Can You and Your Spouse Get on the Same Retirement Planning Page?

Can You and Your Spouse Get on the Same Retirement Planning Page? 

November 20, 2013

Dear Carrie,

My wife and I are in our 50s. I'm a numbers guy and keep a spreadsheet of all our investments. My wife, who is great at managing our everyday finances and easily handles the details, says all those projections make her eyes glaze over. How can we get on the same page to plan for our retirement? 

—A Reader

Dear Reader,

As a 50-something myself, I can certainly relate. And from where I stand, it sounds like you and your wife have some powerful advantages—at least on the financial planning side of things. You’re a long-range guy, and she’s a detail person. What a team!

On the other hand, it seems to me that what you first need to do is a little more old-fashioned talking. Rather than taking out the spreadsheets, why don’t you start by making a date to simply explore ideas about what you'd like to do once you're no longer working? Without context, it’s just about impossible to know how much money you’ll want or need. So this could be a good first step to getting on the same page—and giving some meaning to the numbers.

Find out what retirement looks like to each of you
A lot of couples are surprised to discover that they have very different ideas about retirement. One person may envision the traditional approach of kicking back and relaxing while the other may see it as a chance to accomplish new things—even start a new business. Some people can't see themselves ever really retiring.

Together, look to the future. Do you want to travel? Move to a new location or stay put? Keep working part time at your current job or start something new? These are important things to talk over now because they not only affect your finances, they affect your individual sense of fulfillment.

Talk about your timeline
Timing is another important issue. Some people may want to retire at a young age, and others may want to keep working as long as they can. Being close to the same age doesn't necessarily mean you'll want to retire at the same time, nor do you have to. Retirement is a transition in many ways, and you each need to be personally—as well as financially—ready for this major change.

If you have a difference of opinion, see how you can turn it into a positive. For instance, if one of you chooses to retire earlier than the other, you'll still have one income covering the basics, which would preserve your nest egg for a while longer.

Again, it's something you'll want to talk about in advance because it's as much about your life as your life savings.

Put some numbers on paper
Here's where your differing management styles can work in perfect sync. Your spreadsheets can show how much money you project having, and your wife's knowledge of the details will help you determine how much you'll actually need for the type of retirement you want.

You'll often hear that people need at least 80% of their current income once they're retired, but it's best to get specific. Put together a sample budget. List your projected essential expenses—the must haves—such as housing, food, utilities, health care, insurance and taxes. Your wife's firsthand knowledge of what you currently spend should make this easier. Then add in extra expenses—the nice-to-haves—such as travel and entertainment. How does your estimated retirement budget compare to your current expenses?

Now it's your turn. Will your projected retirement savings and income cover these costs? And for how long? With real numbers for everyday living needs in front of you, your spreadsheets will be more valuable.

Meet with an advisor
Once you and your wife have a clearer picture of the type of retirement you want, it could be helpful to meet with a financial advisor—if for no other reason than to confirm your calculations and make sure you're on track. However, an advisor can sometimes also act as a great sounding board, and help you fine-tune your plan. That way, when retirement does roll around, you'll both be better prepared to enjoy it to the max.

Next Steps

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