It’s Time to Talk to Your Spouse About Retirement. Here’s How to Start.

The phrase “We need to talk” strikes fear in the heart of most partners, but sometimes a serious conversation is necessary to ensure you’re on the same page. That’s especially true when it comes to planning for retirement. It’s a big task and it’s not something most people accomplish on their own. Working together with your partner is the best way to ensure you share the same vision for retirement and reach your goal as quickly as possible.

If you’re not sure how to approach the topic with your spouse, these tips can help get you started.

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What do we want retirement to look like?

The first step, no matter how much you have in savings, is to decide what you want your retirement to look like. Here are a few questions to discuss with your spouse to bring that into focus:

When would you like to retire?
How do you envision spending your time in retirement?
Where would you like to live in retirement?
Do you plan to make any major purchases in retirement?
How do you anticipate our budget changing in retirement?

Ask any other questions you feel are necessary to get a full picture of how each of you wishes to spend retirement. If there are any conflicts — say, one person wants to live in their current home and the other wants to move somewhere else — work to resolve this in a way that’s fair to both of you.

Once you have a retirement vision you’re both comfortable with, you can move on to crafting a plan to get there.

How do we get there?

Your next step should be estimating how much your retirement will cost. You need a rough idea so you can figure out how much each person needs to save and when you can afford to retire. Once you’ve figured this out, you should be able to estimate how much you need to save per month to reach that goal. A retirement calculator can help with this.

At this point, you need to have another conversation with your spouse where you hammer out the details of how you’ll get to your savings target. You should discuss:

How much you’ve already saved for retirement
Any debt or other factors that could impede your ability to save
Which retirement accounts you’ll use to save
How much each person will contribute to retirement every month
When each person will retire
When each person will sign up for Social Security benefits

It’s impossible to provide a step-by-step plan here because so much depends on your individual circumstances. For example, if one person earns significantly more than the other, that couple will probably take a different approach to Social Security than a couple where both partners earn the same amount.

If only one spouse is working, that also changes things. The bulk of the responsibility is going to fall on the worker’s shoulders, but there are things the stay-at-home spouse can do to help. They could open a spousal IRA in their own name so the couple can stash more retirement savings there. And they can take on more of the responsibilities at home, like watching children and cooking, so the couple doesn’t have to outsource these services.

Work together with your spouse until you have a plan that seems reasonable, but don’t worry if you fall a little off track as time goes on. Circumstances change and that requires us to alter our retirement plans appropriately.

Check in with your spouse annually and whenever you experience a major lifestyle change, like starting a new job or welcoming a new baby into the family. These things will affect your ability to save and you’ll have to adjust your retirement plan accordingly. These adjustments are a normal part of retirement planning, and they’re key to staying on track. Figure out a time to sit down with your spouse once a year to go over all the numbers once more, and then you can treat yourself afterward for all your hard work.

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