Money Mic: Why I Lived With My Parents

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Drew ScarantinoPeople have a lot of opinions about money.

In our “Money Mic” series, we hand over the podium to someone with a strong opinion on a financial topic. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome your responses.

Today, one 20-something shares her story of why she chose to move back home–and how she managed to move back out.

Living at home after graduation was a reality I refused to accept.

2009 was a dismal year to graduate: the toughest job market in decades, with more than two million college grads unemployed and 80% of young adults living at home. Still, I refused to believe that I could be one of them.

Up until that point, my life had followed a certain formula for success: Do your homework and study, and you’ll get into AP classes. Check. Play varsity sports and ace the SAT, and you’ll get into a good college. Check. Work hard and graduate with honors, and you’ll get a good job. Fail.

I graduated from Washington and Lee University that June with $14,000 in student loans and zero job prospects in my chosen field: journalism. I accepted my diploma, packed up my parents’ car, and went right on back to my childhood home.

Not in the Plan

Growing up in suburban New Jersey in the shadow of the Big Apple, New York City always seemed intimidating. Then the summer before graduation, I won a scholarship to live there while interning at a national magazine. Immediately, I fell in love—with both city life and the magazine industry.

After the internship, I sold my car, convinced that I would live in the land of subways after graduation (and relishing in the extra money my lack of insurance payments offered me). Then the economy took a turn for the worse. The tentative job offer from my internship vanished as the magazine instead made cuts.

I doggedly refused to accept living with my parents as permanent. I got a job at a local day care to earn money and stay busy before I surely would land my dream job and move to the city. Slowly, though, reality started to creep in.

Two weeks turned into two months. My naïve optimism waned. There I was, sleeping in my old twin bed in the shadow of the city where I wanted to live, making minimum wage and hitching rides around my hometown from my mom. I blinked hard and realized: I had hit rock bottom.

No Coddling From the ‘Rents

My parents were kind enough to not charge me rent while I was under their roof, mostly because I think they too saw my time home as temporary. Plus after I had just spent four years of college living seven hours away, they were honestly happy to have me home. But the truth was they had become empty nesters, and my coming home was effectively crashing their nest. As hard as moving back was for me, it was just as hard for them. While I had to adjust to being treated like a teenager again, they had to adjust to having an adult in the house.

Living with them after college, I had the bad parts of being a kid again (curfew and chores) but not the good (when I came home from work, dinner was conspicuously missing from the kitchen table). With my dad away during the week for work and my older sister living on her own, my mom had no reason to make family meals anymore. The first time I asked what was for supper, she raised her eyebrows and laughed, “I don’t know, dear. What are you making for yourself?”

My parents have always tried to teach me the value of a hard-earned dollar. They paid what they could of my expensive tuition and expected me to fund the rest. I worked after-school and summer jobs from age 14 to college and put $10,000 toward tuition by the end of my freshman year.

Sure, I would have loved to move to New York right out of college. Believe me, it’s no fun to share a shower schedule with your mother. But I felt like I had no choice: I simply couldn’t afford to pay rent until I had a steady paycheck to sign over to a landlord.

How This Affected Me

Living at home did a number on my confidence.

Facebook and I had a falling out because pictures of apartments and friends’ happy hours made me resentful—especially of those fortunate few whose post-graduate educations and rent payments were like an all-expenses paid vacation courtesy of mom and dad. (Something that is apparently all too common.) My parents wanted to help me get on my own two feet, but they weren’t about to go broke doing it for me.

So I avoided gatherings where the inevitable “What are you doing?” question might be asked. College reunions? No, thank you. It was embarrassing enough to run into my ex-boyfriend’s parents in the supermarket and explain my “situation.” In my mind, it was less humiliating to job search in private than to admit my failure in front of others. Looking back, I shouldn’t have shied away from networking—plenty of 20-somethings were in the same boat as me. But I was fixated only on what I didn’t have.

