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Aviva Selects VICE Guide to Finance 2016

How Your Parents Helping You Pay for Everything Changes Your Relationship with Them

The long-lasting interest of withdrawing from the bank of mum and dad.

by Adam Forrest
23 October 2016, 11:05pm

(Illustration: Dan Evans)

Renting sucks. Everyone knows that. The private rental market is overpriced and insecure, and usually comes with the infuriating bonus feature of knowing you're paying off someone else's mortgage.

My mum likes to tell me that renting is "a mug's game". She also likes to tell me that paying rent is "dead money", which always makes me feel spooked and depressed, like the money drifting out of my account each month is cursed in some way.

One thing that makes dead rent money even worse: the embarrassing indignity of asking your parents to help cover it at the end of the month. I've had to turn to the Bank of Mum and Dad for financial assistance a few times. The first time, moving to London, was for help towards the hefty deposit – over £1,200. The second time was money for yet another huge deposit since I got so little back from the first one.

The third time, my pathetic plea came in the form of asking my mum and dad for a "loan" to keep me going for the first few months when I moved to a slightly less awful flat. I think we all knew it was a loan that would never be paid back.

Sadly for society, I'm fairly normal. Well, not normal, perhaps – but I'm not alone. According to a recent study by Shelter, 450,000 adults across the UK need the help of their parents to afford their rented homes. There is something dismal and ludicrous about that figure: 450,000 adults, having flown the nest, forced to crawl back home to ask mummy and daddy for some fiscal TLC.

Shelter estimates the rent money paid by parents on behalf of their fully-grown human children amounts to £850 million a year. They spend another £150 million a year paying their kids' moving expenditures.

It seems the ritual starts at college and university. Many parents feel duty-bound to help pay at least some of their offspring's housing costs, but the costs don't always end on graduation day.

Laura, 31, a part-time charity worker in Oxford, explains how she's struggled to achieve financial independence after finishing her art history degree seven years ago. She is now doing a post-graduate degree in psychology, and her parents are paying more than half of her £450 monthly rent on a flat share.

"They helped pay my rent when I was a student the first time, and I didn't think I would have to ask for their help again," she explains. "It's a weird feeling. You can't not feel guilty about it. They've been so good about it, but there's an added pressure and expectation from them now – an expectation to do well in life and in my career, so I don't need to keep asking them for money."

So how exactly does asking for rent money change your relationship with your parents?

I ask Arabella Russell, a relationship counsellor who works with families at the charity Relate, what's going on psychologically when kids ask their parents for money.

"It doesn't matter how old you are, the minute you go back into that parental relationship to ask for help, you feel like a child again," she says. "And that dependence can feel very uncomfortable and unequal. Money is one of the main things families argue about – there are lots of ways resentments can come about: money can be given to one sibling or the other, and that can become a cause for resentment. Some people can assume their parents have plenty of money and should help them out, when they can't actually afford to. And from a parent's point of view, even if they have the money, some parents think, 'Well, I had to struggle when I was young, so you need to struggle a bit, too – this will make a man or woman out of you.'"

In my own experience, it's easier not to talk about those emergency cash transfers or try to work how much my parents might have secretly begrudged giving them.

But Russell tells me it's much healthier to get it all out into the open. "It's important to talk about it and establish whether you're giving or only lending the money, and why it's really needed, because it's the misunderstandings that can cause trouble in families for years," she says. "If your parents can afford to help you, that's great – there's no shame in it, because rents are really high. I think many people are aware that society is changing and things are particularly tough at the moment. It might be that over time it might become more of a cultural norm to give to your children for longer, and that might dissolve some of the guilt and awkwardness."

Some parents are happy to step in when a full-blown housing crisis hits, even if their kids are in their forties.

Lou (Photo: Shelter)

Lou, 45, explains how her dad has supported her several times, either with the rent or the deposit. With kids of her own to support, Lou has been struggling to afford flats rented privately in Guildford, Surrey, since splitting up with her husband a few years ago.

"It makes me feel like a failure," says Lou, who has a 19-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter. "To not be able to afford to live is kind of ridiculous. I really thought at some point I'd have to move back in with my ex-husband – how ridiculous is that? Or get a bedsit and not live with either of my children."

Sam, 27, still lives with his parents in Woking, Surrey. He too is grateful they understand what's going on in the housing market. They paid his £400-a-month rent for his shared flat while he was a student at the University of Warwick, and are now letting him live rent-free – charging only £100 a month for food and internet – while he tries to save enough to get on the property ladder in London.

"It was meant to be a temporary arrangement, but it just got longer and longer, and four years on, I'm still here," says Sam, who works in London. "It's weird, because in this one way you haven't quite grown up yet – not properly. I'm quite lucky to have parents who are happy to do it – who see it as an obligation – but there's this slight annoyance that I'm still having to live at home. I'll come home sometimes and my mum or dad will have left a newspaper article on my bed about house prices or first time buyers; it's because they know how tough things are, and they know I'm doing my best to save."

Let's put all this guilt, gratitude and family awkwardness in a bit of perspective. The sociologists are telling us there are very good reasons why our generation is not doing so well. A recent report by the Resolution Foundation found the high rents paid by young people are part of an extraordinary transfer of wealth between the generations. Not only will millennials in the UK have spent £44,000 more on rent by the end of their twenties than the baby boomers did, but half of this rent – £4 billion a year – goes directly to the baby boomer generation, in the form of private landlords.

So the next time you have to ask for cash, by all means tell your parents you're super grateful. But if you do get into a teenage-style shouting match, at least you have some proof that it really is all their fault.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Aviva.

@adamtomforrest

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