How to move back in with your parents without becoming a huge financial burden

By: Lisa Coxon on September 12, 2019
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If there’s anyone who knows a thing or two about moving back in with your parents as an adult, it’s Christina Newberry. After all, she’s done it twice. 

The first time was in 1999. The then-21-year-old had just graduated from the University of Victoria and didn’t really have a plan for what to do next — or a job. So, without thinking much about it, she moved back into her childhood home in White Rock, B.C., for about nine months.

Eight years later, at the age of 29, she found herself going through a divorce and asked her parents if she could move back in with them again. This time, her return home was less about financial instability and more about finding emotional support. Still, her parents told her she could live with them for free for three months, but after that, she’d have to start paying rent. She stayed for only two months before she was out on her own again.

Adults kids are moving back in with their parents at increasing rates. According to Statistics Canada, 34.7% of young adults between the ages of 20 and 34 were living with at least one parent in 2016 — and that number has been increasing since 2001. In the GTA alone, 47% of young adults born between 1980 and 1995 were living with their parents in 2017, according to a joint study between the University of Waterloo and York University.

Newberry’s experience is unique since she’s both a real-life case study and expert on this growing trend. The freelance journalist and author tackled the issue in her book, The Hands-On Guide to Surviving Adult Children Living at Home. 

Looking back on the first time she moved back home, Newberry says, “I just sort of assumed that was what was going to happen, as did virtually everyone that I knew. There wasn’t even really an ask. In retrospect, there should have been.”

Moving back home as an adult might not seem like a big deal. To you, it’s a means to avoid poverty, however, you might just be offloading the burden onto your parents. They might be happy to have you around, but another adult living in the house means extra living costs — and that can put a strain on their finances. That’s why we asked Newberry how adult children can move back in with their parents without becoming a huge financial burden.

Instead of saying, ‘Can I move back in with you?’ say, ‘Can I move back in with you for three months?’

Put an expiry date on your stay

If you plan on moving back home, one of the easiest ways to minimize the financial impact of your stay is by not staying indefinitely. 

“Instead of saying, ‘Can I move back in with you?’ say, ‘Can I move back in with you for three months?’ Or six months, or whatever it is,” says Newberry. “That’s a lot easier for parents to say yes to.”

When you move home, your parents’ household expenses could spike. But if they know that spike is going to be temporary, then already you’re making the transition less burdensome.

Most adult kids tend to move home for about a year, Newberry says. “That’s enough time that they can figure some things out, save some money and develop a plan for what their next life stage is going to be. But it’s not so long that they get stuck.”

If you end up staying longer than a year, Newberry says it can be a lot harder to transition back into the world of living on your own.

“It’s really easy to get stuck in some patterns that aren’t necessarily that helpful,” she says. “In addition to not having to pay rent, or at least not market rent, you may also be getting the added benefit of your mom taking really good care of you by doing your laundry or feeding you really well. Once you get used to those things, it can be scary to think about going back on your own.”

That’s why Newberry likes to suggest that families set a timeline before the adult child moves back home that gives everyone a clear understanding of when they plan to get back out on their own again.

Create a family budget — and contribute to it

The financial impact of moving back home with your parents usually comes in the form of added household expenses: things like higher gas, hydro, and grocery bills. It could also come in the form of higher auto insurance premiums if, say, the adult child is going to be driving the parents’ car and has to be listed on the policy as an additional driver.

“But the really big one,” Newberry says, “is if parents delay downsizing their home either because the adult children are already living with them or because they’re anticipating that their adult children are going to need to live with them.”

Adult children should figure out how they can make meaningful contributions to these expenses, especially if they’re earning an income while living at home and not paying rent. 

It’s important parents don’t take on additional debt to support you

Newberry actually thinks parents should charge their adult children some amount of rent, for a couple of reasons. “One is to offset some of those extra costs,” she says. “Another is to help the adult child get into the routine of remembering that rent is a monthly expense that adults have to pay; the third one is that it’s actually really beneficial to their self-esteem because it allows them to feel like they’re a contributing member of the household.”

It’s up to the family to decide whether that contribution is a percentage of the adult child's income or just some token amount.

Be flexible with your expectations

This also means you’re going to need to be amenable about your new living arrangement. You can’t insist on the same exact lifestyle you had before you needed to move back home since it might not be realistic or affordable. Maybe you were living on your own in a big city like Toronto and did all of your grocery shopping at Whole Foods. Moving back home might mean different kinds of food for groceries, a different brand of toilet paper, and so on. 

The bottom line, Newberry says, is that the transition should never become so overwhelming that your parents start to get themselves into financial trouble just to give you a home.
“It’s important parents don’t take on additional debt to support you,” she says. “Parents are usually getting toward the end of their earning years and taking on additional debt is not the greatest idea. If having adult children move back in requires debt, that’s something [parents] really need to think about quite hard.”

It’s a privilege to be able to move back home as an adult and receive financial support from your parents. That said, the arrangement needs to be sustainable for them.

“While it’s great for their parents to help their adult children out financially, if they’re able to do so, not all parents are necessarily going to be able to,” says Newberry. “They need to keep that in mind and make their own financial wellbeing a priority as well.”