Shocker! Study shows couples disagree about money

A ┬ástudy surveyed over 500 couples and found that almost 40% of them disagree on the lifestyle they expect in retirement, more than a third disagree on their planned retirement age, and two out of five don’t agree on whether one or both will work during retirement.

I know what you’re thinking, “Couples don’t agree? What a shock! As if they need a study to tell them this?” Regardless of the necessity of the research, this is an important issue for many.

If the couple doesn’t agree on the goals, strategy, and implementation plan, they could be acting at cross purposes. One spouse could be planning on spending money later, so they save now, and just the opposite thought could be occurring in the spouse. They could end up with neither of them satisfied. (Yes, I know, no study needed here either.) This lack of communication and agreement is common, but nevertheless problematic.

It’s likely that most of the couples surveyed didn’t work with a competent adviser because if they did, most of these issues would have come up and been addressed. I know in my experience that it’s extremely rare that the first time I see a couple that they are on the same page regarding their thoughts about money in general, let alone specifics on lifestyle, when to retire, and if they are going to work in retirement. Most haven’t put that much thought into it. A competent adviser knows that sometimes those issues take time to flush out, yet to be effective moving toward their goals, they must share the same goals, so that time is well spent.

You can do this for yourselves without an adviser by using some of the same techniques advisers use. For example, each of you could write down your vision for retirement separately and then exchange them. If nothing else, that will tell you how far apart you are. If you are significantly apart, especially on some big issues, create lists of key things you each want, and things you don’t want, with priorities on them. Then review the lists together to see where trade-offs can be made. It’s possible that the strength of your desires for conflicting things aren’t the same. For example, one may put on their want list “traveling” as a 4th or 5th priority (it would be nice, but not a must), where as the other spouse may put traveling as the number one thing they don’t want to do. Items up for discussion could include where to live, leisure activities, time with kids/grand-kids, hobbies, etc. This exercise, especially adding the priorities and the things you don’t want to do, will help significantly with conflicts. This will also help with separating dreams from reality.

A key for both spouses is to bring the reality of not being able to do everything they want into their thinking. It’s really hard to separate fantasy from reality and stick to what’s real and possible. Often this is where both spouses get off base. Retiring in 10 years sounds like a long time off, but in the real world of compound interest, it’s much closer than they think. In general husbands are more optimistic (yes, I read that in a study too.), so discussing the concrete reality of how much money you will spend, and on what will you spend it, will be key to adding a dose of reality for both spouses.

Just as we don’t need a study to know that couples disagree, we don’t need a study to tell us the couples that have the best communication in regards to money have the greatest chance of success and happiness. (But if you do need the study, I’m sure one exists.)

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