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Marital Spats in Retirement

Marriage is a financial partnership. When people are married during their working years, they each generally have their own job – whether that job is in the paid workforce or working in the home. It’s common for one spouse to make most of the money. Often the other spouse is either a secondary earner or has the demanding full time work of maintaining the household. The couples who are financially prepared for retirement have diligently spent less than their household income so they could save money for retirement. When retirement comes – whether that’s transitioning to part time work or a complete exodus from their career – there are major changes in the day to day routine and financial management. Let’s look at examples of what this looks like. For simplicity we’ll call the primary earning spouse Charlie and the secondary earner who manages the household Frankie.

Thinking about retirement, Charlie looks forward to leisure time, the ability to sleep in, pursuing hobbies, and relaxing without being tied to a daily work schedule. It might not be in Charlie’s plans to begin helping Frankie with the household duties. To Frankie, this might sound less like retirement, and more like working for Charlie. There is no change in Frankie’s major workload.

There are several potential solutions. They all begin with Charlie and Frankie discussing what their goals are for retirement. While many people plan for retirement as a goal, they don’t always set goals about what retirement will look like. And if a couple is going to spend retirement together, they should plan it together. That doesn’t mean they can’t have any separate activities. But comparing notes and discussing what is – and isn’t – in each other’s vision of retirement can be important.

For instance, if your spouse plans on golfing a lot in retirement, ask how often. Every couple of weeks? Weekly? Daily? If it’s daily, think about what you plan on doing during that time. If it’s vacuuming, you might want to discuss some sharing of chores with your spouse.

Perhaps you have been out of the workforce for years and your spouse is about to retire. What do you each think that looks like? You’ve been occupying your time all day with activities that don’t include your beloved partner. Do you drop those activities? Include your spouse in those activities? Or a mix of both?

These discussions need to include the financial management, too. People who have been good savers sometimes have trouble spending money in retirement. Regular income from work always gave a flow of money to allocate to spending, saving, and purchasing assets. Once money stops coming in from a career, spending the money can seem scary. You want to enjoy life without running out of money. Discuss what you can afford long term and get some professional input if needed. You put effort into reaching retirement together. Put intention into enjoying it together, too.