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There comes a time in every parent’s life where they must bid their children goodbye, at least in the sense of sharing a household. Whether children go off to college out of state, simply move into their own homes, or even decide to move in with friends just down the block, parents usually go through a sort of grief process. This is commonly referred to as “Empty Nest Syndrome,” and the sadness associated with it is very real.

Life changes drastically for parents after all of their children are gone. They suddenly find themselves with a lot more free time on their hands. Wait, more free time? And possibly more money? It seems like there are things that could be done to ease the sadness of empty nest syndrome… So, let’s take a look at some of the ways parents can ease into this transition.

Get Back to Dating

Many parents had children at some point in their 20s, and for some, even younger. As this was the case for many parents currently seeing their children off to college, many of them never got much of a chance to be a couple before they were parents. Now is a great time to plan romantic dates with your spouse and harken back to a time when you were carefree and in young love.

For single parents, dating may have been sacrificed in favor of child-rearing. If that’s the case, this can be a great time for focusing on yourself and maybe even getting back into the dating scene.

Go on a Trip

Now is a great time to take that two-week vacation to Greece, or plan an African safari with your closest friends, spouse or significant other. Traveling can be a great way to cope with the feelings of loss and sadness that come with being an empty nester, without uprooting your whole life or making any drastic changes. It’s also a good way to reward yourself for making it through the challenges of parenthood.

Remodel Your Home

For those who own their homes, but have been avoiding updating due to the expense that comes with raising children, now might be a good time to remodel. Maybe the basement needs to be finished, or the kitchen needs new appliances. No matter what you decide to update, adding value to your home is never a bad idea. Beware of over improvement, though.

Start a Small Business

If you’ve been wanting to start a business to sell that cool thing you invented, or just strike out on your own within your current industry, this is a good time to do so. Without kids at home, you’ll have time to throw yourself into your new business guilt-free, and may stand a good chance of getting it off the ground. This can also be a great way to generate extra funds to help you afford some of the things mentioned above, or to sock away some savings or investment funds.

OK, all of this sounds good, right? But you may be wondering how you can accomplish any of these things. After all, raising kids is expensive. The average cost of raising a child to the age of 18 these days (not including college, of course) is over $230,000. However, if you’re financially prepared for this, and for life on your own, this number isn’t daunting. (Also keep in mind, it’s spread out over 18 years.) It’s best to start preparing for this time in your life when your children are still young. That way, you aren’t scrambling to figure out your life weeks before they head off to college.

Here are some of the best ways to prepare for this time period of your life, empty nester.

Start a Retirement Fund

If you’re just now starting a retirement fund, that’s okay. A small retirement fund is better than none at all. If you’re still working full time, and your employer offers it, take advantage of contributing to a 401(k)  employer-sponsored retirement account. Many employers also offer to match your contributions up to a certain percentage. This money will then be invested for you and continue to grow over time.

There are other types of retirement funds you can start depending on your lifestyle, long-term needs, and how you want to spend your retirement.

Consult With a Financial Advisor

Assuming you already have a retirement fund, now is a good time to get your finances in order and prepare for the future and the retirement you want. Consulting with a financial planner or advisor can make all the difference, and help you be well prepared for the upcoming years when your children are not at home.

Start a 529 for Your Child

A 529 is a savings account that grows over time and can help you pay for education-related expenses for your child. Recently, a new tax law made it possible to use this account for elementary education as well, meaning you could pay for your child to go to a private school with these funds, with few tax implications.

Whether you’re getting a jump on preparing, or starting after your children have already left home, it’s possible to combat empty nester syndrome with some solid planning. Allowing yourself time to grieve the proverbial loss of your children is important too. Many experts recommend you treat this time period as a time for grieving the loss of your role as a parent in the traditional sense, as well as the loss of the time when children lived in your home.

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