George Ure and Gaye Levy, Contributors
With the stock market looking a bit “iffy” in the past few weeks (flirting with support levels, which if broken might lead to a retest of the 2009 lows), and with bond yields stuck and gold in a trading range, a question those lucky enough to have jobs are asking is “Where to put money now?”
Into the home – if you are not upside down in it and have at least six months of payments saved – is a pretty interesting answer. This is the time of year when home improvements go flying out the doors of the local retailers, too.
Lowes is set to announce their earnings on Monday before the open, and Home Depot’s recent reports showed strength, too. The stock market values the two companies highly at something north of $100-billion. To be sure, there are lots of drivers in play: the housing collapse of 2008 and beyond has resulted in plenty of theft of things like appliances, copper wire, outdoor air conditioners and a long list of other items.
The Boomerang Kids
But a lesser cited trend is the number of once “children” – now adults into middle age – who are moving back into the family homes with their parents or older siblings. This is happening as a result of a combination of factors: dim job prospects, low prevailing wages (especially in the service industry), punitive payments on student loan debt and, we have to say, an unquenchable thirst for toys, which to them are as important as a roof over their heads. (Did we mention that we do not pass judgment here.) For these kids, the only option to moving home is to live on the street.
In a 2010 article, New York Life (insurance) spotted the trend early and advised “Don’t let ‘Boomerang Kids” Derail Your Goals” in the context of retirement savings and so forth. The article, wisely we think, included family goal-setting and time limits for the boomerangers to return back to a more traditional life supporting themselves under their own roof.
What is happening, however, is that even though such goals (including demands and ultimatums) are set, a lot of those timelines are being pressed further into the future by recent events. The NY Life article noted that “…in October 2009, 15.6% of 20-to-24-year-olds were unemployed vs. 8.7% for people over 25.” And just this week, while the unemployment rate cited by the Department of Labor’s Employment Situation Report suggests some improvement, the “boomerang effect” is likely to continue for some time.
This calls in to play the parental expectation of having an “empty nest”, but what in reality is become what is commonly called the “cluttered nest” or the “crowded nest”.
Parental Problem – Or Opportunity?
There are several ways parents can look at the return of adult children to the home; the most important, though, is setting expectations and ground rules that will help the family (typically the parents) live better with the returning kids then they did without them.
With that in mind, we decided to make a list of different ways having helpful hands around the home could be put to use doing basic chores and then, beyond that, what some minimal home improvements could be done by the extra labor to add substantial value to a home.
Chores and Home Improvements
No, they aren’t popular, but returning kids can offset the cost of their food and additional water and electricity use by doing yard work, washing and keeping cars detailed, doing all the housework, and even cooking meals and cleaning up afterwards. In short, mom and dad shouldn’t have to put up with becoming aging servants of spoiled kids.
Naturally, there are exceptions. For example on the day of a big job interview, there is nothing like a mom-cooked meal and some of dad’s last-minute coaching. Still, returning home should add to everyone’s life, not detract from it.
Getting the boomerang kids involved with gardening – and that means planting a decent garden and weeding it – is not an unreasonable expectation.
George’s son, (Gaye calls him little George), had to move back in with his mom for economic reasons, but since he’s an industrious sort the cars are now perfect, oil changes happen almost magically, the sidewalk is pressure washed, dishes automatically get washed and put back in the cupboards and so on.
Not only that, but the dogs get washed, the garbage goes out, the gutters are cleaned out every couple of months…and his list goes on. “I’m not a kid anymore,” he says – and he’s definitely “stepped up.” In our view this sure beats funding the Bank of Dad.
Not all boomerang kids are likely to have such hustle, since some still think of parents as wait-staff. But as the New York Life article noted, a family meeting (bargaining session if it comes to that) is where all the expectations get laid out on the front end.
How to Use Labor
In many ways, young people returning home can be a stress reducer for the family. For the adults, there’s no worrying about the house when taking off for business travel or long-delayed vacations. And pet-sitting becomes a cinch.
Even better: there are lots of home improvements which are low cost – but labor intensive – which young people can do with basic instructions if they don’t already know how to do things.
