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