I was talking with a good friend over lunch a couple Fridays ago and he mentioned that his kids were still quite young, and that he couldn’t see retiring until his kids were at least a certain age in school. I often thought about that myself before we retired and ultimately waited until my son was almost done with his senior year in high school before calling it quits at MegaCorp.
I think the age of your kids is as much a consideration for early retiring as is your own age. There is obviously a financial component to this – most parents want to save enough money to get their kids successfully through college – but the considerations go beyond money, too. In my experience, people feel like they ‘should be’ working while their kids are school-aged, and retirement shouldn’t come until they have been at college for a year or two, at the minimum.
To get some additional perspective on the subject, I turned to friends at early-retirement.org, and asked them how old their kids were when they retired and how they felt about it. It is a good group of early retirees to bounce ideas off of and see how they did it. Thirty people responded to the question and I plotted out how old their youngest child was at the time they early retired. I was surprised by what a broad range of ages that people reported …
As you can see, a full third of people early retired when their kids were very young – grade school age or earlier. Another third retired when their kids were in middle or high school (most commonly 16 years old). And, the final group awaited until the kids were in college, or older. The sample set his obviously small here, but I wanted to show the data that people reported.
In addition, many people shared how they thought about the age of their kids and their FIRE escape plan. I noticed five themes that people highlighted when they thought about when to retire …
- SPEND TIME WITH KIDS – For some people, retiring early is done for the KEY reason that they want to spend time with their kids. Some of the parents have retired when their youngest was still in diapers because they want to be home the whole time when the kids are growing up. One early retired Dad talked about how much he enjoyed having the time to volunteer coach, support their school, and be the driver to activities. I worked until our son was done with HS, but took a lot of time off to get involved in school activities. Since my office was just 5 minutes from his school, it was easy to sneak out when I needed to, even during the day.
- SEND THE RIGHT MESSAGE ABOUT WORK – Parents who retire when their kids are in high school or younger feel like they are setting a good example for their kids. They hope that it shows their kids that they worked hard and made the right choices to enjoy the freedom they have. My son has said as much in a post that he authored before he went off to college. It is great to see him be very disciplined with his saving and spending at a young age.
- NOT A BUM – One concern that people have is whether they will seem like a bum to others. One humorously noted that “as long as you don’t lay around the house in your Big Lebowski robe and drink White Russians” you should be all right. Another noted that they didn’t worry at all about the bum label – their kids never saw them at work anyway. I’ll admit that there are some times that I feel like a bum not working – but it is a good feeling, not a bad one. 🙂
- COLLEGE COSTS – The cost of sending your kids through university is on many parents’ minds. One forum member said that it would “feel a bit strange to bail out [of work] when they are in the hurricane of peak college costs”. Others are concerned about retiring early until they are even confident of their kids job prospects coming out of college. We had saved up all of the money our son needed for college in a 529 before he started high school and I’m confident he will do great coming out of college with a Computer Science degree.
- THE RIGHT MESSAGE ABOUT FAMILY – The last area that these early retirees with your children noted was that they felt their kids learned the right lessons about the importance of family. They may see other families with a much higher material lifestyle, but understand that it takes a ‘high income, high spend’ focus to achieve it. Kids whose parents work full-time have more stuff, but not as much time with their parents, help with school work/extracurriculars, or opportunity for extended family travel. Neither approach is right or wrong, but these early retirees value this approach more.
All in all, what I notice is that the paradox of kids and early retirement is that people want to be home with their kids while they are growing up, yet feel responsible for having enough money to get their kids through college the best the can. For us, we split the difference – working until we had enough saved and our son was ready for college. My wife stayed home all of those years and that was our work & home balance. She worked & I was home. Everyone will make their own decisions, but along with saving enough of a retirement nest egg, your kids ages are a key consideration on one’s journey to financial independence and retiring early.
Please comment on your plans for retiring early and the age your kids were/will be …?
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