The Five Essential Questions Couples Need to Answer Before Retirement

planning for retirement as a couple

If you’ve ever had a retirement conversation with your spouse that left you both frustrated or confused, it may not surprise you to learn that the majority of married couples find themselves misaligned when it comes to financial values and money management. In fact, 43% of couples are not even on the same page about when to retire.

At first glance, it may seem strange that two people living together – possibly for decades – are saving toward divergent timelines. However, money topics, in general, are common sources of frustration in relationships and are often cited as a main factor in divorce. Today, boomers are divorcing at higher numbers than their parents – often called gray divorce – meaning that the money saved for retirement will have to do double duty in order to serve both spouses when they part ways.

Your fate isn’t sealed, however. By starting a conversation with your spouse today, you can avoid becoming a statistic. Discussing the following five questions is a great way to begin:


This is, perhaps, the quintessential question you and your spouse need to answer. The ‘right’ timeline may seem obvious to you, but your spouse may feel the same way about a very different timeline. Variables like age, where you are in your career, health and wellness and financial footing all play a role. It could be that retiring at the same time is right for you, or you could agree to disagree and retire separately. There are pros and cons to each, of course. For instance, if one spouse is older, it may make more sense for them to retire and begin collecting Social Security while the younger spouse continues to work and build savings. The benefit of delaying Social Security between 65 and 70 can be a 130% increase in payments. On the other hand, if poor health is a concern or you simply desire to have as much time together as possible, it may make more sense to retire together and begin collecting benefits at the same time. While there isn’t necessarily one ‘right’ plan, the important thing is to discuss the timeline and make a decision jointly.


Even if you and your spouse find yourselves on the same retirement timeline, it’s possible you have very different ideas when it comes to location. One of you may want to stay in the family home while the other wants to downsize. Or, maybe one partner wants to move someplace warmer and the other wants to stay close to grandchildren. Outside of your personal preferences, you’ll also want to consider practical factors. For instance, it may make sense to stay in the family home if the real estate market is weak. Or, if one or both of you have mobility issues, it may be necessary to downsize or move to a home with a first-floor bedroom. In fact, health concerns play a major role in where retirees end up living. Though a majority of retiring Americans plan to age in place in their homes, over 70% end up in a nursing home or hospital at some point. With that in mind, you may need to consider things like how close you’d like to live to doctors, hospitals or the grocery store, or whether there is an assisted living facility nearby that appeals to you if the time should come when you can no longer live independently. This can make for a difficult, emotional conversation, but it’s important to broach the subject now so you won’t have to make a rushed decision in the future. If you and your spouse are on very different pages, think about how you might strike a compromise.


Now that you’ve discussed when and where you want to retire, it’s time to consider how you’ll spend your time. What will fill your calendar day to day? Studies show that idleness in retirement can be bad for your physical and mental health, so you’ll want to ensure you have a schedule, even if it consists entirely of leisure pursuits. Many retirees are surprised at how much they miss the social aspect of working – and at how isolating and lonely retirement can be. Guard against these feelings by investing time in hobbies, fitness routines and connections to your community long before you retire. Additionally, you should think about how you’ll spend your time on household chores, especially if one spouse handled the majority of cooking, cleaning and shopping responsibilities before retirement. Chores should be redistributed to reflect your new retirement schedule.


Hopefully, you and your spouse are already taking important steps on how you’ll fund your retirement, such as maxing out any employer match opportunities and keeping a healthy investment asset mix. Now that you have determined when you want to retire, where you’ll live and how you’ll spend your days, you can get down to brass tacks about how you’ll fund your chosen retirement lifestyle. Sit down with your spouse and talk through with all bills, debts, and future potential expenses and lay out a realistic budget. This is a great time to bring your financial advisor into the discussion – or to seek one out if you haven’t spoken with a professional yet. Ideally, you want someone who specializes in retirement savings to help you look over where you are in your retirement planning, assess your budget needs and help you come up with a plan that keeps you n solid financial footing.


When you’re planning for your future retirement, it’s also crucial to make some hard decisions that ensure your affairs will be managed to your preferences when you are no longer able to make decisions for yourself. You’ll want to name a power of attorney, medical power of attorney and beneficiaries for your assets. While these decisions aren’t easy, it’s important to get all your paperwork and affairs in order before an emergency arises. Draw up a will, get your finances in order, make sure your insurance policies are current and make copies of important documents. This is also a good time to make plans for your final resting place and to discuss long-term scenarios with your children and other close family members. The more you can do in advance, the less you need to worry about how your loved ones would cope with making decisions without you.

Planning for retirement alongside your spouse requires thoughtful conversation, advanced planning and likely a bit of compromise. However, if you can successfully answer the above questions together, you’ll set yourselves up for retirement years that leave you both feeling fulfilled.