Living with parents to save for a house deposit - a Case Study!
One major step towards saving for our house was the decision to move in with my mother. My son and I did this for three years, with my boyfriend joining us after the first year as a lodger. Returning to the parental home to save for a first house is not uncommon, with 25% of 18-34 year olds being unable to afford private rental costs and alongside saving for their deposit (Huff Post, 2018). Our situation was by no means unusual, which was a comfort at times.
Whilst we are both eternally grateful forever indebted to my mother for this, nobody involved would claim that it was plain sailing. It was a major adjustment to return home as not only as an adult, but a mother. Similarly, we didn’t have to look far to see that some aspects of our living arrangements had a negative impact on my mother (LSE researchers have even gathered empirical evidence of this; Tosi & Grundy, 2018).
The following account outlines what difficulties we encountered along the way, what we found to be effective strategies in easing the situation for all concerned and some not-so-obvious advantages.
Invading Parents’ Space
Whilst condensing the contents of the two-bedroom apartment I had rented into my mother’s three-bedroom house, there was a moment when the reality of the situation hit. For five years my son and I had accumulated both the necessary and superfluous white goods, furnishings and miscellaneous possessions you would expect and it wasn’t all going to fit.
Keep as much as possible boxed up
And, of course, it didn’t. Many boxes went into the loft. This was the stuff I knew we would not need until we had our own home again: pots, pans, crockery, cutlery, bed linen, towels. I started off with the best intentions to keep my little library of books boxed and stowed away as well. It was a sign of my mother’s affection that she insisted I unpack them instead; whilst we were to be living like this as a temporary measure, two to three years was a long time to have the things I love packed away.
Sell/give away what you can
Furniture was more problematic, being heavy and bulky (even when flat-packed) it couldn’t just be shoved in the loft. There were some things I knew I wouldn’t want to take with me into our first home, such as our dining table and chairs and beds (both were far past their best already); I sold these quickly online before we flitted. Yet we were still faced with a surplus of fridge freezers, sofas, coffee tables, desks and wardrobes at my mother’s house.
We got used to having 3-4 square meters of space in the bedrooms, slightly more in the living room, and simply adapted our movements accordingly. Certainly, no cat-swinging went on.
Running Costs and Domestic Labour
Whilst we were able to save a considerable amount each month, the financial burden this placed on my mum’s household could not be ignored. Gas and electricity, water and food consumption all increased dramatically. The magnitude of household chores naturally increased too: more laundry had to be dried in the same small space or taken to a laundrette; cooking for five people used more dishes, pots and pans than for two etc.
Early on, the matriarchs (my mother and myself) agreed to spread the costs and domestic labour. I took care of food shopping, cooking and cleaning; Mum did everyone’s laundry and paid for utilities and council tax. My boyfriend was exempt as he paid rent contributing to these costs.
Obviously, this arrangement was put in place to ensure the fair division of household running costs and domestic labour, but it also minimised the guilt associated with returning to live at home (a recurrent theme). We rammed ourselves back into my parental home and completely altered the household dynamic (in particular, having a five-year-old running around at 6am required a period of adjustment). Knowing that we were pulling our weight with the fundamental running of the household made us feel less culpable for the imposition on my mother.
Privacy and Respect
Perhaps the most obvious adjustment that had to be made was having to ensure a certain level of respect for each member of the amalgamated household. We were all well-mannered and respectful people, but in the comfort of (albeit a temporary) ‘home’, everyone liked to be able to relax and enjoy some quiet time to themselves.
This proved largely impossible. We all lead busy lives: my mother, boyfriend and I all worked full-time; additionally, mum had a lengthy commute each day and a small private practice at the weekends, my boyfriend worked long hours in a high pressure role, and I was studying for my Master’s degree, and parenting. Our comings and goings were like a ballet, everyone moving in their own circles in the same performance. Occasionally, there were collisions when our arrangements didn’t match up: I had an evening lecture, my mother’s train was cancelled so she couldn’t look after my son after school and my boyfriend was out. Or we were simply harried and took offense to a throwaway remark or action. With time, the dance became much easier. Where necessary, apologies were made and resolutions to be more mindful were made. In the end, we got quite good at making sure everyone had some time and space to themselves in the crowded house; it is amazing what you can do when the situation demands it.
