smart spending

4 personal stories of the Great Recession

Multigenerational living: A growing trend

The recession hit Linda Tompkins well after it officially ended. The 62-year-old living outside Chattanooga, Tenn., was laid off as a nurse with Blue Cross Blue Shield in November 2010. Before she landed another job more than a year later, she had emptied her 401(k) to keep her mortgage up-to-date.

Linda Tompkins

Linda Tompkins

Prospects were looking up for Tompkins. In the spring of last year, she got a new job at a nursing home and a mortgage modification. But she soon lost her new job and her homeowners insurance shot up, erasing the savings that the modification gave her.

Unable to find a job due to her age, Tompkins says she now works part time at temporary positions and supplements her income with Social Security benefits that she applied for early. She also has cut out the usual luxuries: new clothes, vacations, dining out and movies.

She eats off-brand food and shops at Wal-Mart and Save-A-Lot instead of fancier supermarkets like Fresh Market and Whole Foods. She still drives her Toyota with 258,000 miles on it. Instead of fixing her home's air conditioning, she opted for a cheaper option, using a portable A/C to cool three rooms and fans for the rest.

Earlier this year, her daughter, son-in-law and their two children moved in after her daughter lost her first job after graduating from college. Her daughter is planning to go to graduate school because she can't find another job.

"It can be a little tight," Tompkins says. "But families did this in years that have gone by with many generations in one household. I think of it as my way to help them get started."

The rise of multigenerational housing is another legacy of the recession. A 2012 Pew study found the share of Americans living in multigenerational family households is the highest it has been since the 1950s, with a significant part of the increase occurring over the last five years.

Tompkins is considering starting her own business since her job options appear limited. That way, she can stop taking Social Security and plan for retirement.

"I keep wondering how much longer it will be like this," Tomkins says. "I say to myself, 'Maybe in three years, it will be over.'"

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