Do you know the number one contributing factor to our debt repayment success thus far? I’m not talking about dedication, hard work, perseverance or other important characteristics. I mean a solid, measurable contributing factor. It’s our living situation.
Anyone who has looked at our monthly budget reports quickly notices that we don’t pay any rent or utilities. Even taking our higher gas budget (because of the commute) into account, we easily save $1,200-$1,500 or more per month living in my husband’s parents’ basement. We’ve been here for nearly three years. That’s a savings of around $50,000 so far. It’s easy to see that living with my in-laws for free is the reason we are able to make headway on our student loan debt.
Recently I got an email from a reader who is ready to crack down on student debt. She and her husband and two young children are planning to move in with her parents to expedite the payoff process. They will be sharing the same kitchen and living area with them. She’s optimistic, but looking for any advice or insights to help prevent any problems and have a great experience.
Sometimes people email with questions that I don’t feel very qualified to answer (like this one), but this one is right up my alley. After all, I’ve been doing it (with success, I might add) for quite a while now. Even though we have essentially our own basement apartment in my in-laws’ home, we also spent a couple of months (the summer before the last year of law school) sharing a kitchen, bathroom, and living area with my in-laws (before the basement had its own facilities). I also talked to several friends with experience living with their in-laws so I could get other perspectives. Here’s what I’ve pulled together from our combined experiences.
Make a Game Plan
Living with family indefinitely can be hard on both parties. Having a time frame or goal of when you will plan to head back out on your own again can be helpful. Also, if you’re married make sure both spouses are on-board with the living situation, so you don’t cause extra stress or resentment.
Know What is Expected
When you’re sharing a living space, it goes without saying that you will do your share of the housework, cooking, and other chores. Asking questions in the beginning will help things go smoothly and help to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Will you be paying any rent? Do they want you to help pay for utilities? How will using the kitchen work? Will you each purchase your own ingredients and eat separately or will you eat together each day. Who will cook? Who will clean up?
There will be lots of logistics to work out. It’s best to get as much of that taken care of before moving in, though new situations will surely arise after you move in.
Set Up House Rules and Boundaries
Whether it’s a quiet time, wearing shoes in the house, or types of permitted entertainment, there are lots of possible “rules” to consider. Be extra sensitive to your family member’s preferences. After all, they are doing you a huge favor.
We made specific rules for our kids about when they could go up to Grammy’s house. They have to ask our permission, and if we say it’s okay, then they have to knock on the upstairs door to see if it’s a good time to go up and visit. We are careful to give them lots of space and privacy (our kids would go up there every day if we would let them).
Communicate Openly and Honestly
Open and honest communication is not only the key to a wonderful marriage, it’s the key to a great relationship with your in-laws too! At least it has been for us. Whenever a question or concern arises, talk about it right away. Don’t let things stew or fester. It’s much better to solve differences before they become problems.
bWe all have quirks and shortcomings. One of my friends who lived with her in-laws for years said, “If something is bothering you even if it’s something small, first decide if its worth getting upset about, then let them know as soon as you can so you can figure it out together. Don’t take it personally if something is bothering them.” In all your communication be kind. Be humble. Be forgiving.
Be Responsible with Your Money
Assuming that the reason you are living with family is to save money or pay off debt, you should be focused on that goal. If your new housing arrangement is just freeing up money so you can take trips to Disneyland, buy fancy electronics and update your wardrobe, I imagine your generous relative might get frustrated. You might think it’s none of their business, but in many ways it is. They are investors in your family’s financial success. As investors, they have an interest in your success and wise use of resources. Being responsible with your money will show that you appreciate the kindnesses your family is showing.
Little things will inevitably come up. There will be hard times, frustrating experiences, and awkward moments. Remember that relationships with your family members will trump most anything that could come up. These aren’t roommates that will disappear once the semester is over. These are people you love and that love you. Do what you can to make these times in close quarters an opportunity to strengthen relationships instead of destroy them.
Show Gratitude Often
Your relative is doing you a huge favor by letting you live with them to help save you money on what is generally the most expensive line of your budget. Let them know that you recognize their sacrifice and you appreciate it. Express your thanks in words, service, or plates of freshly baked cookies. However you do it, make sure to show your gratitude.
One of my wise friends mentioned the importance of always showing gratitude rather than criticism when you speak about your family members. It can be easy to focus on finding faults when you live closely with someone. Focusing on the positive will help you be happier and will bless all of your relationships.
Honestly, our experience has been great! We have never had any real problems. Our relationship has only improved since living together. Don’t get me wrong– we are very excited to get this debt paid off so we can get our own place again. In the meantime, there are some wonderful benefits besides the finances. I am learning lots from my in-laws and really cherish my relationship with them. I love that our kids get to know their grandparents so well. We are so thankful for the way they are blessing our lives.
How About You?
- Have you ever considered living with family to save money or pay off debt?
- What advice do you have for someone who is about to move in with family?
- What tips do you have specifically for sharing living space with family?
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