Another, more personal gripe was unavoidably feeling like a 12-year-old again, living under the watchful eye of my mum. Weren’t those shoes a little high for work? Did I have a pair of flats just in case? My boyfriend was also held accountable in this way sometimes. Common courtesy dictated we let it be known where we were going, what we were doing and when we would be back, which could be irritating. Added to this, of course, was that I often felt my parenting to be under scrutiny. When my discipline strategies fell short of expectations or I sent my son to school in a creased shirt, I knew about it.
Of course, my mother experienced a different set of problems with our living arrangement. Seeing our possessions sprawled across her home was irksome, even more so when she had to negotiate a passage through the living room, around two sofas and coffee tables, my table football and my desk. A corner of her garden was now taken up with storing our bikes. Yes, the extra fridge freezer was useful at Christmas, but it took a large amount of floor-space from her kitchen. She also saw a lot more of my boyfriend than was usual at this stage in a relationship- first thing in the morning, rushing out to work, crashing on the sofa after a long day…Thankfully, familiarity didn’t breed contempt, but she sometimes felt like she was imposing in her own home! She once joked that “if we all need some space, one of us will have to go in the cupboard.” It felt cramped. It was cramped. It was the best we could do to be mindful of what was going on for the other householders and play the long game.
Some strategies we found useful were:
- “Letting it pass”. Take a deep breath; inhale, exhale and assume best intent. You have every right to go out for a walk if you want to, but it’s only polite to let someone know whether or not you’ll be home for dinner.
- Keeping the long-term goal in mind: we wanted a house, and in order to get it we had to save and scrimp and certainly not throw money at a private landlord for personal convenience. The ability to delay gratification was, after all, characteristic of adulthood and we were indeed adults (even if I felt like a child sometimes).
- Reap the rewards: thinking of the benefits this living arrangement conferred was incredibly helpful: I had unprecedented access to free childcare, which was invaluable when studying late into the evenings and weekends. My mother and son formed a very close bond in this time, which will endure. She also cared for her elderly mother, and me being at home eased the pressure of this a little and gave her some much needed down-time.
It is important to note that there were also lovely moments brought about by the situation. Through the good days and bad days of parenting, my mother was there to tell me stories of her own ‘parenting fails’ or commend me on what was working well. Throughout the highs and lows of our extensive property search she was always encouraging and, whenever we had a set-back, assured us that we were under no time pressure to move out. She insisted on my boyfriend and I having a regular ‘date night’ each week. This gave Grandma and grandson treasured time together, and allowed my boyfriend and I some space too. Of course, we were trying to save as much as possible rather than spend, so such dates generally consisted of a picnic supper and a few episodes of our favourite TV series’, but it was quality time that went some way to offset the strains of our living arrangements.
Flying the nest for a second time
Despite the difficulties encountered whilst living on top of one another, moving out was actually a little bittersweet. Being so used to having a lively child around left an odd quiet in the house for my mother. Similarly, with the surplus appliances and furniture gone she encountered echoes in the kitchen and living room. However, she spoke of the delight in giving all of the rooms a thorough clean and begin projects around the house she had put on hold whilst we were there.
If we had been still packed in together like sardines at the time of writing, this would have been more of a diatribe. However, from the vantage point of our very own three bed-semi, and in the knowledge that many more people are undertaking such changes to their own living arrangements to buy their first house, I hope a balance has been struck and the overarching message comes through: it was all worth it.
Moss, R. (2018). Quarter of adults move back home with parents to save for house deposit. Huff Post, accessed 8th September 2018 (https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/quarter-of-adults-move-back-home-...)
Tosi, M. and Grundy, E. (2018). Returns home by children and changes in parents’ well-being in Europe. Social Science and Medicine, 200, pp. 99-106