How to Talk to Your Partner About Saving for Retirement

These four questions can get your discussion off the ground—and help you both see the big picture.

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By Kathleen Hall

Have you and your partner talked about retirement? Really talked about the nuts and bolts of what your retirement will look like? Have you discussed how you will save, how much you need, where you will live and what you will do with your newfound freedom?

Roughly one-third of couples don’t agree on most of these things, according to a survey by Fidelity Investments. Furthermore, 33 percent of Americans in another survey said they're not saving for after they stop working—and neither is their significant other. Even among couples where at least one partner is saving, the other partner often doesn’t know how much he or she has saved.

Retirement has both financial and emotional implications, and it’s an important topic for both partners to discuss. If you’ve been avoiding talking with your partner out of fear or discomfort, here are a few suggested topics to get the conversation off the ground.

Are you saving enough?

2 / 5 Are you saving enough?

Each partner in the relationship should save 10 to 15 percent of their income to have enough money to retire comfortably. When it comes to saving for retirement, many experts recommend contributing to an employee retirement program first, at least to take advantage of matching contributions, then contributing to a Roth or IRA account. Then, finally, use taxable accounts if you’re able to save even more.

Your retirement income may come from an employee retirement plan, an IRA, social security, a pension or, more likely, a combination of these sources. You may also have additional income from part-time jobs or real estate investments.

Remember: when you’re part of a twosome, you can’t just focus on your own investment strategy. Even if you manage your money separately, when combining retirement portfolios, you need to consider your overall financial picture and invest accordingly.

What will your monthly income be?

3 / 5 What will your monthly income be?

More than half of couples don’t know how much monthly income they’ll actually have in retirement. This figure drives where you can live—not just the type of housing you can afford, but your overall cost of living, healthcare and real estate taxes—and whether you’re able to afford the lifestyle you’ve imagined.

If you haven’t already, use an online retirement calculator to determine how much you should save as a couple and then, how you will convert your savings into monthly income during retirement.

AARP suggests that couples spend a year test-driving retirement by living on the income they’ll have once they stop working. You may find you need to work longer and save more in order to afford the retirement you hope for.

Is there a significant age difference between you?

4 / 5 Is there a significant age difference between you?

According to a 2014 US Census Survey, 87 percent of couples are not the same age. While a year or two age gap might not make a significant difference, a decade or more can influence many retirement decisions, including who’s going to retire when, and when you qualify for Social Security (and how much). It also drives decisions about survivorship benefits (how much your partner continues to receive if you die). The greater your survivorship benefits, the less you’ll take home each month. Experts recommend basing retirement planning on the life expectancy of the younger spouse.

You can use online calculators and worksheets to help you estimate how long you and your partner might live and how to calculate IRA withdrawals when there’s a 10-year age gap and the surviving spouse is the sole beneficiary upon death.

What will your retirement lifestyle look like?

5 / 5 What will your retirement lifestyle look like?

One-third of couples have different versions of what the perfect retirement might be. You may agree on the big picture, like where you’ll live, but you also need to consider what your day-to-day life will look like when you don’t have work to fill and structure your time.

In the Fidelity couples survey, men tended to see themselves playing sports. Women are more likely to envision spending time with family, volunteering and engaging in hobbies. This different view of retirement isn’t necessarily a problem—time apart and separate activities are healthy—but it can cause conflict if there’s a big disconnect between partners’ expectations. This becomes even more complicated if one spouse wants to keep working and the other wants a full-time, also-retired companion.

Before you retire, write down your personal goals for retirement and ask your partner do the same. Then compare notes. See where you agree and where you each may need to adjust your expectations or revisit your goals.

It’s important that you and your partner address these issues and make your expectations clear to each other before it’s time to retire. After all, depending on when you stop working and how long you live, you could spend a big chunk of your life in retirement. Make it the retirement you both hoped for.

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