When it’s Mom and Dad and Billy and Sally (and maybe Rover), budgeting can be fairly straightforward—but not everyone’s home life is quite so nuclear, especially in the current economic climate.
We’ve all heard stories of recent college graduates who opt to live at home with their parents for a couple years to pay off debt, or folks in the 60-plus set who need to move in with their kids, thanks to depleted retirement savings.
To see how unconventional households make ends meet, we asked four families with nontraditional living arrangements (one family has even welcomed a boyfriend … and his sister!) to share how they manage the money side of things.
Maria Wright, 43, nurse, Lancaster, Pa.
As a nurse, I make $50,000 a year. My husband and I also own a furniture store, so with the money we made from the business and my income, we brought in a combined $100,000 last year. My husband pays most of the bills, like cable and electric, but I still know where the money is going.
There are eight people in our house: me; my husband, David, 45; my 73-year-old father, John; my younger kids, Ellie, 16, and Nicholas, 11; my older daughter, Corinne, 22; her husband, Adam, 25; and Corinne and Adam’s son, 3-month-old Asher.
My father, who will be staying with us indefinitely, moved in last month after a hip operation. He receives a $1,000 Social Security payment once a month—$400 of which he contributes to cover most of our $600 monthly grocery bill.
Corinne and her husband often contribute another $200, which we put toward groceries or the electric bill. With eight of us in the house, utility bills can get pretty high, but I don’t ask Corinne and her husband to pay rent or share all the household expenses. They have been living with us for seven months now, but they’re moving into their own apartment soon. I haven’t rushed them to leave. In fact, I wish they’d stay a little longer and keep saving money. They have about $15,000 of debt (student loans, credit cards, etc.) that doesn’t include their car loans.
I’m not rich, but I love being able to say, “I have the room. Stay and get back on your feet.”
I get paid biweekly, and as soon as I receive a check, I put more than half of each paycheck toward my mortgage. Ideally, the store makes money every month, so we use that to pay its lease. I marvel at how we’re able to make ends meet—we live week to week. We have a nominal amount in savings, and when you look at the numbers—what we bring in, and what we pay out—it doesn’t always add up.
Being on a strict budget means saying no to some things, like eating out. We order Chinese takeout once a week because it’s cheap, and we might get pizza once a month. We also buy groceries that stretch, like boxed macaroni and cheese or ramen noodles. We’re never starving, by any means, but we may not always have exactly what we want to eat.
Although they can be expensive, I don’t deprive the younger kids of participating in extracurricular activities. Ellie is in ballet, and Nicholas is learning karate. But Ellie would love to take unlimited dance classes, and Nicholas also wants to do ice hockey—but that would be another $300 a month that we can’t afford.
Before I started this nursing job, I worked as an independent contractor. So for nine months last year, our family went without health insurance. Thankfully, we didn’t run into any medical problems. Somehow things always work out, but I would like to get a better handle on things—to keep a more watchful eye on our financial well-being. As it is now, I’m always worrying that there will be an unexpected expense that could send us reeling.
But I still wouldn’t have it any other way. It reminds me of growing up: My parents were always taking in people, from friends to family. I’m certainly not rich, but I love being able to say, “I have the room. Come. Stay and get back on your feet.”