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The expression “age is just a number” may be the mantra for a lot of couples who marry with significant differences in their ages. But they do have to mind the age gap when it comes to retirement.

Navigating retirement issues can be more challenging for couples who are 10 years or more apart in age. What if he’s 65 and ready to call it quits but his wife is worried that retiring early at 50 or 55 will strain their limited savings.

And there’s health care to consider. Seniors qualify for Medicare at 65. But what if your spouse is a decade too young for Medicare coverage but you want him or her to retire with you? Retiring for the younger spouse may mean leaving a workplace healthcare plan. What then? Do you have enough money to buy a policy on your own before Medicare kicks in?

In 2018 the average annual premium for single coverage was $6,896 a year, according to National Conference of State Legislatures.

If you retire before you’re 65 and lose your workplace health coverage you can use the federal health insurance marketplace through the Affordable Care Act to buy a plan. But you may not qualify for a subsidy, which brings down the cost of your insurance.

Mary Harb Sheets of San Diego wrote, “One consideration my husband and I had to face was health insurance. He is 5 ½ years older and was insistent on retiring at age 67. I am self-employed and our health insurance had been obtained through his employment. We chose to use COBRA to carry us the first 18 months despite the high monthly cost. At the end of 18 months, however, I was not yet 65 years old and eligible for Medicare. We had to consider options including a Covered California plan with a large deductible (even more expensive than COBRA), going without insurance, and even divorce or legal separation to qualify for another 18 months of COBRA, which still wouldn’t have gotten me to age 65. We were ‘fortunate’ (using the word very loosely) as his health declined, and he was certified as a 100 percent service connected disabled veteran which allowed me to participate in a VA plan. “

Read: Out-of-pocket health-care costs likely to take half of Social Security income by 2030, analysis shows

What if there are young children who need heath insurance?

“Healthcare can be an enormous issue, particularly if there are children (common to see second families) and if the younger partner is staying home (whether voluntary or not),” one reader wrote.

Annual premiums last year for family coverage reached $18,764.

Last week, a reader asked me: “What can age difference mean when it comes to retirement?”

Read: How will a couple’s retirement look when there’s a big age gap?

Turning to you I asked: Is there a big age difference in your marriage that may impact your retirement plans? Did you retire together? If not, why not and how is your plan working?

What I received were some inspiring stories of love and planning conquering the challenges faced by couples with big age gaps. Others shared that it’s not been easy dealing with the age difference.

Sue Cuttriss of Fillmore, California wrote, “My husband and I are 14 years apart. We ‘ split the difference’ in retirement planning. Years before either of us retired we saved one income and lived on the other. Then my husband retired at 65 and I continued on for seven years, retiring at 57. He took Social Security but not Medicare until he left my work plan. We’ve been able to do a lot of traveling as well as living on our boat for four months of the year. Only now, at 70 and 84, we’re thinking of slowing down and simplifying our future to accommodate health concerns. Our finances are solid and we’re happy with our planning.”

Several people wrote that they hadn’t considering what retirement would look like considering their age differences.

Ximena J. Calvache of the District wrote, “We are 12 years apart in age. I am the younger with no kids. I was planning to go back to school for my master’s but now I think we need to have a plan first for our retirement.”

“I found your article to be interesting because it never occurred to me that I would be retiring at the same age as my spouse (14 years my senior),” wrote Leda of the District.

Kegan Pakula of Peru, Illinois wrote, “My husband is 20 years older than I am, and I struggle to balance my desire to live life to the fullest now while our son is young and my husband is still healthy, with my desire to build our savings for the time in our lives when he may need constant care and attention. We started a family the year my husband turned 50, and I'm always aware of what that might mean for my son - losing his father in his 30s or early 40s. This is why I place such importance on the memories we make today with family outings and experiences. I contribute 20 percent of my income to my 401 (k), which is more than most people I know, but still not nearly enough according to the terror-inducing "How much money do you need in order to retire?" articles that seem to bombard my news feeds. Marrying an older man has many upsides, and I wouldn't have my life any other way. The downside is that I have had to force myself to let go of any big plans I had for retiring with my spouse. Chances are good we will never be carefree empty nesters living it up, and I am fine with that.”

“I would say that the most difficult time is now,” wrote Robin W. of Ashburn, Virginia, who will soon turn 62. Her husband is 74 and has been was diagnosed with Alzheimers . “I am still working and plan to work for at least three probably four years. Depending on what happens it could be more. I never thought about this. I know. Naive. I thought I had more time. I knew we would not have many years to enjoy retirement together, but I thought we would have a couple. It feels like I cant enjoy this time because of running around to doctors with my husband, getting support, making sure everything is taken care of, etc. I feel like I am being pushed into old age before my time. It’s like I live alone. My husband was vibrant, funny, compelling, and there for me. We have had a very good life. I would tell anyone marrying someone so much older to really think about the long term. I am worried that my savings (investments) will be eaten up by my husbands needs.”