Hello, Reality

After three months at home, my obstinate fixation on a dream job in the dream city started to subside. I was job searching daily and going on interviews, but to no avail. So while still living at home, I took a minimum-wage internship at a regional magazine. My commute and my $8-an-hour salary were next to nothing, so I figured I’d stay put until something better came along.

Eight months in, I was promoted to a salaried position. The job wasn’t glamorous, but as part of a small staff, I learned quicker and wore more hats than I might have elsewhere.

Meanwhile, I continued to work as a glorified babysitter at the day care a few nights a week at $8 an hour to supplement my income. Even with that, I was making under $28,000. I had no magic number in mind that I’d need before I moved out of my parents’ house, but I felt the freedom of living on my own was out of reach.

Having $14,000 in student loans felt so crushing that it was a relief not to worry about rent or groceries. I consolidated my four loans into two monthly payments totaling around $200 a month, and gradually increased the payments as my savings account swelled. Since my main expenses at home were gas and social activities (hardly expensive in suburban Jersey, where a night out meant $1 PBRs at a local dive bar), I eventually managed to save close to $10,000.

Then, as I approached my two-year anniversary of living with my parents, a friend transferred to New York for work and asked to be roommates. My biggest fear was moving out prematurely and having to return home with my tail between my legs. Even though I had saved up a chunk of change from my time at home, I wanted to keep it safe to help pay off my student loans instead of living off of it. But it felt like an opportunity was finally being handed to me. I couldn’t pass it up.

Slummin’ It

My first apartment was a dump located just across the river from New York, where the rent is cheaper. Our bathroom could only fit one person at a time, and my bedroom, the smallest of the three, was just big enough to house a desk, a small dresser and my very first queen-sized bed. When it rained, the skylight in the hallway leading to our unit became a waterfall, and in the fall, a family of mice decided to move in.

But every teeny, tiny square inch of it was finally mine.

At $875 a month, my rent was comparatively cheap. Still, it was a whopping 53% of my monthly take-home (and LearnVest recommends you only spend 50% of your income on all essentials, including rent, groceries, utilities and transportation). I should have budgeted before jumping in, but in my excitement, that fell to the bottom of my to-do list. Somewhere between outfitting the apartment, celebrating with friends over drinks and trying restaurants down the street, I emptied the $2,000 in my checking account within my first month living on my own.

So I modified my spending. On Tuesdays when the office went out for lunch, I brown-bagged it at my desk. I kept the walls in my room bare for six months, rather than filling them with newly-purchased art. And I stopped buying clothing—even a $15 Forever 21 dress adds up when it becomes a regular cost. I also started to track every penny I spent to see where it was going—a habit I still have today (LearnVest has a free tool that can do it for you, too). Those first few months were hard, but I relished the independence of doing it on my own.

Turns out that putting myself into an uncomfortable financial situation was just the push I needed. By the fall, I landed a new job, finally in the city at a national magazine with clout. I saw it as a compromise: The title was slightly lower, but the $10,000 salary increase helped ease my financial woes. I felt like I could breathe easy again. A few months later, I gave myself the best Christmas present ever: I paid off the remainder of my student loans.

What I Learned

E.M. Forster said, “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” I’ve tried to adopt that as my mantra, even when it seems impossible to let go of my expectations.

Responsible financial decisions, like shacking up in your high school bedroom to save money, or taking an underpaying job that will eventually enhance your career, are not always easy.

Going home after graduation is not something that I am necessarily proud of, even in hindsight. On my lowest days, I wonder what opportunities I missed in both my personal life and my career by living with my parents. Yet I also know that I gained a lot, financially and emotionally, from my time at home.

I developed a real, adult relationship with my parents. They’re no longer just Mom and Dad (or worse, a bank account). They’re friends. I started dating someone who also lived at home, whom I would not have met if I had moved straight to New York. I saved up enough money to pay off my loans and build my own emergency fund. (Here’s more on emergency funds.)

Even now, I still worry about my finances, my career, my living situation. I don’t think I would be a normal 20-something year old if I didn’t. Living at home was not the path I thought I would take, but looking back, I wouldn’t trade it for a crappy apartment of my own, two years earlier.

