The Millennials Who Pay for Their Parents' Living Expenses
We talked to young people about financial independence and supporting their families.
This article originally appeared on VICE CA.
When did we all start seeing millennials as sad, lazy, degenerates?
Was it when some white dude blamed avocado toast for all of our financial shortcomings? Or when living at home longer became an indicator of laziness rather than a shitty housing market? Or can we thank the media for this poor worldview of our generation, since they’re constantly crediting our success to the “bank of mom and dad” and inheritances as if we’re all lucky enough to have either? Spoiler: we’re not.
For me, I never grew up super well off, but when my dad passed away days after my university graduation, financial responsibility hit me in the face—and no, there was no so-called inheritance in sight. Not only do I pay my own bills, I now help my family with theirs. And one thing’s for sure; tons of millennials—and remember, the oldest of this demographic is in their late 30s—do the same.
But for some reason, no one’s talking about this. Instead, cable news talks about entitled millennials who definitely aren’t helping our case—like that 30-year-old dude whose parents literally had to evict him, or the Instagram influencer who scammed her followers into buying “creativity workshops,” or basically every single person who bought a ticket to Fyre Festival.
Instead of rolling my eyes at yet another sad example of Generation Entitled, I decided to reach out to the group of millennials who are paying their own way, and paying for others too, for a hard dose of what many of us call reality.
VICE: What is the financial situation like with you and your parents?
Lamees: I grew up in the Middle East and I moved to Canada in 2010. Everyone knows that Dubai is extremely lavish and expensive—and my family did live that lifestyle for a very long time. But then, we came to Canada. The common theme with every immigrant dad is they have such amazing jobs and qualifications and then they come here and the system almost grinds them down to nothing. And that's what happened with my dad. He hasn’t had a job since he's been here. And my sister's been very unwell, so my mom hasn't been able to work either.
Have you stepped in to help out?
My parents have never expressed to me that I need to chip in, but my mom would sort of hint that they're not going to be here forever to pay for me and I understand that. So when it came to the point to where I was making enough money to afford saving, I started paying for things like dinners when we go out as family. When someone's birthday comes up, I will pay for a concert ticket or I will pay for the movie tickets. My parents had a huge graduation party for me and I gave my mom $1,000 in an envelope because the party was expensive and I felt guilty.
How does it make you feel knowing you have to help your parents out?
For me, it's pride. I feel good that I’m now able to give to them the way that they gave to me. I do sometimes feel a little bit of resentment...I don't know whether that's towards the system that crushed that motivation in my dad, I don't know if it's at my dad for not being able to support us anymore, I don't know if it's just that the whole situation, but I don't see myself being able to move out until I'm married maybe.
VICE: Are you helping your parents financially?
Steven: Yes. Not too much at the moment but since my mom was diagnosed with cancer a few years back, I’ve been actively helping them. My mom went on short term and then long term disability for an injury and then, discovering her cancer, things got worse. She wasn’t making much from disability, and my dad being on it too didn’t help. They had just undergone a rent hike, and were struggling to make ends meet so I felt the need to step in and help. I helped with the rent when needed, lent my mom my credit card and tried my best to fill her fridge. It was the least I could do.
How does this make you feel when you compare to how other people your age live?
When I hear of others who are still having bills paid by their parents, or they still pay their condo mortgage and car loans or whatever, it’s mind boggling. One, because of the fact that they’d still allow their parents to do that; and two that they’d even depend on them in the first place.
Do you think that certain types of families have to deal with this more than others?
Coming from a first generation immigrant family into Canada, I would say we’re more prone to it because my parents came here with little more than the clothes on their back. But then again I know those who migrated with wealth too; so that’s not always the case.
VICE: Do your parents support you financially?
Joey: My dad’s not really in the picture and my mother was transient. She was living in a rooming house and she passed away completely unexpectedly in November. Then there were the costs transporting her body, getting a suit, getting to Montreal for the funeral, getting back—costs that aren't terribly expensive but for someone on ODSP and who works freelance, the cost is the difference between groceries or not.
What are your thoughts on this whole fantasy of an inheritance?
Some friends have been like, “Well it's sad but at least you get the house,” and I'm like, what house? What are you talking about? My mother didn't own a house. In their heads, their retirement plan is basically their parents dying. Which is weird, but it's also like part of our culture for certain people.
How would things be better if you had parents who helped you out financially?
