What is a reasonable contribution from a daughter who lives at home?
February 18, 2014 5:45 PM   Subscribe

Daughter, 23, lives with me. She has had mental health struggles and doesn't feel ready to live alone or with roommates. I'm sure she will someday, but probably not within the next year or even two. She's doing great now. She completed a certificate program and has a full-time job at entry level pay, which will increase with experience. How much is a reasonable financial contribution to the household?

This isn't a question of principle for me. While I can meet household expenses on my own, it isn't easy and it's a huge source of stress. (My income is variable.) OTOH, I want daughter to be able to move out someday, and surely she will need savings to do so. I also have a fair bit of shame about not being the middle class parent who could just charge a token amount and not think a thing of it. (My financial situation has drastically changed for the worse over the past few years.) I know that approaches to these issues vary, but would be especially interested in hearing from the Metafilter adults who live with parents and Metafilter parents with adult kids at home. How do you deal with finances? What are your expectations?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I would say it's reasonable for her to, at minimum, pay for all of her own food and 1/2 have the utilities.

Beyond that... would you be paying the same amount for rent regardless of whether she lived with you or not? If so, and she's making close to minimum wage, I would probably not ask her for more than a hundred or two towards rent.
posted by cairdeas at 5:52 PM on February 18, 2014 [9 favorites]

Search Craigslist list for bedrooms in shared homes (where she would have 1-2 other roommates), in similar neighborhoods in your city. Figure out what rent would be for something on the lowest end of that, plus 1/2 of your utilities every month.

Then sit down with her and figure out her post-tax monthly income. If the rent+utilities you've estimated is about 1/3 to 1/2 of that, that sounds about right for a young person with entry-level pay. If the rent you've estimated is way more than that, consider charging her 1/3 to 1/2 of her post-tax income, as it sounds like you live in an expensive area and she's not making that much money relative to the local market.

Help her make a commitment to save a certain amount a month - $250? $500? - that she puts into a savings account through an automatic transfer.
posted by amaire at 5:52 PM on February 18, 2014

Paying a decent amount per month will help her get used to how much it will cost out in the real world. Take a look at how much rooms rent for in your area and discount from that. If you feel guilty about charging so much, (secretly) save a portion of that rent to use to help her when she's ready to move out as a surprise. (For furniture, sec deposit, etc).

Of course, helping around the house should still be on the table.
posted by TheAdamist at 5:56 PM on February 18, 2014 [12 favorites]

I want daughter to be able to move out someday, and surely she will need savings to do so.

I think this is the first place to start. Establish a savings goal for her to work toward, and then establish how much she'd need to save on a monthly basis to reach that goal in two years. If she can afford to save more each month, so much the better.

From there, figure out a fair breakdown of her remaining take-home pay for expenses. In All Your Worth, Elizabeth Warren suggests a 50/30/20 budget balance: 50% of income for essentials, 30% for non-essentials, and 20% for savings.
posted by scody at 5:59 PM on February 18, 2014 [7 favorites]

Of course, helping around the house should still be on the table.

Agreed; I would go beyond this to say that once you are a working adult, house upkeep isn't something you "help" someone else with, it's something you alone are responsible for doing your fair share of.

However, if house upkeep is one of the things she struggles with because of her mental health, I would probably go pretty easy on it.
posted by cairdeas at 6:00 PM on February 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

At 23 she should already know how to save and make a budget. If she doesn't right now, that is the first thing she needs to learn in order to become independent.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:08 PM on February 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

She should be buying her own food and personal items (actually buying, not just reimbursing you for them) - this is a key life skill and something she will need to know how to do when she moves out.

She should be paying some share of the utilities (I'd say 50% if it's feasible for her). This should be paid to you every time a utility bill arrives (monthly, biweekly, quarterly, whatever).

She should be paying some of the rent, even if it's a token amount, to you each month.

I would encourage her to save a significant share of the remainder of her income, and be gently clear from the beginning that the savings are for her eventual move out.

Most importantly, I would continue to treat her with love and acceptance, while laying the foundation for her to one day be an adult living on her own.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 6:14 PM on February 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think you should sit down with her and do a detailed analysis of the family budget and work together to figure out what she should pay.

I have a lot more respect for my parents when they try to teach me something by showing me how they do it than just laying down the rules.

Show her the financial realities of the household the two of you share, what your long-term goals are (ie: are YOU putting money into savings? if she chipped in, would you be able to better situate yourself for the long term future?), so she sees very specifically what your struggles are and how she can help you by doing the adult thing and paying rent.

