How to lay financial ground rules when your adult kid moves back home to live with the parents

How do I talk to my adult kid about moving out?

Beth takes on a tricky new money question—and offers expert advice on how to resolve it and how to talk it over in constructive ways.


The situation

“My daughter has lived with me since she finished college. That’s been four years now. It’s time for her to move out—oh, boy, is it time—but she hasn’t saved much of anything for a new place. Do I just loan her the money or make her start saving? And how do I discuss this with her without it seeming like I don’t want her around?”
—Sally, Baton Rouge, La.

The solution

First, let me say that moving back in with your parents after college can be a smart play. A few months or even a couple of years can give a fresh grad time to get on her feet financially with no monthly rent check hanging over her head. That said, it’s crucial that parents lay down some solid ground rules. These might include the length of the stay, the kid’s share of chores (welcome back, Chore Chart!), how much she’ll contribute to household expenses such as food and utilities, and, most important of all, a stipulation that the boomerang make a plan to someday fly solo. That means working, setting aside a percentage for a new place, and saving up a financial cushion in case things go south after she moves out. I’m not kidding about this part: Get the parent-child contract in writing. Trust me: You’ll avoid a lot of misunderstandings and hurt feelings down the road.

Okay, but how does that help Sally? What if you didn’t agree to a set of rules after your kid showed up with a diploma and a duffel bag full of dirty laundry? As Sally herself suggests, the key to this financial quandary is clear, open, nonthreatening conversation.

The first thing you should know is that this isn’t time for Sally to roll out a “Sixteen-Point Savings Plan and Five-Year Career Agenda for Getting My Daughter to Move Out of My %$@# House.”

Surprisingly, most of this conversation won’t be about money—or moving—at all.

No interventions

It’s late. She’s coming home from trivia night—but isn’t she supposed to meet with that recruiter in the morning? You and your partner lay in wait in the living room. “So…how about those affordable new condos across the river?” you ask, casually/not casually when she (finally) walks in the door.

This passive-aggressive (but mostly aggressive) routine is guaranteed to get your kid’s hackles up. Instead, look for a natural moment to raise the subject—maybe a classmate just moved into her own place or took a job in another city. Maybe your kid is preparing for a job interview.

It’s all about the feels

Remember that your kid has as many emotions swirling around this situation as you do. Maybe you feel frustrated—why won’t she just join LinkedIn?!—but she’s probably less complacent than plain old scared. Being honest about each other’s feelings is a solid starting point. But how? My advice: Bring back an oldie from the parental handbook. Remember this old line? “The way that kid talked to you on the playground must have made you feel angry.” Getting a grade-schooler to pinpoint his emotions is a time-tested way to head off a tantrum.

No surprise, it works just as well with adults. Psychologist John M. Gottman, of the University of Washington in Seattle, tells us that naming emotions “engages the part of the brain that controls the functions of logic and language.” In other words, voicing these feelings helps people gain control over them.

So, here we go: “That must be scary, going out into the world like that. I know it was for me.” If you get nothing but shrugs—likely—ask how she’s feeling about forging her own path.

Now here’s the scary part for you: It’s just as important to acknowledge your own feelings. “I know it’s frightening. It was for me, too. I do get frustrated, though, when I see you holding yourself back, not taking the steps you need to get out there on your own.”

Focus on your child’s aspirations

It’s easy to dwell on the negative, but you’ll make a stronger connection by keeping this conversation to your shared hopes for your kid.

Try something like: “You know I love having you here. I have so much fun with our insane baking projects. But you have a lot ahead of you to be excited about.” If you know something your kid really wants to do in life—and some parents are way off the mark—spend some time talking about it. This can be a short-term or long-term goal—buying a car, living in California, going to grad school, becoming a veterinarian. Some goals might seem odd or unattainable—now isn’t the time to judge. (And if her dream is to remain on your couch binge-watching Rick & Morty until the world runs out of frozen pot stickers, that’s a whole other class of problem.) The point is, get excited about what the larger world has to offer your kid.

Make a plan—together

Now, the question becomes: What can you do together to move toward those dreams? Here’s where money finally makes an appearance. Get out pad and pen—or tablet—and write down all the financial steps it would take for her to move out on her own. Here’s a little action plan:

  1. Set a target date for finding her new place. Is it a year from now? Six months?
  2. Then do some real estate research: How much will it cost to move to a typical apartment where your kid wants to live? Tally up the deposit, first and last months’ rents, and any moving expenses. That’s her savings target.
  3. If she isn’t working yet, it’s time to make a job search plan. How many applications will she fill out every week? What one networking move can she make every day?
  4. If she has a job, look at her paycheck: How much of it can she spare? This percentage should be high—after all, room and maybe board are already taken care of. The point of living with you is to save money, not to squander the cash that would go toward living expenses on restaurants, concerts, and such.
  5. Once you’ve settled on that percentage, have your kid automate the deductions from her paycheck into a separate dedicated savings account. This is great because after a few pay cycles, she’ll adjust to living on the smaller amount.
  6. Next, schedule a weekly meeting to see how well she’s meeting her goals. If she strays, remind her of what she’s saving for. These meetings can too easily turn into arguments, so don’t forget how you handled the initial conversation.

Before you know it, the day will come when your own personal dream will be fulfilled.

Yes, I’m talking about moving day. is packed with resources for budgeting apps, moving hacks, and sharing finances with roommates.

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