Love and money

I’m not going to pretend money is romantic. But many of the things you can do with money are romantic: The average person will spend close to $131 on Valentine’s Day, taking their loved one out to dinner, on a quick weekend trip, or buying flowers and candy.

All of those things are nice — and probably deeply appreciated. But I would argue that even more romantic is making plans for the future together, and that initial discussion, at least, doesn’t cost a thing. I’m not talking about this year’s summer vacation; I’m talking about retirement. A study from Hearts & Wallets last year found that only 38% of couples are planning for retirement together. That means the bulk of people surveyed haven’t talked with their spouse about when (or if) they plan to leave their job. They haven’t discussed where they want to live — if they want to move at all. They haven’t talked about how they want to spend their time in retirement, and whether they see it as an era to putter around the golf course, rock on the front porch, or travel the world.

This is one conversation about money that is fun — provided you’re at least remotely on the same page. You get to dream together and map out your future. Not only that, but research shows that visualizing retirement, and specifically how we will spend our time and what sort of lifestyle changes we want to make, can give us the impetus we need to save more.

If you’re struggling to talk to your partner about retirement plans, here’s how to get the conversation flowing:

Pick the right time. Just like any conversation about money, I think this one should occur when both of you are as relaxed as possible. That means when you walk in the door from work, or on your way out the door in the morning, isn’t the best. Broach the subject during your next dinner out, or on your Valentine’s Day getaway.

Talk about wants and needs. Maybe you want to travel the world, but you need to at least leave your job by a certain age. Or you want to move closer to your kids, but whether you do that by moving to the nearest beach town is up for debate. It’s helpful to think about your feelings on these subjects before your bring up the conversation, and allow your partner time to think about his before giving a response. Many people haven’t really thought about how they plan to spend retirement, not least because many feel they’ll never get there.

Compromise. You want to leave work never; he wants you to leave by age 65. Or maybe it’s you pulling him out the door. Either way, meet in the middle. And if you can’t agree on where you’ll end up? Search for new possible locations that you could get excited about together.
Keep the conversation going. You don’t have to write out a plan in ink right now. This initial conversation is just a brainstorming session, so you can get a feeling for where you stand. Once you know that, you can start researching your options and thinking about how you’d feel if you had to change your vision slightly to meet up with your partner’s. Talk about it again in six months, and see how things have evolved.

Be flexible. Retirement is something you can’t completely plan. Not only because you don’t know how long you’re going to live or how much money you’re going to spend, but also because you don’t know what health problems or career changes might be coming down the pike. You might agree to retire at age 65, only to be confronted with an amazing job opportunity at age 63. The idea is to get a framework in place, but aim to keep it fluid and so you can tweak as things come up.

Jean Chatzky

About Jean Chatzky

Jean Chatzky, the financial editor for NBC’s TODAY show, is an award-winning personal finance journalist, AARP’s personal finance ambassador, and a contributing editor for Fortune magazine. Jean is a best-selling author; her eighth and most recent book is Money Rules: The Simple Path to Lifelong Security. She believes knowing how to manage our money is one of the most important life skills for people at every age and has made it her mission to help simplify money matters, increasing financial literacy both now and for the future. In April 2013 Jean launched Jean Chatzky's Money School , a series of college-style, interactive online personal finance courses that give men and women across the country the opportunity to learn from and interact directly with her. Jean lives with her family in Westchester County, New York.
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