  • Lolines

    There is a big idea missing here: gratitude towards your parents and your support systems. They took you in even when they really didn´t have an obligation. The financial support you get from our parents as adults is a privilege, not a right. And not everybody has a family to rely on when times are tough. I moved back home to go to graduate school, so I wouldn´t have to get into debt, and while the situation is not ideal, my parents have been very generous. Most of my classmates didn´t have that choice, and the had to accrue massive debt to be able to finish. 

  • Me

    hahaha I WISH I only had $14,000 in debt when I graduated from college. Try $60,000 and I paid it off while living on my own and never moved back in with my parents, because that really wasn’t an option. And I was making less than $30,000 a year at the time. Really hard to have sympathy for the writer. Maybe they should have her parents write an article, because it’s about time some parents got credit for making their children support themselves instead of doing everything for them. And if she was making $28,000 while living at home and having no expenses, she should have gotten that school loan paid off the first year and been debt free.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=545605593 Lara Clinton

      Honestly, my thoughts here are that one could go to community college and then a public school while working and not amass $60,000 in debt if that was really an issue. Not to play down your hardship, but do you really need to point out the speck in the author’s eye like that?

  • victory1211

    I really do respect this girl’s story, and I can definitely relate to it. After supporting myself through college, I moved in with my parents after graduation because I knew the student loans were coming and couldn’t find a full time job. It can be hard after riding the high of college life and thinking anything is possible… and then getting hit by the reality of the job market. 

    The difference is, although I had a roof over my head for about a year, I wasn’t given any financial help. I paid for all my other living expenses, and certainly didn’t get any help with my loans. My parents couldn’t even sit down with me to explain my payment options, because they didn’t understand the terms of the loans themselves. I figured everything out myself, but I wish I was better prepared for the hard reality of post-grad life. There should be a mandatory class in state schools about dealing with loans and credit. 

    In the end, I think a little gratitude can go a long way. My parents gave me what they could, even though it wasn’t much. And I definitely recommend any graduates that are having trouble with their payments to educate themselves on the type of loan they have and what they can do about it. 

  • Give a girl a break!

    Wow, you people are really harsh!  I think from the tone of the article, it comes across that she very much appreciates the support her parents gave her.  And “Me,” so what you had more loan debt?  That makes you what?  A better person?  A bigger martyr?  I don’t think the author is looking for sympathy here and it sounds like her parents supported her in a reasonable way without handing her everything.  As far as paying her loans off sooner, did you miss the part where she saved $10,000 in two years?  I think that’s a pretty big accomplishment. You sound really bitter – it’s sad.

  • colleen

    I know everyone is different but her rock bottom is really not bad at all. I have $24,000 in student loan debt, I know it’s not a lot compared to other people either but I also didn’t have my parents helping me either. With anything. I had a couple stints of living with my mom because my roommates were getting married and I got the boot but there are worse things in life. I’m 27 and not working in the field I went to school for you. Sounds like most of the people that graduate that feel the only job than can get is in their field. Big picture–> you have bills to pay you get a job where ever you can. 

    oh the my generation that feels entitled to everything…sigh

    • grace

      This isn’t a competition between you and the author, so please stop trying to make it into one. 

    • FinanceGirl

      How is that entitled? She got a job working in daycare making barely above minimum wage, as well as a minimum wage internship. She moved out as soon as she could into a tiny, crappy apartment with roommates. She worked hard for what she has. Yes, she got some help, but she seemed grateful for what help she did have.

  • Amber

    Thanks for sharing, Drew. I love your practical approach, and I respect you for doing what you needed to. Ignore the rude comments. I’ve learned that there are negative / bitter people who can’t be happy for anyone else and unfortunately they like to post comments. Keep up the good work!

  • Kelli

    Sometimes I think people read stories on the internet just so they can one up the person or put them down. The women that read this site are the WORST!! I think these stories are great… they show someones trials and what they did to pull through. I feel like unless the person is dying in the gutter most of you ladies feel like she didn’t have it that bad. Give these writers a break and go do something with your own lives. shhheeeesh.

