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Helping an Adult Child Transition to Independence

The need for helping an adult child transition to total independence is becoming more and more prevalent in our society. According to the Pew Research Center, the number of adult children (ages 25-35) living with their parents has increased by 5% since 2000, and it’s nearly doubled since 1964. Furthermore, a study conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau found that living with one’s parents is the single most common living arrangement among young adults ages 18-34.

A variety of factors are responsible for this shift in societal norms. One such factor seems to be the increase in the age at which people are choosing to get married, assuming they do marry. It’s now estimated that one in four adults will never marry [source]. Other potential factors contributing to this new trend include personal debt, employment concerns, and cost of living. In my personal experience, the marked increase in anxiety disorders and related mental health issues also plays a role, at least for some families. In addition to living at home, many young adults remain financially dependent on their parents, at least in part, for extended periods of time.

Whether you have a high-schooler preparing to head off to college or a college graduate hanging out at home, there are many ways for parents to help adult children prepare for the transition to life on their own. A good place to start this process is to determine what life skills a young adult may need and then to help them develop those skills.

In this article, we'll focus on financial skills. Other articles in this section of the site will explore the importance of specific social skills, practical life skills, and certain character traits that tend to foster success.

But for starters let's talk about money management skills that are essential for becoming self-reliant.

Key Financial Skills


The ability to create and maintain a functional budget is critical to financial success. A sound budget begins with a realistic list of regular expenses and includes allowances for the unexpected. For a budget to be successful there has to be accountability - someone making sure the budget is adhered to. Ideally a person should be accountable to him or herself, but there may need to be oversight of some sort initially.


One of the benefits of living with one’s parents is an increased ability to save a portion of your income. Help young adults develop fiscal discipline by teaching them to set a savings goal and work toward it. Savings goals can be short term, such as saving for a new phone or laptop; mid-range, such as saving for a car; or long term, such as saving for a down payment on a house or for retirement. Ideally, we should all learn to set and achieve goals at each level.  In addition to setting savings’ goals, great effort should be made to avoid debt by learning to live within your means.

In helping our adult child transition to independence, we combined budgeting and savings. We helped her create a realistic budget for what life would be like if she were on her own paying rent, utilities, etc. Each pay period she ‘deposited’ money into different categories within her budget that represented these expenses.  This allowed her to save up 6-9 months’ worth of money for rent and utilities so that when she moved out, she would have a comfortable cushion and easily be able to pay such things as first and last month’s rent, hook-up fees, and security deposits.

Keeping Track of What You Spend

Check registers seem to be a thing of the past, but keeping track of your income and expenses is as important as ever. Every dollar should be accounted for. For some reason this concept was baffling to my kids in the beginning. This was not a skill that came naturally for them, and some even resisted (or were just plain lazy about it).

Fortunately, there are numerous resources available to assist with personal accounting. This article from Forbes identifies 12 Free Apps To Track Your Spending And How To Pick The Best One For You.

Paying Bills

Learning to pay bills is an important skill for functioning in the adult world. There are two key factors to keep in mind when teaching someone about paying bills. The first is to develop a system for remembering when to pay bills so that nothing gets overlooked. This can be as simple as setting up monthly reminders in one’s phone or scheduling automatic bill pay.

The second important skill to learn is to keep track of when and how each payment is made. When paying bills online, most companies provide a payment confirmation number (this is also true for bank deposits and transfers). It’s a good idea to record the confirmation number next to the payment information in whatever format you use to track income and expenses.  

Understanding Credit and Learning to Use it Wisely

Many a young adult has gotten into financial difficulty involving credit. Helping an adult child transition to independence should most certainly involve a candid discussion of this important topic.  The discussion should include the responsible use of credit, how interest works, and the importance of staying out of debt (particularly for non-essential, consumer purchases).  For insight into what to focus on, see 20 Critical Tips for Teaching Your Kids About Debt and Lending. Don't let the title discourage you; the skills emphasized in this article are important for children of all ages to understand and master.

Practicing Frugality

Teaching practical ways to practice frugality will go a long way toward helping an adult child transition to life on their own. Frugality is all about getting the most for your money, and it encompasses a wide range of skills. These include taking care of what you own, making things last, avoiding waste, controlling impulse buying, comparing prices and shopping for the best deals.

Putting It All Together

The process of helping an adult child transition to complete self-reliance can begin at any age, but it's never too late to start. A young adult who has mastered the skills and abilities discussed here will be well on his or her way to successfully living a life of independence.

More on Helping an Adult Child Transition

As mentioned in the beginning, there is more to read on the topic of helping an adult child transition to total self-reliance. Other topics in this series can be accessed by clicking on the icons below.

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