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When living rent-free comes with strings attached |
More Lifestyles

When living rent-free comes with strings attached

Carolyn Hax
| Tuesday, December 4, 2018 1:33 a.m

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi Carolyn!

I just graduated from college and my mom invited me to live with her rent-free so I could save up some money. I’m very lucky and have tried not to be a burden.

We really disagree on what I should be saving for. I want to max out my 401(k), correct some dental issues, and travel. This really upsets my mom. She wants me to save to buy a new car and is always mentioning the benefits of new car models she likes. If I had to guess, she probably thinks the timeline for me to save is urgent, since she wants to give my car to my brother when he graduates next May.

I honestly want a used car. My current one is 15 years old; it runs fine, and I really like it.

I don’t know how to talk to her about this. I don’t want to be disrespectful, since I love my mom and she is being very kind by letting her adult child live with her. But I feel like our priorities financially are just so different. Is there a way to compromise, or politely talk it out?

— Grateful Daughter

Time for you and Mom to have a come-to-Prius moment. (Sorry, sorry, ugh.)

Setting: A time and place when you and your mom are together and at ease and not scheduled to be anywhere.

Opener: Tell your mom how grateful you are for her generosity in giving you this opportunity to save money.

Point: Say you are concerned lately that her goals for this time and yours might be different, and you’d feel better if you knew what she had in mind. You don’t want to be an unwitting source of angst or frustration for her.

Key question: Is she willing to share her expectations? Such as, a deadline for you to move out? A goal she’d like you to reach personally? A goal of her own that she has in mind, maybe one she hasn’t fully articulated, and that’s dependent in some way on you? Say, for example, your buying a new car and giving the old one to your brother.

If she isn’t forthcoming, then all you can do is keep trying to pull your weight, save like the wind — we’re pretending that’s a thing — and get out of there as soon as it’s prudent to.

If she is forthcoming, then you work with that — bending where you can or where it won’t cost your integrity much to bend, and holding firm where you need to. And if holding firm is a problem for her, then this grace period might be up. It happens.

Re: Finances:

Just wondering if the car was given/loaned to her by Mom. If so, could you offer to buy that one from her (perhaps for current retail Blue Book)?

— Wondering

Good point. If Mom sees it as hers, then that changes everything.

Re: Finances:

And read Michelle Singletary’s stuff. She’ll like that you prefer a used car. She’s written a lot lately on adult children living at home, too.

— Anonymous

Seconded, thanks — Michelle is a colleague of mine at The Washington Post, and her money advice is solid and unflinching.

Email Carolyn at, follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

Carolyn Hax is a Tribune-Review freelancer. You can contact Carolyn at

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