Managing the Transition to Adulthood

You might not think about it now, but that child that you tuck in each night will at some point reach adulthood, or at least some semblance of it given the present economic circumstances.  Just as we should never have gotten into Iraq without some serious consideration about the endgame, parents should begin to consider their own endgame with the kids, i.e. phasing out their own responsibilities and passing them along to the nascent adults.  It’s a question that my wife are only now starting to consider with the Eldest of our three children, who is now entering her senior year in college and is legally able to drink.  How should the parents phase out their present responsibilities?

It’s not like it used to be where the kids left home after graduation – high school or college – and got a job that permitted them to become financially independent adults.  The jobs environment of the decades through the 1990s is no longer operative as the one-person-full-time-with-benefits job model has been replaced with the multiple-part-time-no-benefits job model; what some have begun referring to as the gig economy.  This move towards a newer, more uncertain way to make a living exacerbates what has become a debate on when adulthood actually begins.  The consumption model of the economy is predicated upon the formation of households to sell all of the wonderful stuff that makes a house a well-furnished house (not a home, just a well-furnished house unless you put in the effort and time) and when the young people cannot afford or are unwilling to make those decisions – moving out, marriage, parenthood – then the result is a slowdown in the economic driver as those milestones are, at best, delayed.  Toss in the albatross necklace of student debt and there’s a true impediment to economic growth.  The result is that there a fair number of middle-aged parents who are doing what they can to help their nascent adult offspring; the question that you should consider while you still have time is to what extent you wish to go?

When I survey the panoply of Opies that I’ve come to know through the older two kids, Eldest and Middle, there’s a massive disparity between what different parents will do for the kids.  At the one end of the spectrum are the sets of parents who actually expect the kids to help with paying the multiple household bills that come in, including mortgage and utilities.  The thought process seems to be congratulations, you’re now an adult and despite only having a part-time job, we expect you to chip in as a full-fledged adult.  The fact that Junior might only be a high school graduate or have outstanding student debt overhanging him is irrelevant to the situation.  The kid – adult? – is expected to contribute even if it means that he’s further handicapped and prohibited from getting out on his own because of this requirement.  While it is unscientific, my observation seems to be that these cases are predominantly amongst parents who are best described as working class or blue collar and could likely be under financial stress as well.  In one particular case, the young adult has been told for years that once he reached the age of 18, he’d be responsible for his own food, clothing, transportation and would have to pay rent as well. 

The other end of the spectrum are those who not only stand responsible for educating the kids, but are also willing to provide financial cover for as long as legally practicable.  I know of multiple sets of parents who are keeping the kids on their employer-provided health insurance even after they’re graduated from college.  One close friend even researched the regulations and found that her chemical engineer son could stay on her insurance until the age of 25, even if he was well-employed with a plan that he could purchase through his own employer.  Since this young man has graduated from college and graduate school with a considerable amount of student debt – he once commented I’m in so much debt that I could start a government – every little bit that he can throw at the debt to work it down is worthwhile and their family understanding is that cover will be provided so long as the money goes to pay off the debt.  It’s ditto for the auto insurance and the caveat is that he and his siblings will stay on the auto policy until they can truly take on their own or they screw up and cause the premium to rise.  This also brings up the other aspect which is that of responsibility; if the parents think that the kid is responsible enough to appreciate the privilege that’s being afforded by the parents and is actually appreciative of it.  If the kid is technically an adult but the privilege afforded actually prevents him from learning by shielding from poor consequences, then nobody would think poorly of any parent that threw in the financial towel and said to hell with it.

So think about it and start to determine where you are.  It’s a multi-dimensional question with parameters of age – kid and parent – as well as breadth – just financial or extending to other areas – and personal philosophy.  But understand that it’s a question worthy of consideration as the present economic climate continues to warp and torque what was once conventional wisdom and practice about life and adulthood.

The Value of a Car…

If there’s anything that’s become apparent in the past month, it’s the necessity for having a vehicle in order to hold a job.  There’s always public transportation if both your home and job are near a route, but it’s highly possible that either one or the other won’t be near one and in that case, a car is vital for a livelihood.  Such was the lesson when multiple vehicles in the PracticalDad household simultaneously opted for a sit-down strike, creating mayhem in the otherwise smoothly flowing schedule.

