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Mary Quigley Headshot

The Paradox Of Spending

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Sometimes it seems like our adult children just can't win, at least when it comes to media coverage. Earlier in the month, the Wall Street Journal, in a series called Generation Jobless interviewed parents who lamented the $200-$300 monthly cost to support their adult children living at home. Later in the week, the New York Times criticized the boomerang kids, noting that "The Economy Also Feels the Pain" when college grads move home and don't spend money on setting up apartments. For expert testimony the Times cited the "paradox of thrift" postulated by John Maynard Keynes: "Saving is good for the individual, but en masse can hurt the economy by reducing demand."

Based on my experience and that of friends, I have to humbly take issue with these articles. The figure of $200-$300 is off: It's way too low! And, the Gen Y college grads I've encountered do more than their share to stimulate the economy, especially if parents are footing the bills. Let's call it the "paradox of spending": The less they earn, the more they spend.

Many middle-class millennials may be living be home but they still have certain essential needs: beauty upkeep, healthy diets, regular exercise, socializing, entertainment, travel, and tech support. (Before we criticize the kids for acting entitled, let's remember who raised them this way: Baby Boomer parents.)

What does it really cost to have a boomerang kid? Let's examine some of those necessities: Young women seemingly require weekly manicures and pedicures. If in the spirit of togetherness, your daughter joins you at the nail salon, who do you think is going to pay, and likely for the $40 "spa" pedicure, not the no-frills $20 treatment? Then there's the hair; she must hide those roots or keep the highlights shining with monthy trips to the hairdresser. Of course, she could go to the drugstore and buy a $10 do-it-yourself kit but do you really want that mess all over the bathroom? Food? These boomerang kids are probably the only young people in America not devouring Big Macs. They require organic produce, Greek yogurt, and chicken farmed cruelty-free. If your child is vegan, double the food bill. So far as exercise, while they may jog around the local park, what happens when the cold weather sets in? That requires a gym membership.

Now that they've graduated, the millennials miss their college friends terribly, especially during the traumatic first year when they're getting used to life without afternoon naps. That means gas money, a bus ticket or airfare for mini-reunions with former dorm mates (and to get them out of your sight for a few days). Of course, so far as entertainment, they expect all 900 cable channels, so forget cutting costs with basic cable. "Hey mom, what happened to ESPN 6?" You'll need up upgrade Netflix to two DVDs at a time as well as on-demand.

So far as travel do you really intend to head South over the holidays without an entourage of adult children? A friend from the gym mentioned her husband had been looking forward to time alone on their holiday vacation, now that their empty nest was full again. He was aghast to learn his wife booked passage on their cruise for two adult daughters "What was I going to do?" the mom said with a shrug. "Leave them home?"

Let's not even talk about the iPhone. The only way to get rid of it is to surgically remove it from their hand, not an option, so that monthly tab keeps coming in. Of course, in house, high-speed Internet and wireless go without saying.

With a little luck, the economy will revive and our adult children will land good jobs and move out. But as any parent who has ever helped set up a first apartment knows too well that does not bring any financial relief. Remember the "stuff" bought for the off-campus housing that you assumed could be recycled. Forget it. A young professional apartment needs to be sleek and sophisticated, reflecting their new station in life, and filled with nice stuff like a good couch, coordinated bedding, and designer pots and pans (although they will never be used; no one under 30 cooks at home). Start hoarding those Bed, Bath and Beyond discount coupons now. You're going to need them.