Talking to Your Spouse About Retirement

Sandra Cleveland |

Many couples, especially in two-income families, keep at least some of their earnings separate.  This can make it challenging to reach a place where both spouses have a complete grasp of their monthly income and expenses.  If this is true for you, then as you are approaching retirement is a critical time to sit down with your spouse and make sure you both have a thorough understanding of what your finances look like and make sure you are on the same page with your retirement goals and expectations.


If you have managed to get through the early career years, the raising children years, and the college years, you may think the empty nest and early retirement years will be a cinch.  But managing your finances in retirement can be somewhat different than during your working years.  If your income is decreased, your assets are finite, and the fix for most budget shortfalls will likely be to spend less.  On the other hand, there are also those who live too frugally and go without things they need unnecessarily because they don't realize they can actually afford them. 


Tips for making retirement prep discussions peaceful and productive


Some couples find discussing money to be a touchy subject, and conversations about it tend to turn into arguments.  But it’s important for couples planning for retirement to be on the same page regarding spending and sources of funding.  The closer you get to retiring, the more critical it is because the stakes are very high and mistakes at this stage can be very costly. 


Here are my top pointers to remember when you’re meeting with your spouse to talk about retirement:


1.  Set a specific time for the meeting – say this coming Wednesday – and agree to meet for a specific length of time; perhaps 20 minutes or so.  The point is to plan to have a productive and deliberate discussion without the topic coming up because of a problem. 


2.  If you expect this to be a difficult conversation, plan before the meeting starts to do a fun activity together afterward.  Don't blow your budget, but plan for a nice dinner out or pizza and a movie at home. 


3.  Identify a clearly-defined area of your finances to discuss, for example, total household expenses.  Each spouse should bring a list of all household expenses he or she pays, including the amount of each.  This will define what your household expenses are now and can be used to forecast what they will be during retirement. 


4.  Don’t criticize your spouse about what’s in the past.  This is not a time to complain about how bill-paying has been handled before or that the bills are too high.  The purpose is to have a meaningful and respectful dialogue that results in each spouse having an understanding of their financial baseline and feeling ownership of the family finances. 


5.  Next, turn the conversation to focus on your goals and dreams rather than just the bills. In a casual conversation, talk about shared goals – such as an anniversary trip, a weekend at the beach, or a ski weekend.  Work together to determine how much that goal will cost and when you think you will be able to fund it. Then plan the event together and enjoy the process. 


If you don’t see the progress you desire, consult a financial advisor or take a financial seminar to jumpstart your discussions. 


The most important tip of all


My biggest tip is to have this discussion now; it’s never too early to initiate it.  It’s wise to iron these things out sooner rather than later.  Whether due to corporate downsizing, economic downturns, or health issues, retirement sometimes comes before you choose.  If it catches you off-guard, the resulting stress makes these conversations unnecessarily difficult.  But a little work together to get a shared view of your resources, spending goals, and desired lifestyle can help you make your golden years truly glisten.