Together, look at your budget (and improve it), and look at her income/expenses, and talk about how to make it functional and sustainable.
posted by itesser at 6:16 PM on February 18, 2014 [16 favorites]

[follow up with my "credibility" on this issue:

I never paid rent when I lived at home (off and on until I was 27--two years ago). Recently my parents recently refused to cosign my student loans so I could go to college and I had to drop out.

Instead of showing me SPECIFICALLY how tight their finances are and how bad it would go for them if I defaulted on payments, they said "No, our finance guru says to never cosign for anything for any reason".

I was very angry for several months and it severely damaged things between my mother and me. I was eventually able to articulate how deeply and specifically it hurt me and things are better now, but if my parents had been more open and communicative about financial realities to begin with, there would've been less hurt. ]
posted by itesser at 6:23 PM on February 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

Is she getting paid more than minimum wage? Even if she isn't, a couple years ago me and my friends were living in a house and paying $375+utilities. Everyone was able to save up money to buy stupid things we probably shouldn't have(new computers, video games, lots of takeout and liquor, etc), and we were buying our own food and everything.

If she's not moving out within the next year or so anyways, and she's most definitely making what, $700 a paycheck? then i think it's completely fair to charge her a bit below market rate rent and her share of the utilities(which i don't think should be half, how many people live in the house? if it's 3, then 1/3rd, etc).

Note that a room in a decent house in seattle is generally around $500+utilities right now. If you're paying less, you're below the curve and getting a good deal. I'm not saying charge her that, but closer to that than training wheels rent is a good, and fair idea. Give her a deal, but not a handout.

I think this does an important thing that a lot of people don't think of, which is teaching her "this amount of money will instantly vaporize as rent and utilities. i still have to be able to pay for all the stuff in my life and save some money with what's leftover".

Plenty of the people i know who have gotten to do the middle class living with the parents for free or almost nothing routine have a HELL of a time moving out and stressing/whining about "OMG THATS SO MUCH TO SPEND ON A ROOM!" when they're used to being able to use that rent money as disposable income.

And hell, if your financial situation improves save some of the money she's giving you and give it to her as a gift when she moves out.

I absolutely think she should be paying real rent, not training wheels rent if she has a full time job that you need a certificate to get though. Doing otherwise is just a recipe for "Well i paid my cell phone bill and utilities, now i have all this extra money! i can put like $300 in savings and just blow the rest! WOOOO!" which is a REALLY easy way to spend lots and lots of money on stupid shit you'll have nothing to show for in a couple months.

Another thing worth noting i've watched happen with friends(and myself! when i was doing this, woohoo recession!) is that if there isn't some fair "division of labor" of the rent and utilities going on, you WILL grow to resent her in some way no matter how much you think or say you wont. I've watched it happen over and over again. "She pays almost no/no rent to sit around here and watch netflix and drink G&Ts while i'm barely scraping by" WILL get to you. Head it off at the pass.
posted by emptythought at 6:30 PM on February 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

If she has a full time job, I think she should be paying "real" rent. That is, she should pay for market rate rent, food, utilities, and bills she has (e.g. cell phone). If those come out to be more than 50% of her take home, and you're feeling charitable, then let her pay less rent. If she pays less rent, she should do more chores.

I live on my own, about the same age as your daughter. My mother wouldn't mind if I moved back home, but I would definitely have to pay at least 80% of market rent, my own utilities, and so forth. I'd also have to do my share of family chores. After all, I'm an adult, and the expectations are there for that. I would be uncomfortable and feel disrespected if my mother treats me like a child even though I'm capable of pulling my own weight.

(And I did live at home for a few months, but having to pay rent anyway definitely put everything in perspective and helped me be more motivated to move out.)

If you want to be nice, cook for her from time to time, and don't be overly strict if she pays rent late once in a while. But IMO, it's more harmful for young adults to be coddled than to learn the realities of the world (in a relatively safe situation with training-wheels on).
posted by ethidda at 6:37 PM on February 18, 2014

The rent can be significant while still being significantly less than market rates.
(Situations differ, but to me, if market rates for rent were say $10, then charging say $6 or $7 seems like a good deal for her, and enough to be of genuine help for you. Enough that she could realistically contemplate adding a bit more and affording her own place, but not so much that she can't save anything.)

You also don't need to dump it on her all at once. Perhaps the rent could start at nothing and ramp higher every month for six months (or ten months for numerical ease - $20 higher every month until it reaches $200, or whatever)
That way she has time to get her financial affairs in order and adapt.

My parents could have afforded to give me my room rent-free. I think I was better off that they didn't, and that they charged more than a token amount (but much less than the real world). No rent or token rent would have increased the "failure to launch" risk.

