Build a shared vision by first figuring out what will make both of you happy.
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You’ve probably looked forward to retirement for your entire career. But do you know whether your vision for retirement matches your spouse’s? Many couples assume they see retirement the same way—only to discover otherwise once they get more serious about planning.
“By then it’s too late,” says Roberta Taylor, a psychologist and co-author of The Couple’s Retirement Puzzle. “Couples grow in different ways, and they may never talk about how that affects their retirement plans. In fact, they may be nervous about having the conversation at all. People often worry, ‘What happens if we don’t agree?’ ”
Her advice: Press on anyway. Differences of opinion about retirement savings are perfectly normal. As in many parts of marriage, flexibility and communication are key to finding common ground.
Consider your priorities
The first step in making retirement decisions is to think separately about your priorities. Taylor recommends that each spouse take time alone to write down his or her dreams and plans for retirement before sitting down together. Be sure to include thoughts about when you want to retire, where you’d like to live, and how often and where you want to travel.
Consider the more difficult issues, too, such as whether you want to leave an inheritance for your heirs and where you’d live if you could no longer care for yourself. Thinking about your own priorities first prepares you to speak clearly and openly with your partner.
Be prepared to compromise
Once you have each put your dreams in writing, set a time to meet with your spouse. You may not need a strict agenda, but you should plan to express your thoughts and goals. Then, work together to create a shared plan.
Taylor says both partners should come to the meeting prepared to compromise. At the same time, you can agree to disagree on some issues, such as smaller budget items or activities each person can do separately. You can accommodate big differences, too: Instead of buying a beach house, you might settle on renting one for a month each year.
Fine-tune your plan
Once you have a rough plan in place, consider meeting with a financial advisor for help developing a detailed strategy to fund a long retirement. Together, you’ll determine how much you need to save, how to invest and when you can retire.
An advisor also can help you assess your life insurance needs, including estate strategies and long-term care insurance. You’ll want to ensure you have enough money in retirement to cover health care costs, which are rising at 5.75% a year1—nearly three times the current rate of inflation2.
Keep the conversation going
Once you and your spouse have created a plan and discussed it with your advisor, review it annually. Keeping the dialogue open is the best way to meet both partners’ needs as your lives change throughout retirement.
“Creating a shared vision for retirement means negotiating and compromising,” Taylor says. “Couples may never have done this before, but it’s a real opportunity for growth.”
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So you’ve signed up for your company’s 401(k) plan or opened an IRA for your retirement savings. Congrats! That’s a great first step. But if you haven’t made your investment choices yet, you may still be behind the curve.