like bedrooms and apartments off-limits to other family members, especially if you move in with your parents. Otherwise, they might fall into their old patterns, and feel perfectly comfortable barging right into your room.

Establish the need for private space. In addition, openly discuss who takes care of chores, cooking, and shopping. Don't leave this to the homeowners, even if they insist on doing things for you. Everyone should equally share the tasks for running the household.

2. Discuss Compensation. No one wants to feel like a burden. Discuss rent expectations upfront, and discuss whether household chores and running errands can replace paying rent. If your relative wants you to do chores around the house, make a list of chores and how often you need to do them in a house cleaning schedule. Gray areas here can cause tension and stress, so make sure to have an open and honest discussion about expectations.

In addition, make sure to discuss childcare. If your elderly parents move in with you, they might want to look after your kids while you work. This can save you a lot of money on daycare. If your parents want to watch the kids, discuss how many hours they can babysit during the week.

Don't assume someone wants to babysit or that you have free rent; have an upfront discussion to eliminate any gray areas.

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3. Pick Your Battles. Annoyances can arise when living with relatives. Someone may have messy habits or perhaps it drives people crazy when you forget to take off your shoes when you walk through the door.

Don't fight over these common small annoyances. Pick the battles worth fighting for, such as someone blatantly invading your privacy, or challenging you on how to raise your kids. Learn patience and swallow the petty stuff; invest in the battles that really matter.

The added stress of financial concerns can make living with family a virtual powder keg, with everyone's emotions running high. Diffuse tense situations by joking, if appropriate, and make sure family members have an opportunity to air their grievances when necessary. Anticipate emotional triggers and try to sidestep them to avoid an argument.

4. Set Expectations. Set expectations with family members. Directly communicate information about goals and plans. If your parents think you plan to go back to college, but you have no intention of going to school, make sure to clearly express your intentions. If your family members seem to think they can stay with you indefinitely, let them know how long they can stay with you. If you have children, speak to them about the changes happening.

By setting goals and clearly communicating plans, you can avoid awkward situations and set realistic expectations. You can always revisit your plans and change them at a later date, but have an initial plan to help open the lines of communication.

You might find it challenging to live with relatives, but this experience can also strengthen the bonds of your family. Whether you live with relatives to help care for them, or they have helped you through a tough time emotionally or financially, make sure you communicate how much you appreciate them. Living with family could turn into a great situation that becomes permanent.

In addition to U.S. News, Heather Levin writes for Money Crashers, a personal finance website that outlines useful tips for managing money, growing cash flow, and saving for retirement. The site also covers various financial services and products, including a review of the Chase Freedom credit card.