This is a family that has lived with a vehicle philosophy:  buy newer used and run them until the wheels drop off and by that, I literally mean that.  Except for my wife’s Toyota – now at 11 years of age and more than 180000 miles – we’ve always driven used and four of the cars throughout our 28 year marriage have been towed away for salvage.  Some have died quietly, with a whimper or a simple passed away in its sleep overnight and one went with a violent fit, tossing a piston through the engine while running at 60 miles per hour on a four lane highway.  The point is that we drive them until they simply won’t be driven ever again.  Until recently, the stats on the four vehicles were that the youngest was my wife’s, at eleven years of age although that was also the highest mileage, followed by my rolling dumpster with 151000 miles.  Each of the older kids had their own beater, one a hand-me-down from Grandmother when she gave up her license, and each needed it since both worked two summer jobs to beef up the bank account for the school year.  We also know kids who have had to borrow one or another of our own in order to get back and forth to jobs because of their own want of a vehicle.

But the past month was a figurative wreck as first one car – Eldest’s – went down with what appeared to be terminal issues, followed by my own.  This left us with a math problem:  two vehicles split amongst four drivers, one of whom requires a fully functioning automobile and another two that have to make it to another four separate jobs between them, each job working a different shift each day.  The ten point question is this:  how do you make this work?  Given that Youngest also had his own set of activities and I run the household, the only way to conceivably make it work was to revert back to earlier years when Dad literally ran a taxi service.  If one of the working kids had a late shift and no one required use of a vehicle, then that kid drove to work; otherwise, it was once again Dad’s Taxi and it wasn’t uncommon for me to toting and hauling on a midnight run to a job.  It was the first of a series of lessons for the kids – the need for many of the working poor to have a vehicle in order to even have a shot at holding a job at all.

So apart from that realization, what other lessons came from the experience?  First was whether it was even an option to even repair it and Eldest already had done a visit to Kelly Blue Book to ascertain the value of her vehicle.  The second lesson was the value of a good mechanic.  Since I was out of town that week, she and my wife had it towed to a shop that’s done some of our repairs in the past but with which I’ve become increasingly concerned over the past year.  When they reported that her car had a cracked head gasket with repairs at a cost of $2700 – outstripping the car’s value of $2200 – I had it towed to another garage for a second opinion, recalling last Autumn’s out of state car repair event when the repair cost was significantly less than originally anticipated.  In this case, the second garage fixed Eldest’s car for less than $60; which was also the third lesson, the value of a second opinion.  Throughout the process, conversations with the kids about the progress continued so that they knew what was happening as it occurred.  The point was to not only keep the costs down and the vehicles running, but also to teach them so that they would have an idea of what to do should this happen to them in the future. 

The final lesson was about how to purchase a new vehicle and surprisingly, it was Youngest who came along for those sessions since his elder siblings were working.  While my van was likewise repairable, the risk of running old vehicles made it apparent that we still needed a more reliable car and since she deserves it, it would go to my wife.  Youngest sat in on the sessions with the sales reps but all heard the questions and commentaries to my wife – what do you really need and what do you really want?  Once the parameters were established, it was a question of finding what worked and most cost-effectively. 

So we now have a new 2015 to complement the others.  Both mine and Eldest’s were repairable and are in use, although mine is now used solely for hauling equipment, debris and yard waste.  It’s a little more for the insurance but it’s still cheaper than ruining one of the other vehicle’s interiors or renting a pickup truck.  The final point is this:  these experiences and decisions are all part and parcel of adulthood and it’s better to teach the lessons yourself when they’re available than just expecting that the kids will figure it out when they’re older.  If situations arise, identify them to the kids and talk through the process with them, engage them whenever possible and share the results with them.  For these everyday adult occurrences, no young adult should ever have to look back and say I wish someone had told me before.

PracticalDad Price Index – August 2015 / Total Index Collapse

PracticalDad note:  This is an abbreviated update for the August 2015 Price Index.  The summer has been busy and full and writing has been curtailed because of, well…life.  That said, the pricing for the August edition of the PracticalDad Price Index did occur at the first of the month and this is the abbreviated version; more will be coming on this when things gear up again in another week.

The PracticalDad Price Index resumed it’s decline, which has occurred almost uninterrupted since reaching the peak in late 2014 and early 2015.  What is most notable is that the Total Index (covering the cost of 47 grocery store items priced in three unrelated grocery stores with November 2010 = 100) dropped significantly by 1.34 basis points from July’s reading of 106.30 to August’s level of 104.96.  The Food-Only Index of the 37 Foodstuff items from the basket also declined in the month, although not as precipitously; July’s Food-Only Index was 107.35 but declined to 106.97 in August.  Please note that the peak index reading for each category was 111.32 in January 2015 for the Total Index and 115.13 in December 2014 for the Food-Only Index.  Since those peaks, the Total Index has given up 56% of the price increases that had occurred since the Index’s inception in November 2010; the Food-Only Index component has given up 54% of the price increases that occurred since November 2010.