The pandemic doesn’t affect everyone’s financial decisions: Why after graduation could be the best time to struggle

Dear Pete,

My daughter is graduating from college and she landed a great job in our hometown. The plan was always for her to get an apartment right away, but with the pandemic, her father and I are rethinking that plan. She doesn’t have student loan payments and she has a decent amount in savings, but for some reason being conservative seems more prudent. At least that’s what we’re trying to convince her of. We’ve offered her the ability to live at home for a little while. What do you think?

Elizabeth; Raleigh, N.C.

Congrats to your daughter and your entire family. To graduate debt-free, with savings to boot, is quite the accomplishment. Looks like your plan worked thus far, now for what’s next.

One of the more interesting challenges I’ve dealt with over the past nine months or so is trying to decide how much I should account for pandemic realities when making otherwise unrelated decisions.

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At first, that was happening involuntarily, like in April 2020 when I found my spending had tightened significantly, despite the fact it didn’t need to. I’ve since chalked that decision up to a healthy mix of fear and prudence. The pandemic has tried to weigh in on several other financial decisions since then, from the December holidays to our interest in supporting restaurants. What I’ve learned is the pandemic doesn’t affect as many of my financial decisions as I thought it did.

Given what you’ve shared, I’m not quite sure the pandemic, or the economy it leveled, are relevant to your daughter’s decision.

It’s fascinating how our goals as parents evolve. In the past five years or so, you wanted your daughter to get accepted by the college she wanted, graduate debt-free and secure a job quickly. And just like that, she’s accomplished all three. Though I’m sure you want to give your daughter the best start toward long-term success, the next goal in line is actually her complete financial independence from you.

Graduates line up before the Bergen Community College commencement at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on May 17, 2018.

There is no better time in your daughter’s life to struggle financially than right now. She’s employed, she has no debt, she has savings, and it sounds like she wants to live on her own. If you over-curate her experience, you will absolutely regret it. Just like when you taught her to ride her bike, the training wheels coming off were the inflection point to success.

If she didn’t have a job, then yes, she should move back in with you. If she had a ton of student loan debt, then yes, she should arguably move back in with you. If she had zero savings, then yes, she should conceivably move back in with you. None of those blemishes is reality. If your daughter can’t venture off on her own, no one can. Seriously.

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Will she struggle from time to time? Hopefully. That’s how all this works. Her resiliency, a quality we’ve all come to value as of late, can’t develop unless independence develops.

If you want to weigh in one last time on her financial life, encourage her to set her household budget off her net paycheck, after she’s made a healthy retirement plan contribution of at least 10%. Since she doesn’t have student loan debts to satisfy, she can afford a reasonable apartment and the lifestyle surrounding it. All the while, she can build up her short-term savings and, more importantly, her independence from you.

The sooner your daughter learns how a work income can support her chosen lifestyle, the better. This is especially true when it comes to housing costs. Both you and she have earned the privilege for her to start her work career living on her own. Congratulations on your efforts, and now you can both start to enjoy the independence you’ve collectively created.

Peter Dunn is an author, speaker and radio host, and he has a free podcast: “Million Dollar Plan.” Have a question for Pete the Planner? Email him at AskPete@petetheplanner.com.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

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