  • Andredanielle

    I don’t think she’s asking for any sympathy here.  She’s just telling it like it is.  When you have the dream of moving to the city you want to live in (and have lived the dream for a little while only to have it taken away from you), it’s hard mental adjustment. She definitely appreciates the help her family gave her, but it’s extremely hard to move back home when that wasn’t your mental plan. 

    I applaud her for saving money and making sacrifices to pay off her loans.  15 years out of college and my husband and I are still paying off our loans (5 years of midwest state school for me and 7 years for him-including grad school)  We consolidated our loans about 8 years ago, stretching out the payments to a much more affordable level.  The light at the end of the tunnel is coming on the loans and I couldn’t be happier! 

    Luckily, my husband has his dream job in his field of study and I have a great job in a field I never planned on getting into.  We’re pretty comfortable, but are extremely lucky to have gotten into the job market before the collapse.

    We moved cross country (Minnesota to Colorado) for his job and I was out of work for 9 months when we got to Denver.  We moved in with my husband’s parents for a year (during a whole house remodel) and I appreciate every bit of rent-free living they gave us.  We never would have been able to afford a place of our own on one income while still paying a mortgage on an empty house halfway across the country!

    All I’m saying is not to judge people too harshly in this economy people, we all have our struggles and issues with money and I really appreciate the people who are willing to tell their stories, warts and all.  We all have a dream of what we want our lives to be and then reality kicks in.

  • Twenty Something

    I appreciate your story. I’m 26 and I currently live at home with my parents. I graduated in the beginning of the recession with no job for a year. I did mutltiple internships in college and had a dream of landing a job in my career. After a year, I did another internship which I hoped would turn into a full time job. It didn’t so I ended up taking a temp job in my field at horrible pay and bad hours to pay my bills. I moved back home after college because my dad was unemployed at the time and I was drowning in over $20,000 in student loan debt. My parent’s refused to help with any of my expenses or fit the bill of rent for an apartment like most of my friends parents do now. I pay all of my bills and give my parents money for household expenses each month. Although I still have a long way to go until I pay off my student loans. I am saving to buy a house rather than wasting away $900 dollars on rent each month. I can see how people would be quick to judge you and your story. I am judged each day by young and old for living at home. It’s sad that our society has put a high expectations on what should happen after you graduate college. My mom lived at home until she was 26 and got married. 

    • Thoughtful

      No intention to criticize, but wouldn’t it be more effective to pay off your loans before saving for a house? The sooner you pay off the loans the less interest you’ll pay on them. That’s real money lost that you could be saving for the house. In other words, you’re losing ground by trying to save the money now, because some of it will actually go toward paying extra interest on your loans.

      • Jen

        usually, you can get a much lower interest rate on student loans than you can on a mortgage. So if you can save up a bigger down payment on a house, which helps reduce the interest rate you pay there, and if you are paying a lower interest rate on your student loans than on the mortgage, then you will pay less interest overall if you pay the minimum on the student loans and put the rest toward the house. This also assumes you have a steady income so that you’ll be able to continue affording both payments. 

  • Shazzer

    Congratulations to Drew! She sounds like a very smart and savvy young woman!

  • peg

    Congratulations!  You’ve already made some tough decisions along the way.  Even though it probably wasn’t intended, please don’t make living with parents sound equivalent to being diagnosed with a fatal disease.  You are fortunate that you have parents who were able to help you!

  • Hormonalchick

    your room in NYC was so small it could house a queen-size bed? That’s bigger than most rooms in NYC! Try a twin bed, wall-to-wall!

  • Alyshaotte

    I think the points made here are certainly valid and are, unfortunately, not all that uncommon. She is making the point that college students think that once they graduate there will be a fantastic selection of jobs, we will have the ability to live on our own, and we will be able to eat a decent meal. This is no longer the case.

    Those who graduated college before the recession really have no place to talk. Having a degree used to mean something, but now might as well be the equivalent of a High School diploma. It is just sad that we get into insane debt with the thought that it will one day pay off. This may not be true for many of us, unless there is a trust fund or silver spoon waiting.

