Money

When the Pandemic Forced Young Adults to Move Back Home, They Got a Financial Education

Countless young adults have moved back home during the Covid-19 pandemic. At first it was mostly a good way to navigate the lockdowns, spend time with family and save money. But for many parents and children, it turned out to be something more: an opportunity for both of them to learn some important financial lessons.

The pandemic, it seems, was an ideal backdrop for families to put their finances under the microscope, and learn from each other as they adjusted to living under the same roof again. Parents and their adult children were able to pick up on one another’s good financial habits, and drop bad ones. And the experience also has helped some young adults rethink their financial goals.

“We have a tendency to think more about the future when we’re faced with a stressor,” says

Brad Kontz,

a financial psychologist and professor at Creighton University, in Omaha, Neb. The growing openness of young adults to talking finances with their parents and peers, he says, reflects a kind of tribal response in people to the stress of the pandemic.

Here is a look at what the adult children and parents in three families learned about money—and themselves—during their pandemic time together.

A deadline to move out

When the pandemic forced 23-year-old

Hannah Frohling

to relocate to her parents’ townhouse in Southampton, N.Y., in March 2020 to finish her final semester of college remotely, the financial clock started ticking. 

As Ms. Frohling’s parents,

Jennifer Schlueter

and

Matthew Frohling,

prepared to move to their winter home in Florida during the fall of 2020, they told her that she would have to start helping to support the household in their absence. That meant monthly payments of $500 in rent and $250 for her use of the family car. They also set a deadline of Memorial Day 2022 for her to be out of the house. Ms. Schlueter says she wanted to provide her daughter with a “soft landing” after the jarring experience of graduating in the midst of a pandemic. But she also wanted Ms. Frohling to make the transition to living independently, hence the move-out deadline.

Hannah Frohling, who currently works two waitressing jobs, has saved $10,000 since moving back home.



Photo:

JOE CARROTTA

So, Ms. Frohling landed two waitressing jobs and finally started leaning on the savings lessons she heard from her parents growing up. She has two income streams—cash tips and a regular paycheck that includes her hourly rate and tips from credit cards. She places the cash tips in a savings account and splits the paycheck between a checking account and an investment account that is tied to an S&P 500 index fund. She has saved nearly $10,000 since moving back home and she has started looking at apartments to rent on Long Island.

Saving and managing money haven’t always come easily to Ms. Frohling. While still in college, she received an allowance from her parents at the beginning of each semester. “As a freshman, I would just blow it in the first two months,” she says. So her parents, who both work in finance, sat her down and helped her budget her allowance by outlining the necessities and luxuries in her spending habits.

But it’s the past 18 months back home, and the proximity to her parents, that have allowed Ms. Frohling to be more proactive about her savings and investing and put all those lessons into practice. She says many of their money talks happen on family road trips. Her father helps her stay on top of the latest trends in investing and her mother shares strategies on how Ms. Frohling can increase her savings and continue to build a base for the eventual move out of the family home. Ms. Frohling is even paying it forward by sharing these tips with her co-workers and encouraging a few of them to open investing accounts of their own. 

“The lesson that we want her to learn is that she can do it,” says Ms. Schlueter, adding that living together during the pandemic has given her the opportunity to contextualize the financial knowledge she’s sharing with her daughter, rather than simply talking over the phone or via text. That includes discussing the expenses Ms. Frohling will have after leaving home again, such as health and car insurance.

Ms. Frohling says while she often feels like her parents nag her about how much she is saving, in the end she knows it’s for the best: “They don’t want me to fall flat on my face when I move out of here.”

Breaking the money taboo

In November 2020,

Rogelio Meza,

27, left his $1,500-a-month apartment in Austin, Texas, and moved into his parents’ home in Laredo. 

That move, says Mr. Meza, who works as a customer-experience manager for a solar-energy company, helped him save money and work toward his goal of becoming a homeowner. It also allowed him to help his parents, who were struggling from the financial strains of the pandemic.

When the pandemic struck, his mother, Eudoxia Meza, who works as a cook, saw her hours cut in half. His father, Juan Meza, is disabled and unable to work. Since moving in with his parents, the younger Mr. Meza has helped with the grocery and utility bills, paying around $700 a month, which still allows him to put money away toward a home down-payment.