1. Interior Painting: A simple “How to paint book” and a $50-bill can transform any room (and that’s for paint, brushes, and drop cloths).
3. Redecorating: Rearranging the furniture, using some of the kid’s strong friends to move about big items, and turning the kids loose on creative projects like home-made works of art for the house and yard that reflect family tastes and values keeps minds working, hands busy, and most important, keeps the couch empty.
4. Insulation: This is a big one if you live in an older home. Check on local laws and codes, but many older homes, such as those built in the 1950s and earlier, often didn’t have much (if any) insulation in their sidewalls. Even recent vintage modular homes often didn’t have good sidewall insulation, so popping off the exterior sheeting and installing 2-3 inches of insulation can pay itself back many times over in energy savings.
5. Updated Windows: Another one that’s something of a “sleeper” is replacing old, outdated windows. By shopping around a bit, you can often find reasonable quality double-glazed windows for as little as $200 per window and sometimes local building materials outfits will have specials which are the time to load up on things like new kitchen cabinets, doors, and plumbing fixtures.
6. Modest Remodeling: Although it sounds fairly daunting, remodeling a bathroom or kitchen isn’t really that hard. In the case of bathrooms, the main issues relate to getting old (sometimes heavy) cast iron tubs and other fixtures out of the bath and the new units brought in. Again, check codes to see how much an owner can do, but kids of the owner are usually considered family.
7. Furniture Makeovers: One of Elaine’s sons has found a profitable part time business that he and his wife do out of their home. It is an example of how looking through Craigslist with “opportunity eyes” can pay off big. They pick up furniture that’s beat up – often found in the free section of Craigslist. Then, after picking up a few pieces, they spend a couple of evenings with some glue, nails, paint, and spackle and turn it into “nuevo chic” furniture. They usually make $20 to $40 on each piece. Again, it’s not that they are trying to make a killing on any one item, but a little effort results in a few hundred of month of side income.
8. Do Some Upholstery Work: Given a few more basic tools, like scissors, a nail gun, a hot glue gun and some upholstery books, you might even be able to get a whole house full of “new” furniture. Old furniture frames in good condition can be found inside even the crappiest of “giveaway” furniture. All it takes is a practiced eye to see the possibilities instead of the downsides.
9. Advanced Woodworking: A lot of homes, especially those built in the 1970s and 1980s were never really “finished off” with fancy crown moldings. A few dollars in wood, paint, and learning how to make molding with a shaper or router table can add thousands of dollars of “eye appeal” to your home. Basic instruction in how to use such tools is cheap (or even free at the local home improvement center) and experience (especially on wood that’s just been sitting around) is the best teacher of all.
10. Home Grown Organic Foods: This is by far our favorite use of returning kids: load them up with library books on gardening and canning – and tell them that when they move out, they can take some of the canned goods with them. But in the meantime, nothing beats fresh-from-the-garden foods for taste, nutrition, and oh….did we mention cost?
Summing It All Up
There are lots of other ways to make money: Selling things on eBay, cleaning people’s homes, doing yard work, detailing cars – the list is almost endless. Although the kids may have jobs themselves and be working, everyone in the family pitching in can reduce the workload and increase the amount of pride and happiness in a family home.
People don’t like to think about such things, but if the markets head down again – and we do get a “second dip” and retest of the market panic of 2009, odds are good that lots more people – some not so young – will have to “Boomerang,” too. And in that case, what distinguishes average people from excellent people is how they plan and succeed regardless of economic and social conditions around them.
It is all a mind-set and that’s something you can never have taken away from you.
Introducing Strategic-Living: a practical and useful online magazine providing inspiration and guidance as we make our way through the maze of changes that are coming our way. In collaboration with my friend and colleague, George Ure, Strategic-Living will offer a synthesis of Urban Survival and Backdoor Survival with much more detailed tips, tools and strategies for creating a vibrant and sustainable lifestyle wherever your path may take you. Think of Urban Survival and Backdoor Survival as your roadmap and Strategic-Living as your detailed guidebook. Here you will find articles and photos, diagrams and how-to’s, and a healthy dose get-out-there and do it with kick-in-the-ass inspiration.