my two cents

‘My Parents Think I Can’t Support Myself. What If They’re Right?’

Photo-Illustration: by Stevie Remsberg; Photo Getty

In My Two Cents, advice columnist Charlotte Cowles answers readers’ questions about personal finance. Email your money conundrums to

Dear Charlotte,

I live with my parents, but I’m almost 20 and feel more than ready to move out. My parents know this and say they support me, but it seems like all they do is tell me how difficult it will be, as if they have no faith that I can do it and take care of myself. It’s hard when the two people who are supposed to believe in you are making me feel like I’m incapable.

I will admit, I haven’t been the greatest with saving money in the past. I formed some bad habits when I was dealing with un-diagnosed depression for a couple of years, but now I am getting the help I need and making positive changes. I work three part-time jobs and I wish my parents could see how hard I’m trying. What should I do to help them see it through my eyes?

I love my parents’ house. Last time I went, my mom made a big meal of chicken curry and gingerbread, the bathroom towels seemed especially clean and fluffy, and my dad gave me an extra package of my favorite English muffins to bring home. When I got back to my own apartment that night, I ate the English muffins straight from the bag, standing at the kitchen counter and scrolling through my phone. My parents would be horrified; that’s not how they eat, or — if you zoom out to my empty fridge and mail-strewn “dining” table that is basically a desk — how they live. But that’s fine, because I’m fine. And you will be, too — but it’s you that needs convincing, not your parents.

One of the fundamental parts of growing up is that you get to decide what’s best for yourself, not your parents or anyone else. I’m glad that your parents supported you while you worked through your depression, and that you’ve gotten the help you need. But your impulse to get up and out is a healthy one. And to actually do it, you have to stop caring so much about what your parents think.

Depression has a way of making us feel like we can’t trust our own minds, even long after we’ve tamed the symptoms. That fear may be what’s driving your desire for external validation, says Megan Ford, a financial therapist and researcher at the University of Georgia’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences. “Depression can have lasting effects on one’s self-confidence, and you could be projecting some of your own lingering insecurities about this step in your life onto your parents,” she says. “Ultimately, it has to be you that’s ready and takes action to move out, but if outside affirmation will help, you could talk with close friends or other relatives — maybe they can offer a different perspective.”

Ford also recommended making a list with two columns. On the left one, record the ways you’ve already worked toward living independently (financially and emotionally), and on the right, add the things you plan to do, along with time frames for each goal. That way, you can track your progress more objectively instead of relying on other people to reassure you about how great you’re doing.

The more thorough your plan, the better — and definitely don’t talk to your parents about it yet. “Young adulthood is about making decisions that are 100 percent yours,” says Emily Purdon, a financial planner based in McLean, Virginia. “Some concrete first steps should include building an estimated monthly budget, searching for apartments within that budget, and establishing a rough timeline.” Write down all your anticipated expenses, and think realistically about how you’ll pay them. Will you be able to cover your mental health care? Your transportation to work? Your move?

Meanwhile, practice paying rent by putting the equivalent amount, plus money for utilities, straight into savings every month. I’d recommend doing that for a couple of months. The golden rule is to have a minimum of three months’ worth (ideally six) of total living expenses stashed away as your “emergency fund” before you move (and that money is truly for emergencies — don’t touch it unless you have to). Patience is key.

Hopefully you won’t have to ask your parents for their financial help when you do eventually get your own place. But if you think you might need it, put together a very specific request (maybe they could continue to provide you with health insurance, or pay one particular bill). You could also cite this 2017 study, published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, which found that young adults who receive financial help from their parents instead of living rent-free at home wind up doing better professionally.

It sounds like your parents, in their caution, are trying to adjust your expectations for life on your own. And in many ways, they’re right to warn you, because your quality of life will take a hit. “It’s normal for your parents to want you to have all the comforts that they can give you, and it would be wildly abnormal if you could, at the age of 20, manage to provide those same things for yourself,” says Dr. Brad Klontz, the founder of of Financial Psychology Institute. “They know this, and they’re trying to prepare you for it. Be aware that you’ll have to forgo some of those comforts in order to achieve independence.” But also, be aware that you’ll adapt — it’s what people do. And there comes a point where there’s only so much you can prepare. The best way to prove that you can do something is to actually go through with it.

Perhaps the biggest discomfort you’ll have to adjust to is knowing that your parents will worry about you. All parents do. They’ll also disapprove of how you live sometimes, but accepting that is part of growing up. And sure, you’ll make mistakes and have moments where you feel broke and tired of crappy dinners and cheap furniture. But you’ll also get to experience the satisfaction of standing in your very own kitchen, all by yourself, doing exactly what you want without caring what anyone thinks.

My Parents Think I Can’t Support Myself. Are They Right?