Moving back home to Laredo, Texas, has allowed Rogelio Meza to share his financial knowledge with his parents, Eudoxia Meza and Juan Meza.



Photo:

Rogelio Meza

While he was growing up, Mr. Meza says, his family never spoke about money. “No one really taught me how to save, no one taught me about stock options or investment accounts, good versus bad loans.” He relied on friends who worked in finance to teach him about these things, he says, and conversations helped him get a better grasp of where his money was going. Now, he says, he has imparted some of this knowledge to his parents.

One day, when an unusually large—and overdue—utility bill arrived in the mail, Mr. Meza turned it into an opportunity to start sharing his financial knowledge with his family.

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“I was like, ‘OK, lets talk about that,’ ” he says, describing what became the first of many frank conversations about money with his parents. Indeed, after that initial exchange, he basically became the family financial adviser. Mr. Meza helped his parents calculate how much they were spending on groceries and how much they truly needed to get through each month. He also discovered that they had $3,000 in credit-card debt and advised them to use their stimulus money to aggressively pay it down. By using a combination of his mother’s wages, direct payments from the stimulus and unemployment benefits, they were able to pay off their utility bills and the credit-card debt in a matter of weeks. 

Next, Mr. Meza set up a savings account for his mother and advised her to put 20% of her paycheck into the account going forward. He is also planning to help his parents open an investment account and teach them how to make their money grow over time. 

Being able to pay off their debt gave his parents a new starting point, he says.

Mr. Meza has learned some things during his stint at home as well. The time he has spent with his parents, he says, opened his eyes to how little he needs to be happy. Before living again with his mother and father, for example, he would frequently order takeout for lunch and dinner. But the home-cooked meals he has enjoyed at home, he says, especially his mother’s enchiladas, have motivated him to start cooking for himself.

As for his parents, they say that talking about money is no longer taboo in their family, and that they will continue reaching out to their son for financial advice. He plans to move back to Austin in November and to complete the purchase of an apartment in the city at that time.

A new outlook

Edgar Mendoza

was living the high life in Chicago. The 41-year-old was paying rent of nearly $3,000 a month for a downtown apartment. He frequently dined out and had courtside seats at basketball games. 

But when lockdowns started, limiting his activities—and his spending—he began to re-evaluate his habits. “What Covid taught me is no, I don’t need all of that,” says Mr. Mendoza, who works in sales and invests in startups on the side.

Edgar Mendoza says moving back home with his mother, María Platt, and family during the pandemic has reinforced the frugal lifestyle he grew up with.



Photo:

Edgar Mendoza

In January, he packed up his belongings and moved to McAllister, Mont., to live with his mother and stepfather.  And he doesn’t plan on leaving soon. 

Living in Montana with his family, Mr. Mendoza says, has reinforced the frugal lifestyle he grew up with. When he was little, he says, his mother, María Platt, used to tell him to “watch his pennies.” Now, he saves his money and invests it in places where it can grow.

Ms. Platt says she is proud of the progress she has seen in her son and how he has embraced the lessons she taught him.  The family prepares meals together and they rarely eat out. Mr. Mendoza says he isn’t being asked to pay rent, but he buys all of the groceries.

“He’s changed a lot,” Ms. Pratt says of her son. “He used to spend money like crazy. I would talk to him and he’s like, ‘Mom, you’re right about this and you’re right about that.’ ” Now, in her view, he is motivated to support the family long-term, and it has driven him to refocus his spending habits.

Mr. Mendoza says that seeing his mom come home exhausted from work and having to budget her Social Security benefits has made him look at his financial future in a new light. It has forced him to think more realistically about what retirement could be like. “When you see that in someone you love… it hits you a lot harder,” he says. “I don’t want to that be me.”

Ms. Pratt says her son still has work to do on his financial habits. He can sometimes splurge on their groceries and forget about the food already in the family fridge, she says. She would also like to see him learn how to cook.

“I’ve told him that if you make good money, save it,” she says. “I’m not going to be around forever.”

Mr. Nakagawa is an audience interaction producer for The Wall Street Journal in New York. Write to him at taylor.nakagawa@wsj.com.

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