Parents vs. Cardboard Boxes: The Real Reasons Millennials Are Living at Home
What do you do when faced with high rent? For some people, it's an apartment or nothing. For others, living at home is a necessity.
Upon graduating from college, I packed all my things into garbage bags and returned to my childhood doorstep. One inalienable truth became clear to me as my mother reminded me to take my shoes off when I came inside: I needed an apartment. Or a house. Or a condo. Honestly, a cardboard box would probably have done.
I’d spent four years away from my parents, and it felt like a perversion of the natural order for me to be living at home — back in my pajamas, on the couch, rolling my eyes at my father as he asked if I had seen our newspaper lately.
So I began the hunt immediately. I was lucky enough to land a job at the end of my senior year, so I had a small amount of funds to work with.
Looking for a Place to Live
My friend and I were looking in the Boston area, and we wanted to cap our rent at slightly less than $1,000 per month for each person.
What we saw, primarily, can kindly be described as dumps, and more aptly be scheduled for demolition.
Our favorite real estate nightmare had us walking around the streets of Cambridge for an hour in the roasting heat, only to finally find the apartment, meet the agent standing in front, and hear him say to our faces: “Honestly, this place is a piece of crap. I don’t know why you want it.”
Needless to say, he didn’t get a brokerage fee from us.
Long story short, we did end up with a decent apartment for that price, but it was more an example of good timing (tenants moving out, us being the first to see the apartment) than any abundance of great housing.
These days, though, sites like Featured Rentals can help make the process easier.
Struggling With Rent vs. Living at Home
I have postgrad friends renting in New York City (Brooklyn, Chelsea, and South Harlem) and Philadelphia, and several others who are still living at home to save money.
My friends in New York pay around $1,200 a month, Philly a little bit less — because, you know, it’s Philly.
When I asked my friends about rent in a group chat, the consensus was that “anywhere between a quarter to a half of your monthly salary usually goes to rent.” This means that after rent, utilities, groceries, and living expenses, we’re looking at a very thin balance at the end of the month.
Several friends have opted to live with their parents. Some are dealing with student loans, which are virtually impossible to pay in tandem with rent. Some are living at home due to “extenuating circumstances” — athletes who are training, graduate students commuting to nearby schools, etc.
But for the majority of us, living on our own isn’t a “luxury” that we chose. It’s simply what we have to do, and what we must prioritize our finances on.
The Math Behind Living at Home
So what is the big hullabaloo over millennials and housing? Has living away from our parents truly become something that we should aspire to in the long term rather than the short term? Was I acting spoiled when I wanted to move to my own apartment ASAP?
If we assume that the average rent is less than $1,000 a month in most cities, then this must mean that most people my age can’t afford $12,000 a year in rent, which raises the question, what are we spending money on instead? The answer: loans, credit card debt, unnecessary and out-of-control spending . . . the list goes on. (Those who are struggling with debt may wish to refinance or consolidate their debt with companies like SoFi.)
The new “data” on “millennials” (try to visualize my huge air quotes) suggest that many of them prefer living at home. In fact, 15 percent of 25- to 35-year-olds live with their parents, according to the Pew Research Center. You save money, you’re living in better digs, and you get the occasional laundry basket done by mom. But this line of thinking bothers me. When did the question of comfort become the driving factor in housing?
The Truth Behind Millennials Living at Home
Every adult I’ve ever spoken to, regardless of generation, has always laughed about their first apartment, how crappy it was, and all of the ramen noodles they had to eat in the first few years.
Postgrad life has never been luxurious, so it bothers me when articles cite “the need to be comfortable” as the reason to stay at home.
Many people simply can’t live anywhere else. “When I left college in my mid-twenties, I was hit with some major medical problems and couldn’t work, so I moved back home,” says Reddit user /u/SnarkyMalarcky. “But that was only for a year and a half. Now I live on my own again.”
Others use living at home as a way to make sure that they have enough savings to afford their own place down the road. This includes Reddit user /u/GL432, who says that, “I got a good job straight out of college, so I moved home to have next to zero expenses, and buy a house about three years out of college.”
It’s not a question of what’s more enjoyable. Rather, it’s a question of what you have to do.
My friends who have the financial capacity to live on their own unilaterally live on their own. Those who don’t have enough money to move out live at home. It’s not about comfort, it’s about necessity.
Additional reporting by Emma Finnerty