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Dear Penny: My dad wants independence. He can’t afford it. How do I help?

It would probably be good to ask his thoughts, the advice columnist writes.
[Getty Images] [Getty Images]
[Getty Images] [Getty Images]
Published Jan. 27

Dear Penny,

We are at a dilemma with taking care of an aging parent. We have a room in the house that the kids no longer occupy. Dad is free to move into it but wants more independence without having funds for such independence.

Is it a better financial move to buy him an RV and move him across state onto my sibling’s property where he will be quite alone but not fully alone, or add onto our house which is a common, allowable move in our city … providing what can be in the long term a rental unit and money maker?

We are splitting hairs over which of the two is more financially sound and are not looking for a third option.

-Splitting Hairs

Dear Splitting Hairs,

Wait, what does Dad think? Surely his vote matters more than mine.

If you want to respect your father’s desire for independence, the worst thing you can do is make this decision on his behalf.

Your offer of your spare bedroom no doubt came from a place of love. But think about this from his perspective: He’d be moving into a room that was formerly occupied by his grandkids. He probably doesn’t want to feel like a child living in an old man’s body. And I’m guessing he doesn’t want to feel like a child at the center of a custody dispute, either.

As for your question about whether the RV purchase or home addition would be more financially sound: You don’t say how much either option would cost, so I’m going into this one blindfolded.

All I can say here is that an RV would be a depreciating asset, while real estate tends to appreciate in the long run. So the common wisdom is that you’re more likely to recoup your investment on a $50,000 home addition than you would a $50,000 RV purchase.

It doesn’t sound like your dilemma is really about money, though. It’s about the larger question of what’s best for your father. And while you’re splitting hairs over this decision, it doesn’t sound like it’s yours to make.

Still, I think you should work out which option you think is best so that you can at least make your case to Dad.

But you need to stop splitting hairs here. Listen to your gut. Ten or 20 years from now, which decision would you regret more: one that cost you money or one that cost your father happiness in his golden years?

The thing I find sweet about your letter is that it sounds like you want your dad to move in with you.

You say he’d be “quite alone but not fully alone” if he moved onto your sibling’s property. I’m not sure exactly what you mean by that, but it sounds like an argument against the move. So it sounds like he’d have more company with you. You also say that the add-on is allowable in your city and that it could generate income someday.

That’s three arguments in favor of Dad living with you and one argument against him moving across the state.

But don’t pull the building permits yet.

If adding space for your dad is what you want, you still need to present this option to him. Don’t approach this conversation by telling him how old he’s getting, how little money he has or how much help he needs.

Instead, tell him how delighted you’d be if he moved in. Since you’re thinking this could eventually become a rental unit, it sounds like he’d have a lot more privacy than he would in just an extra bedroom. Tell him exactly what you envision so you can ease his concerns about giving up his independence.

You told me you don’t want a third option to add to this equation. But your father may very well have an Option C in mind. He may be determined to stay put in his current home even though you think he can’t afford to.

This will be a big decision, so expect some pushback. You aren’t just asking Dad to decide where to live. You’re asking him to accept the fact that he’s getting old.

Just know that some things matter more than money, and your dad’s happiness is one of them.

Robin Hartill is a senior editor at the Penny Hoarder and the voice behind Dear Penny. Send your tricky money questions to


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