It definitely would improve my mental health, my nutrition, basic things. I’d be able to afford fresh fruits and vegetables or just like normal things you can do with a bare minimum of assistance. Even the security net of knowing I can go apply for a job that’s beyond my qualifications, and if I get it I get it, if I don't I don't, but knowing that no matter what happens, I still have my parents' house to go back to. I just think with a bare minimum of security, there's more opportunity, more chances.
VICE: What do you do and how much do you make?
Rachel: I work at a cardiology clinic managing their wellness department. I make $40K a year.
What’s your financial situation like with your family?
Three years ago, my dad divorced his wife and things got really messy, especially financially. He went pretty seriously into debt fighting for custody rights for my 13-year-old sister. During that time, he was hit by a car and left with permanent disabilities. He’s unable to work and has no education past Grade 10. Then last year, my sister’s mom passed away suddenly, leaving my dad as her sole caregiver. So, with no other family or income I decided to move home to support my dad and sister.
What do your friends back in Toronto think about that decision?
They’re super supportive although I don’t think they totally realize what my life is like now. I do have to make a lot of sacrifices. I can’t go to every party or housewarming and I have parental responsibility now. I don’t have Instagram or Snapchat and I get a lot of crap for that from friends telling me I’m lame, but I don’t want to be tagged shotgunning a tall can or smoking a joint when my sister has access to those media platforms. I prefer to live my double life in secret.
VICE: What has your financial situation been like with your parents?
Shannon: Growing up, my mom was a single mom and we never really had a lot. So when I got a job, she helped me open up my first bank account and was a joint on it. When I’d go and check my balance and every once in a while, I'd be like, "Oh, I thought I had an extra $20.” And this would go on and on. It took a long time for me to figure out that it wasn't just me miscounting. One time I checked my balance and $300 had just disappeared. I tried to talk to my mom about it and she’d be like, "I don't know what you're talking about.” So when I went to college, I really started distancing myself. I moved into residence and got a new bank account.
Do you still have to give your mom money?
My mom actually cut off all contact with me just before my husband and I got married five years ago. When she found out I was planning to get married she told me I couldn't afford it and I was going to ruin my life.
Wow. How does it feel then when you see millennials being portrayed as lazy and entitled?
To me it's like, maybe you're looking at a very small select group of millennials. But not everyone has that luxury. Even when I was living at home, I was still paying bills. And it's not like anyone I know is leeching off of their parents. We're all still paying our way.
VICE: What kind of financial sacrifices do you make for your family?
Kelvin: I live with my parents despite the fact I own a condo in downtown Toronto. I bought the condo on my own and my parents helped secure the mortgage, which I pay. But I currently rent it out and live at home to help my parents pay for their own mortgage and household bills.
How did that start?
About two years ago, I noticed some bills on the counter. I opened them and I saw how much they were paying and I thought it was too much considering their salaries. My parents were immigrants who worked hard and have been through a lot so that my brother and I could have a better future. I figured it was my turn to take care of them.
What do your friends think about your situation?
It depends on the friends. Some of them come from a similar upbringing, so they relate. Others often remind me how much better my social life would be if I moved downtown, but I’m not that bothered by what people think. And to be honest, I don’t owe anyone an explanation. I help take care of my parents and that’s what matters.
VICE: Do you give your parents money?
Meg: I don't exactly have the money for that, especially considering how egregious rent is in this city. But, it's not to say that I don't help them. If I notice, for example, that they don't have any more laundry detergent, I'm going to pick up laundry detergent. I'll help out with stuff that they probably don't notice, but I'm happy to do. Both of my parents still work and they're a little bit older and the reality for them is that they also can't stop working. So if there's little things that I can pick up on, for sure. I also don't ask my parents for anything.
What do you think about the perception that all millennials rely on the “bank of mom and dad?”
It's really frustrating, because that's such a narrow point of view. I know a lot of young people that would never ask their parents for anything and don't really believe in relying on their parents.
Where do you think this idea stems from then?
It's just easy to generalize an entire group based on a smaller selection of people.
Also, if your child is using this “bank of mom and dad,” maybe that's a parenting thing. It's not fair to say it's all millennials when it's kind of like, well you raised your kids to believe that they could come to you for financial help or whatever else it may be. Then it's kind of your fault, not everybody else's.
*Name has been changed for privacy.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.