A recent article by Kelli Grant at CNBC considers the millennial line at the Bank of Mom and Dad and concludes that “subsidizing your adult children's living expenses could be a really terrible financial decision – or a great one, depending on the arrangement.” For most American families, however, having your adult kids live at home seems to be working out very well. One reason for success is that “give and take” isn’t always identical in substance. As long as the giver and the taker consider the exchange to be comparable, the situation works out. Is it possible to quantify the financial consequences of your adult child’s return to the family home and confirm its monetary value?
Return on investment (ROI) is a financial term that Investopedia defines as “a performance measure used to evaluate the efficiency of an investment.” In other words, it tells you if you did well or poorly with the money you invested. We can try to estimate an ROI for having an adult child live at home. Let’s assume your adult child lives at home with you for a year. Your rent and utilities stay the same. Your food bill goes up – let’s estimate $300/month extra. You cover the child’s health insurance on your employer’s plan ($300), a cell phone as part of your plan ($50), auto insurance on your account ($70), and extra gas for the car ($100). We’ll throw in football Redzone ($50 for the season), one cell phone data overage ($20), and an airline ticket to see a cousin in Wisconsin ($300). Add another $3,000 to pad the estimate and that’s $13,810 for the year.
What’s the ROI of having your adult child live at home?
I’m a huge fan of Agatha Christie’s mystery novels, and in many of them, a wealthy older woman will have “a paid companion” to hang out with her...until one of them gets murdered off to move the story along. I haven’t seen “Companion” on any job boards, but the pleasure of having another person you like to spend time with can’t be underestimated. Many boomer parents and millennial kids like each other enough to use the term “best friends.” That sounds like a perfect companion to me! What if you paid a home health aide to come and watch TV or play cards with you? At $10/hour for ten hours a week, 50 weeks a year, that’s $5,000.
If one of your millennial children lives with you for a while, get ready to go on a culinary journey. Our young people have much more adventurous tastes than we do, and they’re happy to Google, Pinterest, and Snapchat the meals they are preparing for you. The only thing I really didn’t miss when our daughter moved out was the jalapenos that were featured in pretty much everything she cooked. How much would it cost to have a chef come in and prepare dinner for you three times a week? At $15/hour for 3 hours a visit, that’s $7,020 for the year. At least you can tell them to leave out the jalapenos.
House and Lawn Work
I know that not all young adults are into doing housework or lawn work. What I have noticed, however, is that our youth are subjected to stressors that contribute to anxiety, and for many of them, routine tasks like cleaning, doing laundry, or mowing the lawn function as stress reducers. Even if your child doesn’t need to reduce stress, chances are that years of college will have formed tidiness habits that spill over into home and yard management, relieving you of many home-related tasks while your adult child lives with you. The cost of a lawn service comes out to about $700 a year.
Somewhere between your child being age 5 and age 25, a shift happens with regard to safety. Instead of you saying to the kids: Wear your coat; it’s cold”; “Stop! Watch out for that car!”; “Did you eat any protein today?”; your children start saying those things to you. When did my husband and I stop being the primary drivers in our own cars? The high-light-bulb changers? The grocery-bag-carrier-inners? The sod putter-downers? If either child is home, they treat us as if we’ve never been able to safely or fully manage any dangerous, heavy, or strenuous task. We’re just in our late 50’s and still quite capable, but I can see the value of having younger, stronger, faster-thinking people checking in on us as we age. The cost of paying others to manage some of the more unsafe home maintenance jobs might run $480 per year assuming that you hired someone 4 times a year for an afternoon of work at $20/hour.
We love jokes, funny movies, comedy clubs, “Last Man Standing,” Seinfeld, and just about any other source of humor. Having a millennial at home means free comedy for you. The dry, witty, insightful comments that most millennials offer regularly will you have in stitches. Having a clever adult child at home provides hours of comic relief. Renting 10 funny movies ($20), attending one comedy show ($100), and buying one funny book ($15) would cost about $135.
In a world where 50% of marriages end in divorce, friends come and go, and you don’t know your neighbors (or even your cousins!), any truly lasting relationship has great worth. In your biological or adopted children, you are likely to find a bond that has the potential never to be broken. It’s worth cultivating that rare and valuable situation. How do you quantify that kind of magic? It’s hard to put a dollar value on it, but it’s at least as much as a family trip to the Magic Kingdom, which will set you back thousands plus the extra $$ you didn’t tell your spouse about. Average cost of a trip to Disneyworld for a family of four? $4,052.
Let’s calculate the estimated ROI of an adult child living at home. You “invest” $13,810, and a year later you receive a value of $17,387 if we total the costs described above. Your ROI is the gain from investment ($17,387) minus the cost of the investment ($13,810) divided by the cost of investment ($13,810) or 25%. Not a bad return on investment!
Keep in mind that the $13,810 you invest this year may return even more than 25% in the future. How? Eventually, the adult child you are helping support will probably return the favor. CNBC’s Grant reports that “19 percent of millennials are a ‘financial supporter’ of a parent, to the tune of an average $18,250 annually.” Although that return is not guaranteed, this financial planner reminds you that NO investment return can be guaranteed, and the pleasure you are likely to get from having an adult child home outweighs the cost, even if it is not returned to you in dollars. Additionally, you’re helping foster emotional health because as Bob Huber of AARP and Philadelphia Magazine writes “tighter bonds allow our kids to bloom fully in an ever more complicated world.”
Do you ever consider that a huge portion of your time is spent with people that you like well enough rather than the people you like the very best? We have great friends who live a few hours away. We don’t get together enough, and when we do, we always say “We should do this more often.” Instead, life intervenes, and months go by before we arrange another fun visit. If you and your kids like each other best, why not maximize the time you spend together? Our two are our favorite people, so why not be together? In our case, both children live in different cities, but if they could live here and wanted to do so, we’d love to have them and their families live with or near us and see us as much as possible.
If you love your adult kids and enjoy the time with them, don’t worry that you’re spending too much money on them. What you give in dollars you get back a thousand-fold in time, love, care, and concern...and maybe eventually in financial support too. This is your child! It doesn’t matter if you first laid eyes on each other in a delivery room or in a Guatemalan adoption office; your child and you have a deep connection that this astute millennial generation has somehow created and fostered. The way your heart leaps when you think “He – or she – is coming home today!” marks the essence of what human connectedness really means. The visit won’t be perfect – there will be annoyance, boredom, exasperation – but the value of your relationship with your adult child is a sustaining force you and they can count on.
The ROI on that kind of a connection? Priceless.
Kathryn Hauer, a Certified Financial Planner ™, adjunct professor at Aiken Technical College, and financial literacy educator wrote the "11-Step, DIY, Comprehensive Financial Plan Workbook" and "Financial Advice for Blue Collar America." Her latest book covers basic concepts of money including insurance and taxes, financial traps to avoid, how to pay for college and tech school, and the bright future ahead for blue collar careers.