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Boomerang Kids

Imagine you’ve just seen your youngest son or daughter off to college. Then the telephone rings and your oldest child tells you that she is separating from her spouse and wants to come home while working things out in the relationship.

Increasingly, adult children are returning home to live under their parents’ roofs. Almost 16 million families had at least one child over age 18 living at home in 2003, up 14 percent since 1985, according to the Census Bureau’s American Housing Survey.

They’re “boomerang” or “back to the bedroom” kids. They return home for a few months, or a few years, for a variety of reasons: between jobs, before marriage, after a divorce, or because housing costs have become so exorbitant that returning to their old bedroom is more appealing than sharing a small, run-down apartment with three roommates.

And then there’s the matter of unpaid college loans; it’s estimated that a typical graduate is $19,000 in debt before he or she collects that first paycheck.

Set some ground rules
So what should a parent do if Junior or Jane wants to move back home? Charge rent? Share utility bills? Books and magazines are filled with advice for parents of boomerang kids. Most suggest that adult children pay rent or contribute in some way.

Michelle Singletary, author of 7 Money Mantras for a Richer Life, urges the establishment of house rules for the new boarder. Ask for rent or some help in paying household expenses, determine how long the child will be living there, and be careful about co-signing for a car loan or credit card.

Other research finds that although many parents never ask for money, it helps when the children don’t revert to teenage habits and expect Mom to do the laundry and clean up after them.

Are kids different today?
Are today’s kids spoiled? Are their parents too giving?

Today’s parents and children have very different relationships from those in previous generations, says Barbara Caplan, a partner in Yankelovich Partners Inc., a marketing and consulting company that tracks Americans’ consumer attitudes and lifestyles.

Children today are unusual because they actually get along with their parents, she said in an interview in USA Today. They regard parents as friends, she adds.

Both generations benefit from these close bonds, says educator Susan Morris Shaffer, co-author of the book Mom, Can I Move Back in with You? But she also finds that too many parents become their adult kids’ lifestyle-subsidizers, bailout specialists, and chore-completers.

Young adults today often expect to have a lifestyle that equals the way their parents are living in middle age, Ms. Shaffer says.

“They should know that to get from A to Z, you’ve got to go through all the letters of the alphabet,” she told the Wall Street Journal.

Live like you’re young and poor and your savings will fund your financial freedom, suggests New York freelance writer Laura Vandekam.

Ms. Vanderkam, a 2001 college grad, put her words into action and saved enough over a year to spend three weeks traveling in Asia. How did she do it?

“I shared a house with three girls. I took the bus to work (in the Washington, D.C., area) and bummed rides. I grocery shopped and packed my lunch every day. I bought suits at discount stores…I never paid a cent of interest on my credit cards.”



HOUSE RULES FOR ADULT CHILDREN

If an adult child is moving back home, put house rules in a written agreement to avoid future conflicts. Some suggestions:

• Rent: Every able-bodied adult bringing home a paycheck should contribute monetarily. Decide on the amount, the date it’s due, the late fee, and the fact that losing a job doesn’t mean no rent is owed.

• Food: Decide whether your boarder is responsible for his own meals or will have to pay a portion of the grocery bill.

• Telephone and electric: Allocate a percentage of the total bill to the boomeranger.

• Overnight guests: Include language in your agreement that says the “tenant” must obtain permission from the homeowner prior to the stay of any overnight guest.

• Self first: Don’t put your own finances (or retirement) in jeopardy by tolerating an irresponsible child who won’t work and wants to turn your home into his or her hotel.

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