I don't think you need to feel guilty about asking for significant money - chances are good that you are doing a service by requiring significant money. That you also happen to need the money doesn't change that.
posted by anonymisc at 6:38 PM on February 18, 2014

One thing you could do is you could have her switch one or two of the utilities into her name. Then she is responsible for the bill entirely when it comes.

It would be helpful in a lot of ways: she has to pay attention to the bill coming in, learn how to schedule and save to pay it, realize how her actions reflect on her bills (say, she loves running a space heater, but that adds 20 a month to the bill.)

It also gives her the advantage that when she does move out of your house, she will already have a record of utility payment, which can waive "new customer" deposits, and gives her something regularly paid on her credit reports.
posted by headspace at 6:40 PM on February 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

My living with my mom some years ago worked sort of like this: As long as I was working, we worked out about how much I would pay for rent+utilities to live in an okay apartment by myself. Then we split it in half. One half went into savings, one half went to help my mom.

Unfortunately this sort of fell apart because I lost my job and went back to school, but I think it was a good system. My budget already included what it was going to take for me to live elsewhere, but I was going to have time to build up the savings I needed to actually pay for stuff like furniture and household goods and to have a decent emergency fund. Given that we're both accountants, there were spreadsheets involved, but I made them happy spreadsheets with nice colors and it looked good to see the amounts going up every month.

If you need more than half that amount to comfortably make ends meet, that's another story, but I think usually it works.
posted by Sequence at 6:41 PM on February 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm sure you will get more good advice re finances. I just want to address "I also have a fair bit of shame about not being the middle class parent who could just charge a token amount and not think a thing of it".

Hold your head up, Mom, I'm sure you are aware that you have a lot of company, that the state of the economy is bad and isn't likely to improve a whole lot in the coming years (without intervention income disparity can only get worse). I doubt you would cast judgement and shame on everyone who has slipped out of the middle class over the past several years, so give yourself the same consideration. (Easier said than done—believe me, I know.) If this continues to bother you, find a therapist.

Clearly, your daughter has what's important, i.e., your love and support. Your pride in her accomplishments brought tears to my eyes.

(I wish my ex/my kids' father would take such an attitude. Instead, he is hyper-critical, e.g., complained about the fact that our son will take an extra semester to finish is BA; literally will not let our 24 year old daughter stay in his extra bedroom for more than 3 days at a time when she comes back to town to visit—doesn't want to "support" her. I'm afraid that I've seen more parents like him than like you.)
posted by she's not there at 6:41 PM on February 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

This is what we did for my working teenage stepdaughter years ago. We came up with a figure that was less than 1/3 of the rent/utilities (there were three of us), say about 25% of our weekly costs. We let her pay only 25% on the condition that she set aside 2 x 25% per week, with the second 25% going into savings which we managed. A year later, when she moved out, she not only knew how to budget her earnings but she had a small nest-egg to get her started. She says now it was a very useful structure.
posted by Kerasia at 6:58 PM on February 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

If possible, can you tell her that rent is something you'd like to establish starting in two months, after you've worked out your numbers together and she's had some time to build up her savings? She, like you, may be already mentally spending her paycheck, and it may be a bit of a shock to learn about new expenses. Furthermore, if she's new to the working world and recovering from mental health issues, this gives you time to evaluate whether she feels OK working fulltime.

You can frame it as, "I'm proud of you for taking steps to transition into the adult world. Whether I like it or not, this means I need to start doing the same. I've put you first financially, and I will be here for you no matter what, but I need to save more for retirement. One way for me to do that is to move to a smaller place, but I don't think that's the right choice for us together, so I think a compromise is for you to start contributing toward rent with some of your new income."

Finally, I want to suggest you get started on budgeting together. If you're new to budgeting and need a user-friendly approach, take a look at YNAB. You can buy one copy and have multiple people in the household create different accounts using that license. Honestly though, the system they teach about budgeting is helpful whether you buy their software or not, so you can just just a Google Doc if that's better for you.
posted by samthemander at 7:15 PM on February 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

We have an adult child, with past mental health issues, sharing our house. The specifics are very different, but I know that thinking about this has different ramifications than just "is it time to push the kid out" kind of questions.

But first I want to say that some of the math in some of these comments seems off to me. A full time (40 hours a week) job at entry level wages (round up to $10/hour) means a take-home pay, after deductions, of -- maybe -- $350/week, or $1,500/month. That's not very much. Because of mental health issues, the FIRST thing you have to think of is health insurance. It sounds like you both might be eligible for Medicaid, if you live in a state where that's possible. But that's the first thing you have to figure out. She will probably have to kick in some for this, and should be paying co-pays, etc.

