Saturday, June 30, 2012

How to End Up Living In Your Parent's Basement.

While owning your own home is not the "American Dream" neither is living here.

A young man sent me a rather snotty comment the other day, to the effect that he was really rich, and his Dad made lots of money, so why not have Dad co-sign a loan for him?  After all, his Dad told him it was time he had a new car!

Very hard to parse - but if you are really rich, they you don't need someone to co-sign a loan - you could just pay cash.  If not, you are not really rich.   Being reliant on your parents for money and loans, well into your 20's is never a good idea.   They will continue to treat you as a child, and you will never grow up.  The sooner you can break free of this mentality, the better.

Why?  Because this is how kids end up living in their parent's basement, literally or figuratively speaking (attics and bedrooms count, too!  As does that apartment over the garage).  And I see this kid headed towards his parents' basement in short order, unless he takes another tack.

I have known a number of friends of mine who end up living with their parents, well into their 30's, 40's , and even 50's.   And I know a lot of parents who have "boomerang kids" living in their basements as well.   So I have seen, firsthand, this happen to maybe a couple of dozen people.   And there is a pattern that emerges.

How does this happen?   There are a number of factors at work:

1.  Parents enjoy controlling their children's lives:  I wrote about this before in the Parent Trap, how parents will bitch and moan about their boomerang kids, but secretly enjoy the continual control and manipulation and lording over their children's ruined lives.   So long as their children never grow up, the parents can kid themselves that they are not getting old and going to die.

And let's face it, it is fun to be a parent - to be an absolute dictator in your home and have people to control and manipulate.  And a boomerang kid fits the bill, perfectly.

The young commenter tells me that his Dad decided it was time that the son got a new car.  While that might be appropriate at age 16 or 18, when you are first learning to drive, when you are graduating from college, it really isn't Dad's decision to make - when you are paying for it with your own money.  Hey, if Dad is that rich, it should be a graduation gift, right?

But the idea of a Dad saying, "Gee, son, I've decided that you need to go into debt to buy a car" is idiotic.  And it is controlling to the Nth degree.

Make your own decision - and pay for it with your own money, not borrowed money.

2. Parents who like having kids around:  One Father explained to me that he didn't mind having his son live in the basement, as they liked to spend their Summers in Florida, and their son would watch the house up North and walk the dog for them, and do odd chores.

It is like having your own live-in handyman and butler - or Concierge.  He will pick up your dry cleaning, be there when the cable man or the appliance repair man comes, sign for those FedEx packages, and just generally be a warm body on site, so you don't have to worry about the house being broken into.

Plus, as they age, many parents find comfort in having an adult child around, as they will take care of them, and call 911 when they have the inevitable stroke.   And I suppose this is not a bad arrangement, but it does mean that the child is sacrificing their own lives for the parents, in a creepy Grey Gardens kind of way.

And what about the child's life and ambitions?   Well, in many cases, they didn't have many to begin with - or they are sacrificed on the altar of drugs, as we shall see.

3.  Children enjoy being pampered and fed:  I worked for a man once who had three dependent children, all well into their 30's.   We were talking about a case once, and the phone rang.   It was his daughter, who lived in an apartment that he paid the rent on, and drove a car he had paid for.   Her complaint was that the car he had bought was now two years old and he needed to buy her a new one!  He said, "Maybe next year, dear!"

This flabbergasted me.  As a young lawyer, trying to make the payments on a car was staggeringly difficult, and here was this adult child being handed one new one after another - never realizing how difficult it would be for them to buy one on their own (and this is why giving away cars to kids is a bad idea, even if you can "afford" it - they don't appreciate it).

But of course, his kids, well-pampered, would never cut the umbilical from Dad and set out on their own.  And as you might expect, they were all "problem kids" who had one reason or another why they could not get ahead in life - and be perpetually reliant on Dad.   They did it because they could.

On a smaller scale, many middle-class kids like the basement-bong-lair lifestyle, as they get to drive Mom's car (but never put gas in it or change the oil) and get all the free food they can eat.  They pay no rent, pay no utility bills, and pay no property taxes.  You can raid the refrigerator in the middle of the night and then leave a stack of dirty dishes in the sink for Mom to wash in the morning!

It is a pretty sweet deal.   You can work at a "Slacker" job for a half-a-day and spend your entire paycheck on concert tickets, beer, and pot.   Why bother even trying harder that that?

Of course, for some of us, this was a phase we went through at age 16, back when the drinking age was lower.  But by age 18, I realized that working slacker jobs, living at home with Mom and Dad, and driving Mom's car was kind of lame.  Others have fewer qualms about it.

4.  Marijuana:   Drugs of all kinds play into this, from beer to methamphetamine.  But Marijuana fosters the kind of insular nesting that causes a young person (particularly young men) to want to nurse at Mother's teat for just a few more decades.

Marijuana makes you want to stay at home, hunker down, and spend countless hours watching television or listening to music.  It is a comfort drug, even if the place it takes you to is ultimately uncomfortable.

Many, if not all the "kids" I know living in Mother's basement are using pot.  And most of them are Men.

5. Mental Illness:  This is another aspect of the scenario, and folks who suffer from this often are not "at fault" for the situation.    If you cannot survive out on your own, due to debilitating mental illness, living with your parents might be one solution.   But of course, it may be unfair to the parents, who may have thought about retiring and traveling, and now realize they have to care for their child perpetually.

I know two people who are in this situation - with serious mental illnesses, and it seems to be working out well for all parties, at least for the time being.  What will happen when the parents pass on, is a good question.

But on the other hand, mild mental illnesses - mostly depression - combined with drug use, is often a factor in many of these stay-at-home kids.  And leaving home - and getting away from their parents - might be a solution to many of their problems, particularly depression.

