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Help! I'm 65 and Broke From Paying College Tuition

Suze Orman's advice for parents who've dipped into their retirement savings

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En español | Did educating your kids decimate your finances? I know you had only the best of intentions, but when you made the choice to put your kids' college education ahead of your retirement needs, you put your entire family in peril. I know you are stressed out at the fact that you’re broke and in the home stretch before retirement. (Please tell me you haven’t retired yet!)

As you read my advice, please catch yourself every time you say, "Oh, I can’t possibly do that." Please stand in your truth: Building more retirement security is both kind and necessary for you and your family. The more you will be able to support yourself, the less you will need to lean on your adult kids.

 • Avoid touching Social Security until you’re 70. As I explain in "70 Is the New 65," if you’re in good health, the best financial move you can make is to delay taking your retirement benefit until age 70. Your benefit at 70 will be 24 to 32 percent higher than if you start at your full retirement age (66 to 67, depending on the year you were born). It's hard to find an investment that can match that rate of return over three to four years.

 • Don’t get a reverse mortgage. Yes, you might be able to pull money out of your home now by using a reverse mortgage, but answer this: If you’re broke while you’re still working, how are you going to pay for the home-ownership expenses you’ll still have to cover in retirement? The answer: You won’t be able to. The worst thing you can do is take out a reverse mortgage in your 60s and then find in your 70s that you have no way to keep up with the costs. You are far better off selling the home today and downsizing to something much less expensive. The gains from the sale will turbocharge your nest egg.

 • Live way below your means. Every dollar you can save now is going to help you in retirement. Don’t tell me you can’t afford to save a penny. Sell the house now, not five years from now. Get rid of one car. Scour your budget and grab every opportunity to save $5 or $10 a week. That all will add up.

 • Talk to the kids. Now. They will always be your children, but you must treat them with the respect every adult deserves. And your kids deserve to know what’s going on. They may be able to help you think through your options. Now is the time to have the frank family conversation about whether it may work for you to live with one of your children (or for one of them to live with you) and everyone pitch in on the costs. I also hope you’ll encourage them to make different college funding choices for your grandchildren, so your children are able to save for retirement. That, ultimately, can be a wonderful piece of your legacy. Spare your children the angst you’re now working your way through.


How to Avoid Running Out of Money in Retirement