Since this isn't primarily a matter of principle for you, and you say that it's a strain for you to meet basic expenses, then the next most important thing to think of is how much over your basic expenses is her being at home costing you? Obviously, food. She should be paying a portion of the food bill, or doing some of the shopping, or whatever you work out between you. Perhaps a small , even token amount of heat, light, cable, internet, etc? I say "token" because I agree that she needs to be saving some from each paycheck, and after she does that she's not going to have much to contribute to rent (which you'd be paying anyway, or half of utilities, or anything like that.) The savings is important not so much for moving out expenses, but for unexpected things that WILL come up, and that you won't be able to say "Don't worry, I've got that covered."

What she can contribute is work around the house, in the yard, in whatever ways might help relieve your stress over your own economic situation. Perhaps you could look together at books and blogs about frugal living; most of the suggestions take time & energy rather than money. If she could do that, it would be a real help to both of you.

As for moving out, this is an issue that I've thought long and hard about. My advice is to not make that the future goal. As long as you are getting along, she is working and healing, living with you is absolutely fine. Unmarried children living at home, contributing what they can, has been the norm for much longer than everybody-in-their-own-place. (And not to nitpick too much, but housing costs are enormous in most of the country. You cannot get a house in Seattle for $500/month. You can't get a room IN a house in Seattle for $500/month, unless it's the closet. You can't get a house in Bellingham, a small town in a semi-rural area, for less than $1,000/month.)

And finally, and maybe most important of all in the long run, please please try to stop thinking in terms of "shame." Having an adult child with mental illness is so hard. And if you look around, you see that it's the rare family that truly survives it. The fact that she is still in touch with you, that in fact she feels safe living with you is a huge, and lucky, achievement. That she was able to go through training and is now holding down a job -- that's wonderful. It doesn't matter how you work out the money, and it really doesn't matter that you aren't able to give her lots of money. You are obviously a brave and caring mother, and that's the only thing of value you can really give your daughter.

Good luck to both of you. (Feel free to MeMail me if you'd like to talk more about specifics.)
posted by kestralwing at 7:20 PM on February 18, 2014 [21 favorites]

I have an adult daughter living at home and going to school. She has a parttime job but in the past she has worked more fulltime (before she started back to school.)

What we have done right now is made her responsible for one particular bill, and then a proportion of food and gas. She takes care of her own clothing, entertainment, and personal items budget along with everything school related.

In general what I recommend in this situation is something below market so that savings can happen yet enough that you get the assistance you need. There is no shame in that. Adults do what they can to support themselves. You are in a situation where the two of you are helping each other out.

I know other parents of adult children, and we talk. From what I can garner the adult kids respect the living situation more if they are contributing to it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:50 PM on February 18, 2014

25% of her income for rent and some amount toward food if you are feeding her.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:39 PM on February 18, 2014

If you want to have a bit of a more forceful (or, helpful) hand in the situation, you can do what is customary in my in-laws' family. This sounds just like what Sequence and others are suggesting.

The rule of the house is that kids are allowed to stay at the house rent-free until they complete college (an undergraduate degree), or roughly until they are 21. After that, they are expected to pay rent at a market rate... so the rent you would pay if you were splitting a two bedroom apartment with someone in that area, for example.

But, the catch is as follows. The parents in that family agree with the child that half the rent money will go toward the parents' expenses. The other half of the rent money goes into a joint savings account. When the child moves out, the parent signs the savings account over to them, and the money is all theirs. Of course, you could set this at any percentage you feel is fair (after all, it'd be fair for you to take 100% of the rent for your expenses if you needed that money).

I think it's a wise thing for you to be asking your daughter to chip in for expenses. It teaches responsibility, and takes some of the weight off of you. It also prevents this from becoming a potential area for resentment: you're human, and there's a good chance you'll get resentful if your daughter, who is a capable adult with a full time job, isn't pulling her weight.

But a strategy like this might be a nice way to draw some balance: to help her save, to help her chip in, and to help her to plan her expenses around what a real life budget requires.
posted by Old Man McKay at 8:44 PM on February 18, 2014

Whatever you charge her, you should take half of it every month and put it in a secret savings account.

Surprise her with this "bonus" when she moves to her own place.

Even if you only put aside $25 per month, it's just a nice thing to do.
posted by jbenben at 8:56 PM on February 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

Having a set contribution that's based on market rate is dignity. That she can hold down a job and contribute to the household as an independent adult is a good thing, not a shame. It's also a bright shining line between what your expectations (pay 50% utilities and contribute $X to rent, etc) and that any money left over is entirely hers to spend on whatever frivolous things she wants. If she wants to save for a holiday or splurge on clothes, it's entirely her choice. Otherwise, toxic resentment comes on.

