A retiree who stopped working at 52 shares a 'major financial shock' of retirement: his kids

Dirk CottonCourtesy Dirk CottonDirk Cotton.Courtesy Dirk Cotton

  • Dirk Cotton retired from AOL at age 52. After retiring, he was surprised by two big expenses: healthcare, and his children.
  • Since he started a family later in life, his retirement and his children's college overlapped.
  • He found that putting his three children through college and helping to support them afterwards was a big expense. 
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As millennials are having a harder time getting on their feet after college than the generations before them, it's no surprise that their retiring parents didn't exactly plan to support them for so long.

Dirk Cotton retired from a job as an engineer and executive at AOL in 2005 at 52 and lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Since retiring, he's spent his time researching and writing about retirement finance and blogging about it on his site, The Retirement Cafe.

When asked about the expenses he didn't expect in retirement, he named two: his healthcare, and his kids.  

He says that while his biggest surprise expense in retirement has been the soaring cost of healthcare, his other major expense came after his kids left college. "The second major financial shock is that nowadays your kids never actually leave home," says Cotton. "We still had adult children to help."

Cotton says that after college, it wasn't easy for his children. "They had the same troubles that a lot of people are having, getting their career started," says Cotton. "They'd come back from time to time when they were between things." 

Plus, he had to put them through college in the first place. 

"My wife and I had our our children later than most," he says. "We'd been out of  college for about 13 years." So after retiring, he continued: "After retirement, I was also faced with putting three kids through college." One of his children decided to pursue a master's degree and go to medical school, which extended his education costs. 

Cotton is hardly alone in helping his adult children.

Parents are supporting their children for much longer these days. Living at home with parents is now more common than living alone or with a roommate or partner among young adults, according to data from Pew Research Center. Couple that with people opting to have children later in life, and it's starting to mean that putting kids through college while living on retirement funds is a reality for many.

But now, two of Cotton's three children are married and living on their own. "I don't foresee either of them coming back," he says. "My middle son has visited for long periods a couple of times, but now it's mostly us."

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