Will your retirement dreams conflict?
- By Milt x_Zall
- Apr 27, 2001
Take a husband and wife who each have had highly successful careers, mix
them together in a joint retirement stretching out for many years, and you
Highly successful career people have enough individual challenges when
facing retirement. For many, the problem often is not whether they have
enough money for retirement. Rather, they struggle with the loss of identity
associated with work, the slower pace of retirement, and the challenge of
filling retirement hours with something that provides the emotional rewards
they received at work.
Multiply those challenges by two, and conflicts can arise.
One of the first steps is for each of you to clarify your vision of
retirement. Separately, write them down on paper and compare notes.
When does each of you want to retire? It's common among career-oriented
people for one to want to work longer than the other one. Does one want
to travel a lot while the other wants to stay home? Do both of you need
a home office? How do you envision spending a typical day in retirement?
Does that day include working part time or doing volunteer work? Do you
each have different visions of where you want to retire?
When visions clearly conflict, discuss compromises and ways each may
accommodate the other. For couples used to holding positions of command
at work, clashes over how to spend their retirement years together can result
in unpleasant turf wars. Be prepared to seek outside help, perhaps with
a financial planner or even a family therapist.
Once you thoroughly explore your visions of retirement and come to some
consensus about what will work and what won't only then do you look at
the financial implications. Financial restraints may require you to modify
your visions of retirement. A great deal of travel may strain even a comfortable
retirement budget. Or, for example, if each of you wants a home office,
it may require building an addition, renting an outside office or even moving
to a new home.
Another key to a successful transition into retirement is to be attuned
to the stress your partner may be feeling from retirement. For couples who
can't wait to get to retirement, this may seem like a silly issue: What
stress in retirement? Yet for people used to working in high-powered, emotionally
and intellectually stimulating jobs, retirement can be stressful because
of the lack of those psychological rewards. Even people who haven't led
stimulating careers may find that they miss work more than they realized
they would. Boredom can be stressful.
For high-powered career people, it is especially important to consider
a transition into retirement. Several options are available here. Your current
employer may allow a phased retirement involving decreasing work hours (though
this might reduce benefits in a defined-benefit plan), or you can find new
part-time work. Consider consulting or teaching. Retired small-business
owners often find it rewarding to advise new business owners. You might
even run your own business as long as it remains only a part-time commitment.
Such transitions enable you and your partner to "practice" various retirement
scenarios in preparation for the time you both leave the workforce permanently.
Another way to smooth out retirement is for each of you to maintain
separate accounts, or retirement "slush" funds. This is especially important
if both of you have different interests and pursuits during retirement.
You'll need to carefully budget those slush funds. Start with a household
budget that meets your basic living expenses along with an emergency cushion.
Determine if your retirement accounts and other sources of retirement income
will meet those basic needs, and pinpoint potential problem areas, such
as lack of long-term care insurance. Then calculate whether you can withdraw
additional funds from your nest egg for your separate retirement accounts
without jeopardizing your core budget.
As these ideas suggest, the key to a successful, compatible retirement
is planning preferably well before retirement begins. Working these issues
out in advance with a certified financial planner will go a long way to
ensuring that both of you will find retirement as rewarding as your working
Zall, Bureaucratus columnist and a retired federal employee, is a freelance
writer based in Silver Spring, Md. He specializes in taxes, investing, business
and government workplace issues. He is a certified internal auditor and
a registered investment adviser. He can be reached at email@example.com.