I love @jenben's idea of putting some of the money she pays towards expenses secretly aside as savings for her. It's really sweet. I would split that though - put some into a buffer for yourself too, so you're not so stressed, as well as a secret bonus for her.
posted by viggorlijah at 3:07 AM on February 19, 2014

My 21 year old moved back home for a year and a half. We told her she needed to pay $150 (us) a month as well as save $150 a month. We kept all her money in a safe and when she was set to move out , we gave it all back to her to get her started again. It helped teach her the responsibility of budget and savings.
posted by keep it tight at 4:05 AM on February 19, 2014

Charge her the full amount of what she would be paying if she didn't live with you. Rent for one room in a three room apartment, for instance, plus a third of the utilities, etc. This will get her used to the financial constraints of living on her own.

Each month, take a cut (1/3 or 1/4 or whatever) for yourself to help cover living expenses. Put the rest in a savings account. Don't tell her you're doing this.

When she moves out, give her the savings account back to help pay for first/last/security on the new place, buy the things she'll need to be able to live on her own, etc. If there's extra, you use it to help her start and fund a retirement fund for herself.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:01 AM on February 19, 2014

HUD (the department of housing and urban development) believes that a healthy amount of rent is 30 percent of your income. I'd use net income instead of gross even though HUD uses gross income because it ends up being closer to 50 percent of net. In addition frankly I would save the money for my child and not tell her. So when she's ready to move she's got a security deposit and first months rent if not some extra for furniture and such. Also by using a percentage for rent it is easy to adjust and not an arbitrary number.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:08 AM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I paid my parents $400 per month to live with them while I was in school. I had a full-time job where I was paid around $28,000 annually. I bought most of my meals out, but I could forrage in the fridge if I wanted.

My mother admits that her intention was to save up the money for me for when I moved out, but then, it turns out that my folks needed it.

I saved up and moved out at around age 24, once I had graduated. My rent was $500 per month for a studio in Oakland.

This was in the early 1980's.

So, figure out what she could comfortably afford, what the minimum contribution that you need to be comfortable and what arrangement you can both live with.

Don't feel guilty. Once we become adults, it's our job to support ourselves. I personally feel that by paying my way, that I appreciated the responsibility and it helped me budget better for when I was well and truly on my own.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:10 AM on February 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I work in social services. Sometimes we have to place mentally ill individuals in supportive low-income housing. At those places, individuals pay 1/3 of their income in rent, whatever the income happens to be. I think that might be a good way of handling it. 1/3 of your income is the idealized version of what she would be paying, it will get her used to paying something, while still allowing 2/3 of the income for other expenses.
posted by corb at 7:29 AM on February 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

The fact that my parents didn't charge me rent when I was living at home post-college in my early twenties dealing with mental health problems and making minimum wage at a shitty job was kinda transformational - it helped me get back on my feet a bit financially, and was a big part of my motivation to get a real job and move back to the city where I studied. Being able to live rent-free was super useful, and it gave me much more of a sense of "I am kind of a guest in this house, my parents are doing me a great favour, and I definitely don't want to be in their debt any more than I have to be." I paid for some of my own food, all of my own social life and most of the gas I used to get to and from the shitty job, but the rest was covered.

I don't have any insight into your family or your relationship with your daughter, so I'm offering this more as data than as advice - but if this is something you can afford, it might be the nicest thing you could do for your kid right now.

I also love the idea mentioned upstream of taking some of the rent/utility money (if you do end up deciding it's the right thing to do for your family) that you charge your daughter and putting it into secret savings - this would be a huge boost to her when she does move out.
posted by terretu at 12:21 AM on February 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

The answers to these questions always throw me for a loop because they are such a different cultural language.

Are you and your daughter roommates? Are you your daughter's landlord? Then charge her rent.

Are you and your daughter a family unit? Then share household responsibilities and expenses.

When I started earning money but was still living at home, I gave my entire paycheck to my parents. They took care of everything for me and I got whatever spending money I needed. I see how this wouldn't work for everybody - this was built on years of trust and generosity.

But I still think that depending on your relationship with your daughter, it makes more sense to frame this as 'family chipping in according to ability and need.' Maybe it's time for you to open your financial life to her to share it with her, really treat her as an adult, and figure out how to share expenses proportional to your incomes - which includes setting aside individual savings for her *and* for you.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:02 AM on March 11, 2014

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