You’ve heard it a million times. There are lots of folks who are simply not prepared for retirement. But there’s an added complication for married couples: husbands and wives often have very different outlooks on, and expectations for, retirement.
That is the finding of a recent study by Fidelity Investments, which surveyed over 500 married couples who are less than ten years from retirement. The study found that 37 percent of couples differ on the kind of lifestyle they will lead in retirement, with men tending to be more optimistic about the standard of living they can expect.
More than a third of couples also disagree on their planned age of retirement. Men, in particular, underestimate the age at which their wives plan to retire. Further, two in five couples, or 41 percent, don’t see eye-to-eye on whether both or one will work in retirement.
“It was surprising to us that, given how close many of these couples are to retirement, they had yet to sit down to discuss and agree on basic retirement goals, aspirations and income sources with each other,” says Steven P. Akin, president of Fidelity Personal Investments.
The lack of communication and understanding about retirement among married couples is something advisors can, and should, help with. Jon Skillman, president of Fidelity Investments Life Insurance Company, says married couples that are having difficulty getting ready for retirement create a huge opportunity for advisors. “This was a broad sample of individuals and many of them likely did not work with advisors. What it means is that advisors can build relationships and provide value to the couples,” he says.
Jeanne Robinson, a CFP with Marshall Financial Group in Doylestown, Penn., says she sits down with couples that are in the 40 to 50-year-old age bracket, and asks them to prepare a written list of retirement priorities. At that age, couples are usually at a point where they are no longer worried about college funding, and are ready to concentrate on their own futures. After asking basic retirement goal questions, Robinson says the husband can often immediately list a number of activities he is planning and “the wife will turn to him, and say ‘Really?’ But it’s just important to get the dialogue going,” she says.
Barbara Hudock, founder of Hudock Moyer Wealth Management in Williamsport, Penn., says discussing retirement goals with couples early on can help alleviate problems later. One of her clients, a 50-year-old physician, is considering retiring this year, but his wife, a homemaker, would like him to continue to work because otherwise they will have to cut back on their spending. “It’s critically important to have those conversations. It’s hard to get people in their twenties to talk about retirement because they see it as a far away event, but [advisors] should start the discussions early,” she says.
Advisors say the goal is to get both partners on the same page about their financial goals. According to the survey, couples that share daily financial responsibilities such as creating budgets, paying bills and handling routine banking are more optimistic about their retirement lifestyle and are better prepared to meet unexpected retirement problems.