How to Retire in Harmony

By Kiplinger's Personal Finance | October 12th, 2016

Tips from Kiplinger's Personal Finance

When I was married, my husband often expressed a desire to retire to Phoenix, but I was perfectly fine where I was. The one happy byproduct of my divorce? Phoenix is off the table.

My ex and I obviously had other issues, but even rock-solid couples can discover that they have different goals or expectations for retirement. “He wants to live at the beach; she wants to live in the mountains. He hopes to spend more time with her; she wants to spend more time with the grandchildren,” says John Sweeney, executive vice president of retirement and investing strategies at Fidelity.

Couples also have trouble expressing their expectations for each other in retirement, especially if one spouse retires first, says Dorian Mintzer, a retirement-transition coach in Boston and co-author of The Couple’s Retirement Puzzle: 10 Must-Have Conversations for Creating an Amazing New Life Together (Sourcebooks). The working spouse, for instance, might expect the at-home spouse to do more of the household chores, whereas the at-home spouse has no clue that’s on the agenda.

The first logical step is to discuss up front how and where you want to spend your retirement, expressing your views as “this is what I’m interested in doing” rather than taking aim at the other person’s ideas, says Mintzer. The goal is to hear each other out and then work toward a mutual decision, she says. “Talking sets the framework and allows people to realize they can problem-solve together.”

Once you have the outlines of a plan, you still need to identify how you’ll pay for it. A financial planner can help you run the numbers and, if necessary, provide a reality check. Anne Chernish, a certified financial planner in Ithaca, N.Y., has her clients describe how they see their life at key stages, including retirement, and helps them budget their expenses accordingly.

If the numbers don’t work, you could end up on the same page faster than you think. Suppose one of you wants to downsize and the other has been resisting the idea, but both of you want to travel. If you discover that your retirement budget doesn’t support frequent trips, you might free up cash by downsizing after all. Or, if you can’t agree on whether to retire at the same time and the budget shows an income shortfall, having one person work longer (maybe part time) becomes a no-brainer. Even disagreements about who will do the chores when one spouse works can be partly solved if you know you can afford to hire a housekeeper a few times a month.

–By Jane Bennett Clark

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