More than half of Toronto’s twentysomethings now live at home with their parents. They haven’t failed to launch. They’re not (all) potato chip–munching sponges. They’re smart. And the money they’re saving is stacking up fast.
Living with your parents is not cool. Let’s just get that out of the way. After I graduated from university, I moved into an awesome apartment on Ossington with my best friend. It had ensuite laundry, a deck with a view of the CN Tower, and a bay window in the living room. The bus stop was just a few doors down. The subway was five minutes away. It was more than cool; it was perfect.
So as I hauled my junk up the stairs of my parents’ house a year later, a Seinfeld scene flashed through my mind: Sitting with George in Monk’s Café, Jerry complains that his parents have come to stay with him, and since his girlfriend lives with her parents, they haven’t been alone together in weeks. George perks up. “Hey, maybe this will become like a cool thing, living with your parents.” Cue laugh track. “Yeah,” Jerry says. “Then maybe baldness will catch on.”
Nearly 20 years later, I think it’s safe to say George’s dream has not been realized. Still, post-recession, young adults are scurrying back to their family homes like light-frightened cockroaches charging a crack in the wall. According to the 2011 census, 56.3 per cent of Torontonians between the ages of 20 and 29 live with their parents. And in GTA areas like Richmond Hill, Vaughan, and Pickering, the number exceeds 75 per cent.
But that doesn’t mean they’re all freeloaders. Sure, there’s probably no shortage of genuine sponges, hunched in front of glowing screens deep below ground while the cheese-string wrappers pile up (not that I would know anything about that). But the bulk of people in their 20s living at home would welcome the obliteration of that cliché.
What gets lost in the familiar “failure to launch” narrative is the upside—and for most people, the sole motive—of living at home: the piles of money you can save by sucking it up and staying there for a few more years. And yet, as George Costanza and I can attest, unless your name is Lena Dunham, all the money in the world won’t make you cool if you’re still rooming with your ’rents.
Well, screw that. I live in my parents’ basement. I may not be cool—and I may not have bedroom windows—but, at 24, I have my own bathroom and a sweet-ass leather couch. Suck it, renters: I’m in the majority.
It can feel as though every new glass-walled condo built in this city nudges the cost of living up a few more dollars. For a 22-year-old eager to push the “start” button on her post-grad life, the reality of what it takes to live in a decent apartment in a nice area will hit you like the gastric aftershock of one too many Big Fat Burritos.
In his recently published book How Not to Move Back in With Your Parents: The Young Person’s Guide to Financial Empowerment, Rob Carrick, The Globe and Mail’s personal finance columnist, writes, “The less skilled you are at saving, the less independent you are.” But what if your savings plan means moving back home, a situation that renders you dependent on your parents’ tolerance, goodwill, and groceries? “The times call for emergency measures,” Carrick told me. “The unemployment rate for young adults is double the national rate, and many young people are working jobs that are well below their credentials and qualifications.”
Carrick points to two major forces conspiring to send young adults back to the basement: graduating with lots of debt, and the difficulty in finding the kind of job that offers opportunities for career-building.
Jaimie Milburn, a 22-year-old music publicist who lives with her parents in Port Perry, just north of Oshawa, divides her time between an artist-management company based in Scarborough and another in downtown Toronto. She’s been looking at apartments in the city to help ease the two-hour commute, but it’s been a discouraging experience. “You’re paying a lot of money for not a lot of space,” she says. “Coming from a small town, I want to live somewhere where I feel safe and I can get to transit easily. But you pay for that stuff, unfortunately.”
You sure do: According to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the average two-bedroom apartment in Toronto costs $1,149 a month. A quick scan of Craigslist, however, reveals it’s not easy to find even a decent one-bedroom for that amount. Toronto’s average rental vacancy rate was at a 10-year low in 2011 at 1.4 per cent—as of spring 2012, it sat only slightly above that, at 1.5 per cent.
For those of us who don’t aspire to be bankers and lawyers, those numbers are dispiriting. But desperate times call for creative measures, and Carrick’s advice to young adults today is to “suck it up” and be open to opportunities that you may have scoffed at in your undergrad years.
Kait Babin, a 22-year-old who is enrolled in a year-long post-graduate program in advertising and account management at Humber College, found her options limited after graduating from Queen’s University in the spring. “It was either move to downtown Toronto and pay a lot more money than I’m paying at home, or live at home and commute back and forth for the year,” she says. She’s aiming to save between $2,000 and $3,000, but at the moment she’s just breaking even with each paycheque from her part-time job. “It will be many months before I’ll be within reach of my target,” Babin says, “but I’d rather stay debt-free for as long as possible and move out when I can afford to do so.”
In the meantime, living at home has its perks. “I lived in a very, very tiny apartment for the last couple years in Kingston,” Babin says, “so to have a big room, and more than one spot that I can study in, and a nice open kitchen have made me so much happier. I mean, it’s not like it’s a bad place!” Adrienne Middlebrook, a 24-year-old communications student in her final year at York University, also appreciates the comforts of living at home. “I definitely have a nicer place than I would if I were renting.” Middlebrook wants to have at least $4,000 saved up before moving out, although she would consider staying at home until she has enough for a down payment on a condo—about $30,000 to $40,000. She has around $3,000 saved at the moment, but plans on travelling in Asia when she graduates, which would deplete the funds somewhat. “I’m more concerned about finding a job after graduation,” she says. “After I get a job, I’ll start saving.”