Frank of McLean, Virginia wrote, “I am 59 and the main breadwinner in my family and my wife is 66. She is self-employed, enjoys her work, and is eligible to take Social Security but has not. Due to my salary, I have maxed out on social security for nearly 25 years, such that I will receive the maximum benefit when I retire, even if I didn’t contribute another dime. We will be relatively comfortable with savings, retirement plans and several small pensions. We still have seven years to go on our mortgage but it is small and we could pay it off if needed. She is in great health; me not so much. What do you recommend for her regarding taking her social security benefit?”

On the Social Security question read:

The great Social Security benefits debate: Take it early or wait?

Early or late: One senior says ignore the conventional wisdom of waiting to take Social Security. Take it at 62.

“There is a 27 year age gap between my husband and myself,” wrote N.R. Taylor of Lincoln, Nebraska. “Yes, you read that right. We're a good match but it's a challenge sometimes. Because of the age difference, Jerry retired at age 68 but I kept working. After he retired, we relocated and downsized. I decided to keep working for many reasons - foremost was that I've always wanted my own money. I hate feeling dependent upon others. We had always planned on my continuing to work, and we had always kept our finances separate, both having our own retirement funds, but Jerry always planned on my inheriting what he thought would be a sizable portfolio. Age related illnesses and the crash of 2008 was an eye opener for both of us. Jerry has come to realize that he had planned on his money lasting until he was in his 90's - but hadn't given enough thought to the fact that it might need to last until I was in my 90's. I had not given enough thought to how much I need to save to make sure I could keep the house running on my own dime if necessary. Fortunately, because we can live on Jerry's income - I am able to put almost everything I make into my retirement funds.”

Here’s what Taylor says she would tell younger women marrying older men.

-- “You need to either be prepared to downsize or have the funds in place to maintain the house. What happens if the roof needs to be replaced? Can you afford it on your retirement? Can your retirement pay for the lawn service or the snow removal? Do you know how much outside help it takes to run/maintain your current residence?”

-- “Keep working, and save every penny you can! You might need or want to retire early - and starting to save as much as you can early means that you will have a better opportunity of doing that. It's hard enough to keep working when your spouse is retired - but now imagine what happens if he is no longer able to do things he used to do? What if he needs more and more help just getting around the house? Can no longer drive? Has a catastrophic illness? Holding down a full time job, caring for a house and an aging/sick spouse can be utterly draining. You'll want the financial freedom to either keep working and hire help, or retire early and take care of him yourself - but you want OPTIONS - and that takes money.”

-- “Don't assume you'll inherit a bundle. He might have a bundle now - but a chronic illness, or the need for memory care, or other long term care can QUICKLY decimate a retirement account. Better to have your own bundle! Long-term care insurance is helpful too!”

“Fortunately, Jerry and I have enough (and neither of us has kids) and we'll be fine. But there were so many things I was so naive about when we married, and I don't think either of us was thinking about end of life planning during those first years.”

Gary from Coconut Grove, Florida also wanted to share some observations. He’s six years older than his wife. He retired about three years ago, and she doesn’t have retirement plans at the moment.

-- “The ‘solo’ part of retirement works best for me when I have structure to my daily life when my wife isn’t around. For example, while she’s heading off to work, I start every day with the news (including the Washington Post, of course), and then take a bike ride or work out at the gym. In the middle of the day, I always have a project or an outing. A project might be putting in new plants, or washing the car. An outing might be a museum, or perhaps a class at a nearby university. Most evenings, I try to fix something for dinner that I think my wife would enjoy.”

-- “A retired marketing professional and former journalist, I continue to write from time to time for a PR agency. The work ebbs and flows, which suits me fine.”

-- “Friendships have become really valuable. I have at least five or six friends whom I ask at random to wander to the village center for a cup of coffee and a pastry — or sometimes a gin martini, if it’s after 5 p.m.”

-- “I was late to discover the wonderful range of offerings at local universities — language classes, history, etc. I have most recently signed up for a French film class that begins in November. Cheap, and keeps the brain engaged.”

-- “Church has also been more important than I expected. We formed a little book club. A priest coaxed me into teaching a youth group, and I have been delighted at the group's intelligence, optimism and curiosity about so many things.”

-- “Since my wife’s work slows for the summer, we put more thought into the time we have together. This year, for example, we spent part of June in France. It may have been our best time together in the 30 years of our marriage.”

“While I am happy now, I should say it took a full year to adjust to retirement,” Gary wrote. “It was not all fun at first. I watched too much trash on television at first, and I got interested in Twitter, and I’m not proud of that. I gradually realized I needed structure, and it requires a level of discipline not unlike that which I applied to my job.”

Your Thoughts

Keep sharing. If you have a significant age difference what financial lessons have you learn? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. Put “Age Gap” in the subject line.

Retirement Rants and Raves

I’m interested in your experiences or concerns about retirement or aging. What do you like about retirement? What came as a surprise?

If you haven’t retired yet, what concerns you financially?

You can rant or rave. This space is yours. It’s a chance for you to express what’s on your mind. Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”

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