For the past four years, if you asked me where I lived, I would tense up. I was a college graduate who hadn't moved out of the suburban house where she grew up.
I graduated from the State University of New York at Binghamton in 2012 with a good job offer in New York. I was going to move out within a year — or so I thought.
It wasn't until the summer of 2016, four years later, that I moved out of my parents' house in Westchester into an apartment in Manhattan.
My friends talked about their new apartments in the Upper East Side or in downtown Los Angeles. I felt truly lucky and grateful to have parents that could welcome me home, but I was also embarrassed. Did people think I was lazy, unadventurous, unsuccessful?
According to Pew research, living with one's parents is the most common living arrangement for Americans ages 18 to 34. And though it's the most common negative stereotype levied against millennials, living with my parents was one of the best decisions I could have made financially and career-wise in my 20s — and one that set me up for success in the coming years.
If you have the opportunity, the privilege to live at home after college, don't feel embarrassed. Here's what I learned from the experience:
I saved a ton of money:
Over the four years I lived at home I saved about $62,000 on rent and utilities.
To reach that number, I tallied the costs of my fictional alternative life in the city, assuming I lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Harlem with a roommate. The range for rent on a similar apartment is $2,200 to $4,500. Factoring in utilities and the fact we might not be able to snag the cheapest possible apartment, I planned for monthly costs of roughly $2,500 and divided by two.
Since I lived farther away from New York City, I had to buy a monthly Metro North card from Harrison, New York, which costs about $260. Along with occasional subway rides, my transit costs added up to about $14,000 over the course of the four years.
Still, that left me with savings of $47,000.
While that money didn't go directly into my savings account, it went toward paying off my student loans, helping out with the occasional grocery run for my family, going out with friends or siblings, and eventually, covering costs associated with graduate school.
While I received a scholarship to attend the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism (which was a great investment in my career) I still had to pay for books and some equipment. Had I been saddled with New York City rent, that would have been challenging.
I found a job in the industry I love:
After graduating from college, I had a good job in marketing with benefits and a salary. But after about a year, I realized that I wanted to be in another field, journalism.
Had I chosen to move out and live in New York, quitting my job to break into a new field would not have been an option. While I had previous journalism experience, it was only after I completed three low-paying internships that I landed a promising writing job.
Living on your own as a 21-year-old certainly has its advantages, but if you can't afford it or don't want to, here's how to make living with your parents work:
1) Set a target move-out date
Have a date or a benchmark after which you'll move out. By determining this at the beginning of your tenure at home, you won't feel like you're "stuck" there forever.
For me, the target move-out date was after I found a steady job in journalism. While this took longer than I had expected, having the benchmark kept me goal-oriented.
2) Have a frank conversation with your parents about what is expected of you
I offered to pay rent, but my parents said they would rather have me spend my take-home income paying off my student loans.
Instead, they expected me to help out with my siblings — I was a live-in tutor and a part-time chauffeur. At first this wasn't clearly established and led to small arguments. But after a straightforward dinner conversation, the arrangement was formalized and we were all at ease.
3) Make time to get out of the house
The worst days at home were ones where I felt stuck. I would see photos of my friends going on last-minute trips to Prospect Park or book shops. Since I lived over an hour and a half away from some of these places, I couldn't join.
Plan ahead so that you have time to hang out with friends. If you don't have anything specific planned, find a gallery, cafe or park to enjoy on a whim. The physical act of leaving the house made me feel more independent.
4) Don't feel embarrassed
When someone asks you where you're living, don't slouch over, break eye contact or project any insecurity — because you shouldn't have any! Own the decision you've made to save extra money and take time to figure out your career path.
If it makes you feel more confident, work that line of thinking into your response.
"I'm living with my parents while I save up and figure out my next career move."
Oh — and don't forget to thank your parents. I'm happy having my own set of keys in Manhattan, but I wouldn't have traded the experience of living at home after college for anything. I'm working in the industry I want to be in and am not overwhelmed by student loans. I'm happy I could spend so much quality time with my siblings after college.
And now, they have a place to crash if they're ever downtown. But that's a different story.