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Spouses often have different expectations that can be harmonized

Retirement planning with a spouse is a shared venture that inevitably involves differing visions.

Maybe your spouse intends to work longer—even much longer—than you do. You may want to maximize family time and your spouse would rather maximize beach time. Sometimes couples really are at opposite ends on a given topic. More often though, spouses have different expectations that can be harmonized, and establishing a common ground can help your transition to a new life stage easier.

Here are six questions you and your spouse can ask yourselves—and each other—to help navigate the pivotal preretirement phase as smoothly as possible.

When you retire, are you leaving work or leaving your career?

For some retirees, the goal is to never work again, while others may want to continue working on a more limited basis, within their career or perhaps tied to one of their hobbies. Even more important is the question of what role work must bein retirement, if at all.

I had a recent discussion with one client who loved to garden. Part of her retirement plan included picking up a part-time job at a garden center to both keep her active and support her passion.

Another client retired earlier than we planned due to intense job dissatisfaction. In that case, part-time work in retirement unexpectedly became part of the financial plan to augment income and make sure she could still meet her goals and afford healthcare.

How much do you want to be involved in your finances in retirement?

Some people genuinely enjoy monitoring and participating in the financial aspects of retirement. One client discovered a love of stock picking in retirement and helped his grandkids open small accounts and pick companies to invest in, to bond (no pun intended), and encourage saving.

Other people want to get as far away as possible from talking about finances…if this is you, you may want to get right to “just tell me what I can spend!”

Either way, make sure both spouses have access to basic financial information and feel comfortable about your level of understanding. With many couples, one person has taken the lead in managing finances over the years. After retirement, there’s an opportunity for this situation to change with more free time.

What is your level of financial fitness?

Before you retire, make sure you and your spouse look at the habits and skills that make up your financial tool kit. Creating good habits when it comes to budgeting, saving, and spending can help make good financial decisions routine — these habits can set you up for success in the long term.

Behavioral finance shows how human emotions and biases often influence financial decisions. We spend a lot of time both before and after retirement discussing a financial strategy that can withstand emotional upheaval and keep you on track to achieve your objectives.

Do you have financial concerns about retirement?

If you feel uncertain or unprepared about any aspect of your financial situation, it can help to take an active role now. A guideline is to review your financial plan annually at least 10 years before retirement. Contact your financial adviser and get those topics out on the table.

How will you fill your time after retirement?

I’ve often found the most successful retirees are retiring toward something rather than away from something. They have a sense of what is next for them, even if their plans end up changing dramatically.

Make a plan for how you and your spouse want to spend your time in retirement. Think about “internal passions” like reading, woodworking or repairing antique cars and “external passions” like volunteering, spending time with family or traveling. Sometimes these passions can be at odds with each other—and with your spouse’s.

Do you plan to relocate?

Do you want to stay in your current home, or same town? If not, do you want to move somewhere more affordable, more accessible, warmer, closer to family, or something else?

You may find some give-and-take is needed when discussing with your partner. Maybe one spouse wants to be close to your children so you can attend grandchildren’s ballet recitals and soccer games. Maybe the other spouse is open to that but wants to travel most of all. What does that look like in practice? Now’s the time to put these ideas on the table for discussion.

Prioritize conversation

In the run-up to retirement, your focus has been mostly on growth—growing your career, your family, your assets—but leading into retirement, your focus will (and should) start to shift. Having serious discussions with both yourself and your spouse well before retirement can be the first step in shifting your mindset away from growth and onto what comes next.

These questions serve as an intro to help you and your spouse align your retirement expectations. As you discuss, you might find gaps in your financial knowledge or places where your retirement plan needs to be updated to match you and your spouse’s combined goals. If that’s the case, a financial adviser should be able to help.

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