My Turn: When Should Parents Stop Paying the Rent?

For the recent college graduate, living in New York—the city of dreams and opportunity—is no easy feat. As twentysomethings, we sacrifice having any semblance of savings to survive in a city that promises so much social and cultural diversity. After all, when the bright lights of the big city call, who can refuse? For those who crave urban living at its best, New York is a siren, singing an irresistibly enticing song—that is, until you're lured in and, before you know it, have forked over 80 percent of your salary for rent.

I always knew I would end up in New York. After college and a three-month stint living rent-free in an uncle's Tribeca apartment, I had saved enough money to renounce further financial assistance from my parents. If I was ever in a serious financial bind, I knew they would offer help, but after 10 years of private-school education on their dime, I didn't want to come crawling back for an allowance. Besides, wasn't that the point of my expensive education—to adequately prepare me to take on the world and take care of myself? Financial independence means social freedom and absolute control over my own life. Yet among my peers, I seem to be the only one who feels this way.

Why? Because the majority of them receive some sort of financial assistance from their parents—and few say they want to change anything about the way they live. One 25-year-old friend—whose parents pay for more than half her rent and all her utilities, as well as giving her spending money—snubbed the idea of compromising her lifestyle for financial independence. Another, a 22-year-old who gets a portion of her rent paid by Mom and Dad, admitted she would be willing to cut back on "superfluous spending," but was reluctant to move out of Manhattan and into a more affordable borough like Brooklyn or Queens.

Higher rents and the need for deeper pockets are part of the charm associated with city living, but urban pricing aside, it is possible to live in any city regardless of your age or income; it just takes a little budgeting and prioritizing. Surrendering to lifestyle flexibility may be unattractive, but sometimes it's necessary. It's easy to "keep up with the Joneses" when financial responsibility is someone else's problem. The fact is, my peers who flood out of designer stores, arms adorned with shopping bags, wouldn't be able to afford their purchases without ringing up a massive credit-card debt. By continuing to provide for their twentysomething kids, parents hinder their children's ability to be financially responsible. If you don't learn to budget early on, what will inspire you to do so when your finances become your own prerogative?

It's not just Manhattan where I've noticed this phenomenon. A Chicago acquaintance was promised an apartment as a graduation gift; a Boston friend receives a hefty monthly stipend. The stakes are higher in a city, which is why many young people feel the need to compete with each other. But when parental handouts are not only offered but expected, what is Generation Y learning about living on its own?

It is disturbing when "adults" don't have their own credit cards linked to their own accounts for fear of overspending. A friend confessed to me that she didn't need to build credit. If the need for a loan ever arises, she told me, she can go to her parents or—as she secretly hopes—a husband who will take care of it.

At 25, I'm still questioning what it means to be an adult. But I know that part of it means having the financial independence to never have to rely on my parents for my decision making. This is indicative of a sort of social independence as well. If I want to plan a vacation halfway around the world, I do—and no one can tell me otherwise, because I am depending on my own means to get there. I can live wherever I want because I am paying my own rent. Financial independence has allowed for absolute control over my own life—an undeniably liberating feeling.

There is something to be said for writing that rent check each month and knowing you've managed to live comfortably on your own terms. Racking up $500 shopping sprees on Mommy and Daddy's credit card may have its momentary allure, but the adult part of me believes that working for what you have is much more rewarding than being handed it on a silver platter. And I have my own mom and dad to thank for that.