He says Phoenix, she says Vermont: is your idea of retirement in line with your spouse’s (and how to fix it if it isn’t)

By Jean Chatzky - April 8, 2020

The earlier you begin to talk with your spouse about what retirement will look like, the sooner you’ll know if your hopes align. Jean Chatzky shares a few tried and true tips for how to start the conversation, make adjustments and prepare to compromise.


After years spent together weathering the “for better or for worse” that comes with every marriage, you already know that you and your spouse won’t agree on everything. But you also know that one of the signs of a healthy marriage is getting past differences of opinion to find a compromise that works for both of you, whether it’s finding a happy medium on the thermostat dial or taking turns choosing what to watch on Netflix.

The ability to get on the same page is particularly important when it comes to your retirement. You don’t want to get within view of your golden years and realize that you’ve been dreaming of globe-trotting travel while she’s been planning to fill in as a nanny for the grandkids. Here’s how to make sure that your goals are aligned:

Talk about it
a lot.

The earlier you can begin talking about what your retirement will look like, the sooner you’ll know whether your hopes align—and the more time you’ll have to make adjustments. When retirement is still decades out, these can be vague conversations that take advantage of the opportunity to dream together. You might decide you want to spend retirement at the beach, for example, without specifying which one (or even which coast) or that you’re hoping to downsize from the family home.

Listen not only to what your spouse says they want in retirement, but also to why they say it’s important. As retirement approaches, you’ll want to start getting more detailed. Talk about where you want to retire, how you expect to spend your days, and when you think you’ll be ready to quit work. Get as specific as possible—and prepare to compromise.

Dr. Sara Yogev, a psychologist and author of A Couple’s Guide to Happy Retirement and Aging, says she had one couple that thought they were completely aligned in their plan to travel though Europe in an RV when they retired. “But then they realized that her vision was to rent an RV and travel three weeks a year,” Yogev says. “His was to spend six to nine months there continuously.” 

"Listen not only to what your spouse says they want in retirement, but also to why they say it’s important."

Consult a pro.

The key to pursuing your retirement dreams—whatever they may be—is putting a financial plan in place that will give you a roadmap to help get there. A financial planner can help you create the plan, and may also be able to serve as a neutral third-party, helping you find common ground and let you know what it will take to realistically meet your goals.

Couples have an advantage when it comes to retirement planning, since they often have double the income and assets (and two together can live more inexpensively than two alone). But their job is also more complicated, since they need to account for variations in age, health, and life expectancy. The process of putting together an actual plan forces you to talk through many of the details of retirement planning, each of which is an opportunity to air views and opinions you may not have previously voiced to your spouse. If the plan is in writing (hint: it should be) it also literally puts you on the same page when it comes to retirement, allowing you to take a team mentality to the task of preparing for it. Even if you keep some or all of your finances separate, many of the decisions that each of you makes will impact the other.

“You don’t want to be working on competing goals or things that conflict with each other,” says Sharon Marchisello, author of Live Cheaply, Be Happy, Grow Wealthy. “When you have two people working toward the same thing, you’re able to achieve it more easily.” Plus, the more resources you have, the more flexibility you’ll have to create compromises that work for both of you.

Figure out ways to pick up the slack.

Just because you’re heading in the same direction, however, doesn’t mean that your retirement and your spouse’s retirement will be identical—and that’s OK. Many spouses don’t retire at the same time, and there are plenty of reasons—financial and otherwise—that one spouse may stay in the work force longer than the other.

That said, it’s can also take some finesse. When one person stops earning an income and the other doesn’t, it calls for sitting down and going over the budget. How will bills get paid? Will one support the other so that you don’t have to dip into retirement accounts or tap Social Security sooner than you’d like. Then do the same with the running of the household. Yes, the newly retired spouse may want to try out new hobbies and activities, but maybe they can also take on some of the tasks (shopping, cooking, errand running) previously done by the one still in the workforce.

Even if you are on the same calendar, it’s still important to give each other space to find new endeavors that light them up. You may find that one of you falls in love with hiking while the other find fulfillment volunteering regularly. You’ll each be able to do more of the things you like if you’re not forcing a reluctant spouse to do them as well. Yogev’s clients ultimately decided that she would fly back home once a month for 10 days, while he stayed in the RV, and that he would join her once every few trips.

Allow for flip flopping.

Finally, realize that your retirement dreams at 40 may be vastly different from your plans at 60. And you may find that the plan and pace that worked for you at 60 needs an overhaul a few years later when a health issue arises or there’s a new irresistible grandchild that needs visiting.

Recognize that the retirement that each of you wants and needs will evolve over time, and don’t hold it against your partner (or yourself) if they decide after a few years that they want to take a break from traveling or don’t enjoy spending time on the lake everyday as much as expected.

Instead, aim to create an environment where you’re each comfortable letting the other know when something isn’t working. Look at your changing desires as an opportunity to take another look at your plan and revamp it, together.

“It’s never too early to start retirement planning, and it’s never too late to backpedal and ask how we can make it better, and to appreciate each other a little more,” says Dorian Mitzner, a retirement coach and co-author of The Couple’s Retirement Puzzle: 10 Must Have Conversations for Creating an Amazing New Life Together.

With Beth Braverman





About the author
Jean Chatzky, Financial Editor, NBC's TODAY Show
Jean Chatzky, the financial editor for NBC’s TODAY show, is an award-winning personal finance journalist, AARP’s personal finance ambassador, best-selling author, and host of the podcast HerMoney with Jean Chatzky on iTunes. 


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