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When Retiring Together Doesn't Make Sense

By Jason Alderman

Back when people from my parents' generation were first planning their lives together, most married couples looked forward to working hard for a few decades, buying a house, raising a family and then retiring together while they still had enough money and energy to travel and pursue favorite hobbies.

Some couples do manage to pull this off and thrive; but for many others, any of a host of obstacles can block their ability to retire at the same time. For example:

  • Thanks to periods of unemployment, home-value decline or 401(k) account loss suffered during the Great Recession, many couples simply don't have enough money to retire together comfortably.
  • If there's a significant age difference, one spouse may not have accumulated enough Social Security credits to qualify for a benefit by the time the other is ready to retire.
  • Women often worry that the couple hasn't saved enough since they're statistically likely to survive their spouses – often for a decade or more.
  • One spouse must continue working to supply employer-provided medical coverage until both reach Medicare eligibility age (65 in most cases).
  • One spouse is just hitting his or her stride, career-wise, and isn't ready to slow down.

Among couples who have managed to save enough to retire together, when it comes time to pull the trigger many realize they haven't fully agreed on where or how to retire; or they discover that their wishes have diverged over the years. This can put tremendous strain on a marriage if you're not willing to compromise and talk things through.

Long before you actually retire, ask yourselves:

  • Should we downsize to a smaller dwelling or even move to a retirement community?
  • Sell the house, buy a trailer and live like nomads for a few years?
  • Move to a warmer climate or to be nearer our grandchildren?
  • Move to a state with lower taxes or cost of living?
  • Start a small side business to keep money rolling in?
  • Are we finished supporting our children financially?

Even before asking those tough questions, you already should have begun estimating your retirement income needs. Social Security has a helpful online Retirement Estimator that can help ( www.ssa.gov/estimator). After you've explored various retirement scenarios, consider hiring a financial planner to help work out an investment and savings game plan, or to at least review the one you've devised.

Along with the financial impact retirement will have on your marriage, keep in mind that this may be the first time that you've been together, day in and day out. Many people are so consumed by their jobs that they haven't taken time to develop outside interests and hobbies. Well before retirement, you and your spouse should start exploring activities and networks of friends you can enjoy, both together and independently. Consider things like volunteer work, hobbies, athletic activities or even part-time employment if you miss the workplace interaction and need the money.

And finally, if your plan is to have one spouse continue working for a while, try living on only that one salary for a few months before retiring as an experiment. This will give you an inkling of how well you'll do financially and whether you might both need to keep working to amass more savings.




This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.

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