Dear Penny: Should We Raise My Mother-in-Law’s Rent for Inflation?

A couple argue with the mother-in-law in the background.
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Dear Penny,

My husband and I have been married for 10 years. We have four children (ages range from 8 to 5 months). 

We recently relocated, and my husband is not working so he can care for our youngest children. My mother-in-law retired and relocated with us. She is currently living with us and has been for over 10 months. She intends on purchasing her own home, but she’s going to purchase a new build about eight months out from now. 

We share a meal twice a week (she purchases and cooks once and we cook once). Things have gotten a bit tense because how we should split bills has become a sticking point. I had been purchasing all the laundry detergent, paper products, cleaning products and other household supplies. She pays for her cell phone, her own groceries (that we don’t use), and a fixed “rent” of $750 per month. 

However, as the cost of things has been rising, I’m beginning to wonder what is fair. What should I expect her to contribute to other bills, if anything?


Dear C.,

No wonder things are tense! You’ve got seven people living in a household, including four young children. It sounds like you’re carrying the household on your income. Even without soaring inflation, nerves are bound to run high.

I don’t know what a fair amount to charge your mother-in-law is. To get a sense of what she’d pay to rent a similar room in your part of the country, you could check Craigslist or one of the many roommate-finder websites out there. Keep in mind, though, that most of those listings won’t include four roommates ages 8 and younger.

Dear Penny

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I’m guessing that $750 a month is pretty cheap, particularly if it includes utilities and internet. But I’m guessing your goal isn’t to charge her market rent. No matter how much your mother-in-law adds to your stress levels, she’s probably not adding $750 a month to your bills if she’s paying for her own groceries. If she helps out a lot with childcare and household duties, that’s something to consider.

Of course, you deserve to be compensated for sharing your space. But I’m just saying that if you try to split hairs over what’s fair, you’re in for many long and frustrating conversations.

You and your husband need to sit down and look at how much your expenses have increased over the past 10 months. Obviously, both inflation and your mother-in-law are going to be contributing factors, as is the fact that you had a fourth child five months ago. Since you recently moved, some of that may be attributable to the costs of living in a new place.

Instead of trying to determine exactly how much of these extra expenses your husband’s mother is responsible for, try to agree on what would give you a little breathing room. Be mindful of her budget. I don’t think it’s right to, say, double her rent. But it doesn’t sound like she’s hurting too badly for money if she can afford to buy new construction. If she could kick in an extra $200 or $250 a month, would that ease the pressure a bit?

You and your husband should approach your mother-in-law together. Ideally, he would take the lead. Inlaw dynamics can get messy, after all. But regardless of who does most of the talking, make this less about what’s fair. Focus on your current reality, which is that you’re really stressed out and money is a big factor.

You or your husband could say something like, “Mom, we love having you live with us temporarily and that our kids get to spend more time with Grandma. But it’s getting really difficult to support a household of seven on one income, even when you factor in the $750 you’re paying. In the past 10 months, our expenses have gone up by X%. We’re really struggling. I know times are tough for everyone. But would it be doable to contribute $X extra a month?”

If she insists that’s not possible, think about other ways she could contribute. For example, could she help out more with childcare and cooking, so that your husband would have some time to pursue a side gig?

I think you need to be realistic, though. You can ask your mother-in-law to chip in more. But out-of-control housing costs, 9% inflation and having four small mouths are all probably straining your budget a lot more than your mother-in-law is.

Eventually, she will move out. That may be good news, but she’ll also take her $750 a month with her. As tight as things are now, start preparing for that reality. If it’s possible, try setting aside at least part of the money she’s paying you so you have a cushion later.

Household budgets across the U.S. are being stretched to the limit right now, particularly for families with young children. You may not love living with your mother-in-law, but for now, make the most of every cent she can add to your family’s bottom line.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].