6. Economic Adversity:  Very few cases are due to true economic adversity.  Often the kid says he can't afford to move out - but then again, he really isn't applying himself or trying to get ahead.   In many cases, the kid's real plan is to wait for Mom and Dad to die, inherit the house (and a small amount of money) and then try to live off of this.

Others just balk at the idea of having to spend half their take-home pay on a place to live, and would rather have a rent-free arrangement and a brand-new car to drive.

On the other hand, in some instances, newlyweds (including my own parents) or kids right out of college, are forced to live with their parents, until they can land a job and afford to move out.  Usually, this is a transitory situation that lasts a few months or years only - not a long-term situation.

Today, many are bouncing-back to Mom and Dad's basement because of student loans or, in one case I know of, mortgage debt.   While you can't get out from under student loans though bankruptcy, you can duck mortgage debt more readily.  So I don't understand the latter.

Of course, the student loan thing can be avoided as well, as I have written about in the past.  Today on NPR is another weepy piece about a young woman who decided to become a nurse.  To do this, she went to an Ivy League school, then to nursing school, and rang up $140,000 in debt.   Talk about not doing the math on the payback!

They claim she has monthly payments of close to $1200 on these loans, but fortunately for her, she can move to an apartment of her own and has a good-paying job.  And of course NPR says she will never realize "the American Dream of Home Ownership".  For the record, granite counter-tops and stainless steel appliances were never the American dream.   The American dream is to be able to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make something of yourself, regardless of your economic background, ethnicity, or whatever.

The American Dream, however, does require that you make wise choices.  And spending $140,000 to get a nursing degree is not a wise choice.   An Ivy League school is not necessary for such a career.  She would have been better off at a cheaper State School - and borrowing a lot less money.

So no, I do not "feel sorry" for her - she made bad choices.  And she is able to pay back the loans over time.  And you'd be surprised how little $140,000 seems in about 10 years or so.  Hell, I never thought I'd pay back $38,000.  But today, it seems a laughable amount.

Others choose to move back in with Mom and Dad, particularly if they can't find a job right away.  Some never find a job in their chosen field, and end up with this perpetual mortgage to pay, for four years of good times at Party-U.  It is sad.

But if you do get a job, and your plan is to take that rent money you would have been paying and aggressively pay down your loans, living a few years with your parents is not such a bad thing.

And in some cultures, this is expected.  A young man lives with his parents, works for a living, banks his paycheck until he has enough saved to go out on his own.   This is not a bad plan.  Unfortunately, today, this is not the plan many are following.   They move back home with Mom and Dad and never save a dime and never leave.

When I say they are living with their parents into their 50's, I am not kidding.  I know several this age.  So a word of caution to you parents out there.  If your kid moves into the basement, ask yourself where this is going.  They may be there a very, very long time - perhaps the rest of your life.

And it is sad when I meet people for cocktails and they tell me about their kid living in the basement, and I ask them how old the kids is, and they tell me "52" and I have to say, "Gee, that's my age."   That makes me very sad.

If your kid does move back in, make sure it is part of an economic plan not just an open-ended commitment.  Charge them rent, if necessary, if they won't save money on their own.  Put that money in a savings account, and maybe it could be a nest egg for them when they leave - and give them an incentive to leave.  Just a thought.

And for God's sake, make sure they are not smoking pot.

* * * 

So what is the harm in living with your parents?  Perhaps in a few select cases, none.  But for most young people, living with your parents places you in stasis and prevents you from getting ahead in your own career or in forming your own family.  It is hard to land a mate when you live with your folks.  Women in particular are not going to be impressed that you are living in your parent's basement.  It marks you as a loser, economically, and in most cases, they are right.

It becomes a trap.  You end up hanging out with your slacker friends - also living in their parent's basement, complaining about your slacker job, and that "bitch" of a girlfriend "who only cares about money".   And you say this to each other in-between bong hits.

And ten years goes by - maybe 20 or 30, and you realize that you have really never lived your own life.   You've never done anything with your education, never realized the joy of doing a job that you are good at and paid well for.   Hell, you've never even been on vacation.   You have, however, smoked an impressive amount of pot.

And your declining years may turn into a horrific nightmare.  Once the parents die, you may end up with an inheritance - or maybe not.   The parental home, even if you inherit it, will cost thousands of dollars a year to maintain and pay taxes on.  Unless they left you enough money to live on, you will have to sell it.

And not surprisingly, a lot of basement-dweller troglodytes end up squandering such inheritances in short order.   And since they worked odd jobs or under-the-table, their Social Security may be small or non-existent.  I know one bounce-back kid in his 50's (a kid, right?) who is looking at retiring on SSI, which is basically welfare.

It is, in short, a one-way trip to homelessness.

Even if your parents leave you a ton of dough and you can live off it the rest of your life, what does this say about you as a person?   That you never even tried?   Inherited wealth is always suspect and problematic.  Not many people today are impressed by it.

Just South of us is Cumberland Island, which the relatives of Andrew Carnegie settled many years ago.  They built impressive mansions, to be sure.  But the money they were spending wasn't theirs, it came from Brother Andrew, who made the family fortune.   Not surprisingly, many of those mansions lie in ruins today, and the family wealth has basically dissipated.  It takes no talent to spend money, and only a fool is impressed by inherited wealth.   It speaks nothing of the character of the person - and if the person accomplished nothing on their own in life, they really have no character.

And that is the interesting thing about boomerang kids - they often come from "good homes" - wealthy or at least middle-class homes.  They often have had great educational opportunities, and everything they could basically ask for.  And maybe that is the problem - they are not challenged.

Or maybe it is all the pot they smoke.  I think the latter.