Ground rules essential for multi-generational living

Personal Finance

Although nuclear families – two generations living under the same roof – are common in South Africa, the multi-generational household is on the rise.

According to Statistics SA, 32.2% of South African households are multi-generational. This is the norm in rural black communities, and has become more prevalent among the urban white population, increasing from 4% to 8% in the past decade. There has been an increase both in elderly parents moving in with their adult children and in adult children moving back to their parental home, because they have lost their job, or because they cannot afford their own home.

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Other reasons for the increase in multi-generational households are:

• It is now common for both parents to work full time. As a result, they battle to find time for their family and household responsibilities, such as ferrying children to and from their activities, cleaning the home, supervising homework and preparing meals. Live-in grandparents can alleviate the burden on parents or eliminate need to pay someone to perform these tasks.

• Child care and after care are expensive. Time-poor, cash-strapped parents can turn to their own parents for help.

• Retirement homes and frail care are expensive, and good retirement homes are in short supply.

Tips on how to make it work

The social, financial and relational benefits of multi-generational living outweigh the negatives, but tensions and conflict can arise if ground rules are not established and adhered to. Here is some advice on how to make multi-generational living work:

• Ask a financial planner to prepare a multi-generational financial plan. The planner should assess the financial position of the grandparents and parents, and draw up a succession plan that prioritises everyone’s needs.

• Ensure that all legal and tax-planning issues are taken care of, particularly if there is joint ownership of property.

• Make sure you are thoroughly acquainted with your parents’ financial affairs so that there are no unpleasant surprises later on.

• Agree upfront on who will pay for what. For example, if your parents live in a cottage on your property, it may be wise to draw up a joint family budget where expenses are shared based on the size of the cottage in relation to the total area of the property. If the cottage takes up, say, 20% of the property, your parents could be responsible for 20% of the mortgage bond or rental payments and utility expenses – provided they can afford it.

• Make sure everyone has their own private space.

• If you have brothers or sisters and your parents live under your roof, discuss with your siblings who will pay if, for example, your parents need private nursing or frail care.

• Ensure that everyone pitches in to do the household chores.

• Respect each other’s time. If grandparents are expected to look after young children, they will need time out.

• Ensure that children understand that their parents, not their grandparents, are their primary caregivers, and their decision is final.

• Both partners must agree to the multi-generational living arrangement.

• Spouses must set aside time for each other away from their parents and children.

• Keep the lines of communication open to prevent disagreements from erupting into arguments.


The advantages of multi-generational living include:

• Expenses, such as electricity, water and rates, are shared. If finances are pooled, everyone can enjoy a more comfortable home.

• The three generations can spend more time together and build strong relationships.

• Children are cared for by their grandparents, instead of by strangers at an after-care facility.

• The financial and time pressures on parents are alleviated.

• The property is more secure, because it likely that at least one person will always be at home.

• You have peace of mind that your parents are being properly cared for.


The disadvantages include:

• Conflict can arise if ground rules to govern responsibilities and behaviour are not established and adhered to.

• Conflict will arise if finances are not managed properly.

• There is less privacy.

• If one or both grandparents fall ill, time, financial and emotional pressure could be placed on members of the younger generations.

Craig Torr, an accredited Certified Financial Planner, is a director of Crue Invest, a Financial Planning Institute-approved advisory practice in Cape Town.

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