    Her story is our reality now. We all need to wake up and stop winning about how her ‘rock bottom’ isn’t as bad as ours. The point she made was that because the economy is so bad we all have to completely rethink how we are going to function in the world from now on because it certainly isn’t going to align with what we have been told and the way things used to be.

  • Lauren

    Thanks for a realistic outlook on a difficult situation. It can be disappointing when you do everything right and have realistic expectations, but things still don’t fall into place.

    It sounds like you made good choices, even when they were difficult. Congratulations on paying off your loans and on finally finding a good paying job in your field. Keep working hard and I’m sure it will continue to pay off.

  • Frances

    This is a really great story that resonates with me a lot. Drew, It’s fantastic that you stuck it out and were able to come out of your situation with new found insight and a more mature relationship with your parents. It’s tough out there! 

  • wesblueyes

    It’s good to see someone speak reality. 

    Like most people I don’t think I had any other option but to live at home after graduation. Both of my parents were unemployed off and on throughout my last two years of college and therefore couldn’t support me at all. My Resident Assistant position and my full-scholarship kept me in school, but didn’t leave me any savings to make a down payment on an apartment or pay for anything as soon as I graduated. 

    I quickly found a great job in my field, in their town, I wasn’t thrilled to be in such a small family oriented place… not many young people (means less of a social life, but also means I have a technical edge professionally). I saved money by living with my parents for six months to purchase my Macbook Pro and an apartment. I probably would’ve stayed longer, but with such young siblings in the house, I was a FREE babysitter/maid. Living with empty nesters sounds better!

    Splitting a $425 apt. in the historic district where I could walk to work and everywhere else is worth it. I was able to save up to get a car and my software. 

    And start my own business, where I can work from anywhere!

  • Rebeccaallen1202

    Great article. I graduated in December, employed by May, but still living with my parents. Graduating college is such a high and moving back to that childhood bedroom is a rollercoaster fall. My personal rockbottom was about mid-April when I received three job rejections in one day and ended the evening breaking my tooth off eating a chocolate bunny in bed watching crappy reality tv. It’s not a pretty image but it knocked me out of my slump pretty quick. After a good tearful belly laugh, I realized it could only go up from here. A couple weeks later I was employed and I’m set to reach my move-out goal by January.

  • Melanie Thomas726

    Hallelujah from the Amen Corner! This piece was truly a breath of fresh air as it highlights the all too common plight of the college graduate in this economic climate. Drew, I celebrate your courage to be vulnerable and bold enough to keep it 100% and be transparent. Girl, you are preaching to the choir!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=545605593 Lara Clinton

    Loved this article. I finally feel like I’m reading about someone realistic, honest, and encouraging on the Money Mic. I especially am feeling it since I am also a recent graduate AND part-time day care worker until full-time comes along, haha. It’s hard moving back home, and can carry some shame, but it may just be the wisest thing to do. Thanks for being real with us!

    As a side note: have any of these writers not lived in New York? I just don’t remember any, and it’d be interesting to find out about someone who lives in a different economic climate. (I’m near Detroit and it’s a whole different ballgame.)

    • Carrie

      Hi Lara,
      This is Carrie, the Editor in Chief of LearnVest. Thanks so much for your comment, which we really appreciated.

      We absolutely do want to include more Money Mics from writers in different cities, who have different perspectives. (In fact, I grew up in Detroit, so I really related to what you had to say.)

      We are making an effort to recruit writers as widely as possible, and anyone reading LearnVest can help us: If you have an interesting money story to tell, or know a writer you love in your city, send your ideas on to pitches@learnvest.com.  We’ll read every email! Thanks!

  • Jenna

    I also graduated undergrad in 2009 and lived at home with my parents for just over 2 years afterwards. It wasn’t awful because a lot of my high school friends moved back home too. I saved enough living with my parents so when I got a great internship, I could afford to move out and to live while working there with hopes of getting hired full-time. That finally happened for me, but if my parents were close enough for me to live with them while working now, I’d probably even do that for another year or so until I can save up enough money and put more money into paying off my student loans to feel comfortable. I don’t think there’s any shame in moving back home if you’re doing it for the right reasons.

