Jean Chatzky Asks – Are You on the Same Retirement Page as your Spouse?

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Jean Chatzsky

The following is a contribution from the Today Show’s financial editor, Jean Chatzky. I had the pleasure of speaking with Jean while at FinCon last year and asked if she would share some of her wisdom with our community. I’ll turn it over to Jean…

One thing I cover pretty extensively in Money School’s Yes, You Can Retire class is the fact that couples are largely on different pages – if not even different books – when it comes to retirement. You’re planning to continue to work until they drag you out; he wants to spend six days a week on the golf course. You’d like to rock on your front porch all day; she wants to travel the world. You want to move closer to the kids; he’s thinking about sunny Florida.

As you can imagine, these differences can cause major problems within a relationship. Worse though, may be the fact that many couples aren’t talking about their retirement expectations at all.

Steps to Getting on the Same Retirement Page with Your Spouse

If you and your spouse aren’t on the same page – or you haven’t had these discussions at all – this is your wake up call. Here are my tips on broaching the retirement conversation:

  • Use the news as a doorway.  Starting a tough conversation is generally the hardest part – you might find that the words flow from there.  So use current events (or even this blog post) as a segue. Fidelity just announced that the average 401(k) balance has nearly doubled since the downturn. If your partner handles the finances (and we’ll talk more about this in a bit), mention that you’re interested in knowing how your accounts are fairing in comparison, and how your retirement plans might need to be adjusted as a result. Turn that into a discussion about your hopes for retirement.
  • Do a quick exercise. Take some time, independently, to write down what a typical day in retirement looks like for you, then compare what you’ve written together. Pinpoint your differences and talk about what’s behind them. Maybe he wants to live on the beach, you want to stay put.  But what does living on the beach mean for him?  Relaxation? Seclusion? And what does staying in your current home mean for you?  Once you have your answers, see how you might produce those feelings through a lifestyle that meets both of your needs.
  • Split the work. If having one spouse take the lead on finances is a system that works for you, that’s okay, but the other partner needs to at least know what’s going on. One solution is to have monthly money chats, used to update each other on the status of your savings efforts and revisit your goals. The more meetings you have like this – and it’s completely okay if you do it over dinner and a glass of wine – the easier the conversation becomes. (Editor’s note: I could not agree more with Jean on this point. Find a way to balance responsibility of the finances in your relationship so each party is actively involved. Not only will this help you stay on the same page financially, but it’ll also help solidify the team approach to managing finances.)
  • Enlist some outside help.  If all else fails, and you’ve hit a roadblock, a financial planner can serve as a middleman.  Find one who charges by the hour or plan (as opposed to a commission) through


Editor’s note: I’d like to thank Jean for sharing her thoughts with us today. I believe that it’s incredibly important to be on the same page financially with your spouse as it’ll not only help both take ownership but hopefully achieve greater success – of course knowing ‘success’ looks different for everyone. With retirement planning in particular, it’s largely a marathon vs. a sprint. By making sure you’re each on the same page you can best prepare yourselves for what you want your retirement to look like as well as how you’re going to get there.

About Jean: Jean Chatzky, the financial editor for NBC’s TODAY show, is an award-winning personal finance journalist, AARP’s personal finance ambassador, and a contributing editor for Fortune magazine. Jean is a best-selling author; her eighth and most recent book is Money Rules: The Simple Path to Lifelong Security. In April 2013 Jean launched JEAN CHATZKY’S MONEY SCHOOL,  a series of college-style, interactive online personal finance courses that give men and women across the country the opportunity to learn from and interact directly with her. You can find Jean on twitter @jeanchatzky.

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I'm the founder of Frugal Rules, a Dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry. I'm passionate about helping people learn from my mistakes so that they can enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. I'm also a freelance writer, and regularly contribute to GoBankingRates, Investopedia, Lending Tree and more.


  • Kay says:

    All good points. A lot of couples are probably so focused on getting there that they don’t stop to talk about what it will actually look like when they are there. In addition to making sure you are each saving enough, it is just as important to make sure you each understand the other’s vision for retirement.

    The idea to write down what a typical retirement day looks like is great. This is something I will do myself.

    It’s definitely good to have the conversation of what an annual retirement budget would look like to each person too. That way you can work on savings goals together.

    • John says:

      I agree Kay. The process by which you’re going to use to get there is important, but so is the process of discussing what retired life is going to look like.

  • Eric says:

    I have had a lot of finance talks with my fiance, but we have not spent much time chatting about retirement yet, I’m thinking because it seems so far away and we have a lot of pressing money decisions before that.

    I’m going to have to put this one higher on the to-do list. I’ve shared my retirement accounts and strategy with her, but we’ve not yet decided on a strategy as a couple.

    • John says:

      Hey Eric! That is definitely understandable, I know my wife and I have been guilty of that as well. You’re already on the right page, so it should happen naturally for you and your fiance as you move closer towards retirement.

  • John great post and as usual outstanding advice from Jean. I’ve had the pleasure to attend two speeches by Jean. Besides FINCON she delivered an equally outstanding talk to a completely different audience (a room full of financial advisors) at our NAPFA National Conference a couple of years ago. While I don’t recall ever coming across a couple with completely different views on retirement, it is important to discuss and reconcile the differences a couple might have.

    • John says:

      Thanks Roger and all the credit goes to Jean! That said, I completely agree about how important it is to reconcile those differences as you move closer to retirement.

  • Dear Debt says:

    I’ve never really thought about us retiring at the same point. It feels so far away, but a conversation we should be having now. I know we want to travel, keep being creative and happy. But it takes work to get there!

  • Steve says:

    We have that issue a little bit where I am planning the finances and watching them and my wife would rather not get involved. But lately she has been helping plan and control our spending and it is working out pretty well.

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