So are we just a generation with expensive taste? Do we expect too much luxury in our 20s? Costly items such as smartphones, cable TV, and high-speed internet are not things a 24-year-old is going to forego in a hurry. But Carrick takes an optimistic view of young peoples’ spending habits. “I just don’t buy into the argument that today’s generation is a bunch of greedy, acquisitive, entitled, spoiled brats who only care about buying things,” he says. Moving home is “short-term pain for long-term gain. It can be perfectly comfortable. But if you’ve had a taste of freedom, moving back home and having your parents saying, ‘Where are you going? Take out the garbage. Pick up your clothes. Stop taking such long showers’—is that really a good thing?” It’s not as if living with your parents isn’t a trade-off.
Giordan Postorino is a 24-year-old musician and music teacher who lives with his family in Toronto’s east end. For the past three years, his girlfriend has also been living with his family. “Since I basically make my living through music, having the freedom to be able to make music whenever I want is the best part about living at home,” he says. “And none of that would be possible if I didn’t have amazingly wicked-cool parents.” Still, he points out that there are definite drawbacks to living at home as an adult: “It’s a little difficult trying to have sex and holding the bedframe so it doesn’t smash up against the wall. At some point you want to just be able to [have sex] and not really [care] about who may be listening.” Thankfully, he and his girlfriend found an apartment just a few days after we first spoke.
The large number of twentysomethings cohabiting with their folks has definitely blurred boundaries between parents and their adult offspring. Middlebrook says her parents are fine with her bringing home her 27-year-old boyfriend, who lives with his parents in Oakville. Babin, on the other hand, can’t imagine bringing someone home. “My mom sleeps very lightly and would wake up at the slightest noise. If anyone came home with me, she would know and she would grill me. I mean…no.”
Despite the occasional awkwardness, Milburn isn’t sure she’s ready to move out. “I always tell my parents, if we could just pick up the house and move it closer to the city, I would probably never leave,” she says. She enjoys the company that her parents provide, and thinks living by herself would be lonely. And she’s not in the financial position to break out on her own just yet. She’s closing in on her savings goal of $3,000, but after looking at a few apartments in the city, she’s not so sure that’s going to be enough after all.
For now, Milburn’s parents, who own a business, will have to wait a little longer before they can turn her bedroom into an office, or even move to a smaller house. “I think we’re all sort of in this transition,” she says, “and it comes down to being the only child in the house—my decision’s really going to affect their decisions. That being said, my mom will be a mess the day I move out.”
I used to be so ashamed of moving back. I always thought adult life began as soon as you left home, so how could I call myself an adult if I was still mooching off my parents? (For whatever reason, my enduring taste for Pizza Pockets, Goldfish crackers, and Fruit by the Foot has not shaken my sense of self in quite the same way.) Moving back home in my third year of university—I was planning to study abroad in my last year, and wanted to save money—was one thing. But moving home a year after graduating from university? For shame.
For the record, I did it for an unpaid internship and still haven’t quite formulated a plan to move out now that I have a big-girl job. The monthly savings are just too sweet. And, like everyone I spoke to for this article, I’m busy enough with work that I’m rarely home anyway. For many Torontonians in their 20s, it’s kind of a no-brainer.
Take Omri Dor, a 26-year-old accountant who lived at his parents’ Thornhill home for nearly four years after graduating from Western University. He had figured on staying at home until he could afford to buy a place, but found himself itching to get away sooner. In June, he moved to a rental apartment downtown and says his years at home allowed him to save more than $20,000.
For those of us living with our parents, it can be difficult to set aside that nagging itch of embarrassment, especially amid the torrent of articles and books slamming today’s twentysomethings for our blasé attitude towards growing up. We are witnessing the rise of a new transitional phase for young adults, in which the period of time it takes to establish a career, get married, and have kids has expanded beyond what would have been thought of as “normal” 20 years ago. But if a 25-year-old chooses to stay in his parent’s home for a few extra years, it doesn’t mean this period doesn’t “count.” Plenty of young people in Toronto, a city that seems to get exponentially pricier each year, are treating this phase not as an excuse to delay adulthood or extend their hard-partying college years, but as a way to close the gap between the adult life they had always envisioned and the scary financial reality of what it means to be independent in Toronto in 2012.
Of course, the option to move back home is limited to those who happen to live in the same city as their parents, and who can stand to be around them for longer than the odd Thanksgiving or Christmas trip home. But if you grew up in a big city like Toronto, and plan on starting a career there, it’s not such an embarrassment to call yourself a parental basement–dweller. Embrace it. It’s warm down here.
Mama, I’m coming home
If pop culture’s taught us anything, it’s that’s living with your parents isn’t always the domain of dorks…is it?
Click here for a close-up view of the infographic below