Talk with your spouse now about retirement plans

There are many reasons I agreed to marry my husband, but one thing that clinched it for me was his answer to a question I asked early in our courtship.

“Where do you see yourself when you retire?” I wondered.

“I see myself in a rocking chair on a porch in a warm location watching our grandchildren playing in the backyard,” he said.

I swooned.

I’ve been looking forward to retiring with this man ever since. And in our 20 years together, we’ve had many conversations about our retirement plans.

Last year, Fidelity Investments conducted a survey to find out whether couples are talking with each other about how they see their retirement years. For the most part, the surveyed couples who were approaching retirement or already retired weren’t communicating well.

Less than half of couples were handling their retirement investment decisions and savings together. One-third said they either don’t agree or don’t know where they plan to retire. Nearly two-thirds of the couples approaching retirement didn’t agree on the age at which they would retire.

“Millions of American couples have worked very hard to save for retirement. However, far too many don’t take the time, or have the comfort level, to jointly discuss their plans for the future,” Kathleen A. Murphy, president of personal investing at Fidelity, said when the retirement survey was released.

Murphy said couples should sit down long before they retire to discuss not just financial issues but things such as what lifestyle they hope to enjoy.

Not sure how to get the conversation going or worried it will end in an argument? Then I have a book for you. In fact, this would be a great gift to give your spouse for Valentine’s Day. To me, the romance in a relationship is enhanced with better communication, especially regarding something as important as retirement.

So this month for the Color of Money Book Club, get “The Couple’s Retirement Puzzle: 10 Must-Have Conversations for Transitioning to the Second Half of Life,” by Roberta K. Taylor and Dorian Mintzer.

Taylor and Mintzer, who are relationship therapists and retirement coaches, offer advice that will help you map out a plan on how to live happily in retirement with your partner.

The two authors spend time addressing and then busting retirement myths. For example, you may think your retirement will be fine as long as you’re financially secure. That’s not necessarily so. What if your spouse wants to move Florida, but you hate the idea of living in a hot-weather area? What if you had planned on a leisurely retirement with a lot of traveling, but your spouse wants to stay put and keep working full-time or start a business or second career?

“There are major decisions to consider when planning your retirement transition, and you probably won’t see eye to eye on all of them,” the authors say. “Compromises often need to be negotiated, with offers and concessions going back and forth, until you meet somewhere in the middle.”

From the start, Taylor and Mintzer ask couples to take a 10-question quiz to see if they are in sync. Much like a therapy session, rather than tell people what to do, the authors use exercises and other people’s post- and pre-retirement stories to get couples to think ahead and anticipate areas where they might disagree.

“The structure may help you avoid arguments and have more positive conversations,” they write. “The goal is to clarify what is important to each of you in developing a shared vision for the next part of your life together.”

This book will help you create a long-term plan. Some of the must-have conversations include:

●At what age you want to retire.

●How you can talk about your retirement finances without fighting.

●Where you wish to live.

●How you want to spend your time in retirement.

Most important, when you have these conversations, have what the authors call a BLAST. Start with the “B” and don’t let blaming get in your way. Listen without interrupting your spouse. Agree to disagree if the conversation is getting heated. Set a safe space for your discussions. Take the time to talk without distractions.

I’ll be hosting a live online discussion about “The Couple’s Retirement Puzzle” at noon Eastern on Feb. 23 at washingtonpost.com/conversations . Taylor and Mintzer will be joining me to answer your questions.

Every month, I randomly select readers to receive a copy of the featured book, which is donated by the publisher. For a chance to win a copy of this month’s book club selection, send an
e-mail to colorofmoney@washpost.com with your name and address.

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Or e-mail: singletarym@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible. Please also note that comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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