Money Matters: Who Pays What When Adult Children Live at Home

Adapted from: Under One Roof Again: All Grown Up and (Re)learning to Live Together Happily By Susan Newman, Ph.D.

Living with a relative solves many financial problems, but you will want to straighten out the details in the beginning and adjust them along the way so everyone feels the arrangement is fair. It may be that money isn’t paid in by everyone, but as long as everyone agrees, not paying a portion of expenses works. Misunderstandings and problems begin and the warm feelings you have for each other get tarnished when one person feels cheated or used.

You probably hadn’t planned on living with your parents again, or having your parents or another relative settle in with you and your family. A trial run of a few weeks or a month-long visit would let you know if a long-term arrangement is feasible. Generally, finances don’t allow for this luxury; you or someone in your family needs support quickly. The strain of meeting expenses for additional people has the potential to fracture once-model relationships.

Family steps up to the financial plate in whatever ways they can. No paycheck? It’s not the amount per se—it’s the gesture. When the contribution can’t be actual dollars and cents, providing services is a valid way to feel good about yourself, and it helps those you live with feel more positive about the arrangement because you are doing your part. By helping out, you balance the feelings of inequity that can arise.

Show Your Appreciation

• Say “thank you” habitually for all things provided.
• Do what is asked in good time and in good humor.
• Anticipate the needs of others.
• Call on the way home to see if you should stop at the store to pick up groceries, or at the cleaners to pick up the clothes that are ready.
• Surprise the household by buying (or making) someone’s favorite dessert, or giving a technology lesson if you’re the family expert in such things.
• Offer to add more to your weekly or monthly contribution when you can, and before you are asked.

Money questions can either be a constant thorn or a non-issue in the relationship, depending on the family’s financial circumstances and, more importantly, the agreements you work out.  Whether your new housemates are your son and his children, your in-laws, a wealthy parent, a jobless sibling, or your penniless college graduate, once you’ve made a plan, drop the money discussions.

Putting Money Matters in Their Proper Place

• Talk through money difficulties early on and reach reasonable agreements so that dollars-and-cents conversations can fade into the background.
• Keep money issues in the family. Don’t discuss your family’s financial agreements with your boyfriend or book club.
• Don’t allow money to define or dominate the relationship.
• Separate money problems from other problems you may have with your relatives.

Susan Newman, Ph.D., social psychologist, blogs for Psychology Today Magazine and is the author of Under One Roof Again: All Grown Up and (Re)learning to Live Together Happily (Lyons Press), The Book of NO: 250 Ways to Say It--and Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever (McGraw-Hill), Parenting an Only Child, The Joys and Challenges of Raising Your One and Only (Broadway/Doubleday),and Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day (Random House/Crown), among others. Forthcoming, The Case for the Solo Child (HCI). For more information visit


One Response to Money Matters: Who Pays What When Adult Children Live at Home

  1. Ann Marr on August 10, 2010 at 6:53 am

    Today i have decided to do some research about living in a small house with 5 adults. Two are our daughters ,one is a fiancee and a mom and dad.  Last night we had a meeting to try and establish some ground rules etc. It was a good meeting but I came away from it feeling rather lost. Hence the research.  I also forgot to mention that my husband will be retiring as of the end of this week .  My entire life has done a 180 and I am spinning. I have not read any of the books as of yet but I will. So thankyou for the info and I will let you know if it is helping. Ann

Leave a Reply