Tips for Couples Setting Retirement Goals

Communication, compromise, and commitment are keys to meeting couples' differing retirement goals.

When picturing retirement, young couples often start by sketching the fuzziest outlines — when they'll retire, where they'd like to live, and how much money they may need. As time draws closer to retirement time, the picture becomes clearer for each spouse. But are they envisioning the same things? What if one spouse sees a home on a golf course and an annual motorcycle pilgrimage to Sturgis, South Dakota, while the other looks forward to a low-maintenance condo and overseas missionary work?

If your retirement goals are different from your spouse's, that doesn't mean your hopes and dreams are incompatible. But you should work toward some overlap. A shared vision for retirement gives you something concrete to work toward and motivates you to stick to your long-term investment strategy and savings goals.

Retirement Conversation Starters

Getting on the same page about retirement goals takes communication, compromise, and commitment. But first, you and your spouse should consider some questions individually and then come together to discuss them as a couple.

  • Where will I be?
  • Whom will I be near?
  • With whom will I spend time?
  • How will I occupy my days?
  • Will I keep working in some capacity?
  • What will give me a sense of fulfillment?
  • If money were no object, what would I do?

Whether vague or specific, the answers put into words what each person is picturing. For example, the answer to "Where will I be?" may not be as specific as a condo on the beach, but the vague reply of "someplace different" can reveal a yearning or willingness to relocate.

Compare Your Retirement Vision With Your Spouse

With your retirement vision in mind, "you can put pen to paper and compare notes with your partner," says Aimee Chester, Vice President and Wealth Advisor for Regions Private Wealth Management in Houston, Texas.

She suggests keeping it fun and imaginative, perhaps over dinner. The calculations and reality checks can come later with the help of a financial advisor.

Expect to see some surprising differences between you and your spouse. Maybe your spouse wants to while away retirement in the proverbial rocking chair, while you have your heart set on RV traveling. What does "taking it easy" really mean for your spouse, and what lies at the root of your wanderlust?

For a spouse with a demanding career, a porch with a rocker may be an oasis to relax and rejuvenate after 50 years of making tough decisions under pressure. Once you understand why each of you wants something, you then can explore how those underlying needs can be met through a mutually satisfying lifestyle. By talking it through, you may not gain an RV co-pilot, but you may get your spouse's support — plus a commitment to set aside money for you to travel solo every other summer.

Or, you might discover that one person doesn't want to retire at all. Perhaps your spouse's sense of self-worth or fulfillment has become inseparable from work and career accomplishments, Chester says. Meanwhile, you've been counting the days to retirement in order to spend more time together.

When a professional and his wife raised this issue with Chester, they talked it through and decided he would sell his practice and do consulting work. He is still contributing to his profession but had considerably more time for his family, and both spouses are satisfied.

"These nonfinancial aspects of planning for retirement require the most thinking," Chester says. "It's the fun part but also the most challenging part."

Financing Your Retirement

Once you and your spouse have a clear picture of your retirement goals, you can get down to the nitty-gritty of how to get there financially, Chester says. A Regions wealth advisor can help you design your retirement income plan.

But know that the picture of retirement you paint with your spouse is a work in progress. Chester recommends bringing your vision to life on a changeable canvas, like a retirement dream binder, a Pinterest board, or a collage you can both look at to stay motivated. "It's like planning your wedding — you didn't agree on colors and flowers and all the little details at first, but you both saw the big picture, and all the details fell into place," she says. "There are compromises, but the results reflect what matters to both of you."