How to Talk About Retirement With Your Spouse

by Emily Guy Birken on 27 April 2014 0 comments

There are plenty of reasons why you might be avoiding The Talk with your spouse. And you're not alone. Only 38% of married couples plan for retirement together.

Granted, having a long heart-to-heart with your sweetie about asset allocation, investment strategies, and Social Security may only be slightly more romantic than discussing your father-in-law's recent colonoscopy — but not talking about it can exacerbate your fears, worries, and unmet expectations for the future.

If you're not sure how to broach the retirement conversation with your spouse, here is what you need to know. (See also: Hard Conversations You Have to Have With Your Spouse)

Start Dreaming

Mary Poppins taught us that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, and that's just as true for adults who are putting off making retirement decisions as it is for six-year-olds who'd rather not clean up.

Instead of starting with the dollars and cents of your retirement needs, get started by daydreaming with your spouse about what an ideal retirement will look like. Do you want to travel? Move to France? Finally get that little cottage on the beach?

If you start your retirement conversation with your spouse by talking about where you want your life to take you together, then it will be much easier to get excited for the less interesting or enjoyable aspects of planning. There's nothing more motivating than a fun goal.

Starting with this conversation can also help you to discover if you and your spouse have differing expectations about what your retirement will look like. It's much better to learn early on that he wants to sell the house and live out of an RV and that she wants to keep the house and turn it into a bed & breakfast. (See also: 7 Truths for a Successful Retirement)

Determine Your Minimums

Once you've gotten a chance to indulge in your pie-in-the-sky dreams together, it's time to talk about the other side of the coin: what is the minimum you will each need to feel comfortable in retirement?

Unfortunately, this is often a time when spouses might disagree and argue over what is appropriate. Phil Taylor, blogger at PTMoney.com, wrote in U.S. News and World Report that these disagreements stem from the fact that you are not speaking the same language:

When you talk about money with your spouse, you really need to understand what type of financial life will bring you both happiness and safety. If you can clearly define what happiness and safety are for your spouse, then you can begin to have a healthy conversation about money.

Talking openly with your spouse about the minimum you will each need to feel safe and content in retirement will give you a baseline for your retirement income — while your fun retirement dreams will give you something to aim for. (See also: How Much Money Will You Need to Retire?)

Take Stock of Where You Are

Once you've had those two discussions, it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty: how much have you already saved, and how much do you still need to put aside?

This is both the easiest and the hardest step. It's easy, because it's simply a matter of looking up numbers (you do have the paperwork from your workplace retirement account, right?) and using an online retirement calculator to determine your future plans.

But taking stock is also really tough because you might be afraid that you're already too far behind to make a difference. That's why so many couples play ostrich rather than deal with the real numbers.

Of course, the truth is that you can't get where you want to go without knowing where you are now. If one spouse is more comfortable with number crunching, it can be helpful for him or her to be the point person in determining where you are and where you need to go. This is also a good time to set up a meeting with a trusted financial advisor who can help you figure out your retirement path. (See also: Advice You Shouldn't Hear From Your Financial Advisor)

Decide on Your Savings Plan

Once you know where you are currently and where you want to go, then it's time to put in place an action plan for getting there. This includes everything from determining how much you will each contribute to your retirement accounts to how you will systematically increase your contributions through the years to what your investing strategy will be.

Again, having a financial planner can help with this portion of your retirement planning. Not only will having regular appointments with your advisor prompt you to make decisions you might otherwise put off, but your advisor will also help you to understand the complexities of retirement planning that might otherwise feel overwhelming to you as a couple.

Set Up a Regular Retirement "Date" With Your Spouse

If you're dreading The Talk, I'm afraid I have bad news: unlike telling your kids where babies come from, you'll need to have this uncomfortable talk more than once. Specifically, you and your spouse should talk at least once a year about your retirement plans.

One way to make this something you both look forward to (instead of something you rank up there with root canals for sheer entertainment value) is to actually make your annual retirement talk a date. Plan on either going out to dinner or letting the kids spend the night with friends while you talk finances over a delicious meal. It's a lot harder to argue with the person you're literally planning the rest of your life with when you're sharing some mushroom risotto and a glass of wine.

Whether or not you and your spouse are in complete agreement about your retirement plans and strategies, keeping the lines of communication open and regularly revisiting those plans will ensure that your retirement will happen, even if the specifics remain a little hazy until you get there.

Making Finance Hot

There are very few couples out there who consider running spreadsheets to be a hot date. And that's a big part of the reason why so many couples simply do not talk to each other about issues like retirement: it's boring, and it can be incredibly difficult to reconcile two completely different money attitudes.

It's time to look at retirement planning differently. Talking about retirement is a new way to learn about the person you love. Having discussions about retirement can be as exciting as those first conversations you had while dating, since it can give you new insight into your sweetheart.

Then, if running spreadsheets simply does not get your motor running, you can always hire someone to help you with that.

Meanwhile you and your spouse can look starry-eyed at each while you plan your golden years.

How do you handle The Talk with your partner? Please take a moment to talk about it in comments!

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