  • Mdemira

    This article is clearly written by a 20-something year old who hasn’t experienced that much life yet.  At 40, I’ve experienced so much crap I laughed at her oh-so sad tale.  She sounds like living back at home was the worst possible situation and decision.  Big deal.  Puh-lease.  There is worse.  However, I can relate to some aspects of this article such as not budgeting for when I moved from the Midwest to LA, when I was a 20-something years old.  The difference is, I relished and enjoyed being with my parents when I moved back home after college, and now in their old age and living apart from them, I miss those days when I lived with them.  Kid, when you hit 40, you’ll know what I mean.  

    • JW810

      Seriously?  Why do you even have the need to compare yourself to her?  Did you read the entire article?  Did you read when she said, ”
      Living at home was not the path I thought I would take, but looking back, I wouldn’t trade it for a crappy apartment of my own, two years earlier.”  Just because you’re older doesn’t mean you’re wiser.  Stop feeling sorry for yourself.

  • Sandra

    At 55 years of age, I have just moved back “home” so that I can afford to attend University to finish my degree and upgrade my employment.  There are definite benefits and definite disadvantages.  After having been the mother of a household for many years, this has been challenging and yet full of gifts.  I get it!

  • http://www.fromshoppingtosaving.com/ From Shopping to Saving

    Sounds familiar – graduated in 09, lived at home for 6 months, job hunted in several cities, then ended up moving to San Diego…only to live with my BF at his parents’ house. It wasn’t the best thing to tell people, but I liked my job, saved a ton, worked hard, and enjoyed my time there. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t suck it up for 2 years.

  • Venita Moon

    WELL DONE, Miss Drew!  I’m a 55-year-old mom of two and I just wanted to tell you that I think you’ve done a great job.  I know it wasn’t easy graduating from college into a world of very few jobs, and I know it wasn’t easy to move back home after all those years of dreaming of your independence and freedom.  But you did what you had to do (and I’m hoping you expressed your appreciation to your parents), you took what jobs you could, you looked for opportunities to move up, you got yourself out of debt, you lived – and continue to live – responsibly, and have conducted yourself admirably on all counts.  You’ve created a great launching pad for the rest of your life.  WELL DONE.

  • kgal1298

    Interesting. I didn’t get that option to go back home, but I think in a way it forced me to act fast. Now I’m totally independent with a good job. Though I still have debt it’s okay because I learned from that debt and I’m slowly digging out of it. 

  • CMcG

    My word, this article was like reading my own life for the past couple of years.  I also graduated in spring of ’09 without a job or any prospects and was devastated.  Our generation was brought up on the idea that graduating from college meant getting a quality job.  But when a Masters is the new BA, and every job asks for “Five years of progressively responsible experience” because so many other workers had been laid off before we graduated, and what used to be entry-level positions are suddenly unpaid internships, what are we to do?  

    Thank you for this article.  

  • Carline

    Thank you for sharing your experience… I too am living at ‘home with parent’, although I’m thankful to my mom for providing a roof over my head…I do dream of moving out and having my own place… I’ve had to overcome some obstacles…however I am hopeful…that an opportunity will open itself and clear the way…Thank you for giving us hope to all us that hit at rock bottom and had to go back in order to come forward…

  • AD

    I guess we are supposed to applaud her for doing what she is supposed to do? I give her parents credit for not just handing her a free ride (paying off her loans or paying her rent) and doing what any parent would do and welcome their out of work child into their home. I know some people in their 30′s who still live at home with their parents, rent free, and have perfectly well-paying jobs! I will give her credit for saving her money and paying off her debt and not getting into MORE debt at the taste of city life. However, we can all agree that her situation wasn’t THAT bad and I’m sure there are others who have had a far more difficult situation.

     Good job staying out of debt and I hope you stay that way!