I got into a heated argument with my dad the other day about my future plans. I’m 25 and trying to save up enough to move out of my parents’ house by 2020, when their lease is up. Since I started working at 18, I have been paying all my bills and contributing about $250–300 per month in “rent.” When I told my dad about my plan to move out, he was upset that I wouldn’t be helping them out financially anymore, and said I was being ungrateful for not thinking of their impending retirement.
I do plan to help out my parents one day, once I’m more financially stable. They are immigrants who have worked very hard to get my siblings and me where we are. They also don’t have a 401(k) or any other retirement plans due to their legal status throughout the years. It’s also normal in our culture to help our parents, and I understand that they’re getting older and want to stop working eventually. But I don’t think it’s fair that they expect me to sustain them and myself at this point in my life. To me, it makes more sense for me to create my own life and then, once I’m more established, pitch in a certain amount to help them every month. What’s my obligation here? And how can I talk to them about this without getting into huge fights? I feel so lost and confused.
Let me first point out that you are not “ungrateful.” You sound like a thoughtful, responsible daughter who wants to be there for her parents. But you’re also an adult, and wanting to live independently is normal and healthy. So let’s plot your graceful exit.
Your first obligation is to set up your finances so that you won’t be in the same situation as your parents someday. As you mentioned, they worked hard to give you and your siblings a better life. They also taught you to be financially independent at a young age. Presumably, they want you to be financially independent at an old age, too — which involves making smart decisions about your money right now.
To figure out your next steps, I called Cameron Huddleston, the author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk: How to Have Essential Conversations With Your Parents About Their Finances. “Most parents don’t want to be a burden to their children,” she points out. “Even in certain cultures where it’s more common for parents to expect support, I don’t think any parent would want to compromise their child financially.” It’s worth noting that this could be part of your dad’s concern: He may think that if you leave home, you’ll be worse off, not better (along with him and your mom). If he’s right, it shouldn’t necessarily stop you, but you’ll need a very clear plan either way.
Huddleston recommends drawing up a concrete budget with short- and long-term goals. “Ask yourself what your priorities are. What are you going to pay in rent when you move out? How much will you spend on groceries? What will you be saving?” I would add: How about a three-to-six-month emergency fund in case something happens? And do you have your own retirement savings account set up yet? It’s counterintuitive, but the earlier you start putting money into an IRA or its equivalent, the more your money will grow over time thanks to compound interest (and the less likely that you’ll have to lean on your own kids someday, should you have them).
I’m not saying that your finances have to be perfect before you move out. You also don’t have to make all of your decisions from the standpoint of saving money — if that were the case, most of us would live with our parents (pretty miserably) all our lives. The point is, you want to make sure all your numbers add up, and put yourself in a good position to land on your feet.
You also mentioned siblings. Have you had a conversation with them about how you all are planning to help your parents down the line? Unless they also live at home, how did they manage to extricate themselves? If you can get at least one other family member in your corner, it’ll help you feel less alone.
Which brings you to your next step: having the talk. You’ll want your parents to understand that you aren’t abandoning them. In the immediate future, this could include providing support that isn’t monetary. When their lease is up, could you help them move to a smaller, more affordable place? If you end up living nearby, could you cook them dinner once a week, or help them with household chores occasionally?
To initiate the conversation, Huddleston recommends starting from a place of gratitude (especially considering your dad’s previous comments): “You might say, ‘I appreciate everything you’ve done for me. You’ve helped me so much. Now I am at a point where I need to become a financially independent adult.’” Set up a time in advance so that they aren’t caught off guard (“Could we have dinner together on Saturday? I want to talk to you about something”).
And if things start to go off the rails, back away. “When emotions take over, the conversation is not going to go anywhere good,” says Huddleston. “If that happens, simply say, ‘Look, I can see that this is upsetting you right now. Let’s think about it more and talk about it later.’” (This may take a Herculean effort on your part — make sure you’re going in with a cool head and practice saying this beforehand.)
Ultimately, your parents can’t force you to live with them forever. This is your decision, and you want to make it as kindly and responsibly as possible. I agree that you’ll be better equipped to help them out again someday if you’ve had the experience of establishing your own household, and you can point that out to them. But remember, it doesn’t have to be your whole argument — wanting financial independence can be reason enough. And finally, don’t be guilt-tripped about a hypothetical future. Plan as best you can, and when the time comes for them to really need your help, you’ll be there.