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I’m 60, my wife thinks ‘money is for spending,’ I just lost my job and plan to retire — how can we avoid money fights?

Dear MarketWatch, 

I’m 60 years old and recently lost my job of 20 years. Given my age and the current economic climate, I’m looking at the possibility of retiring, at least from a full-time job. My wife is 68 and currently employed making approximately $50,000 a year and collecting Social Security of $1,900 a month. She’s looking at retiring in June 2021. I’d like to wait until at least age 65 to collect my Social Security, which at that time would be about $2,300 a month. We have about $1.4 million in retirement accounts and roughly $400,000 in cash accounts. We have a $280,000 mortgage on a $1.2 million house and a fresh 30-year loan with a payment of $2,300/month including property tax. We have no other debts. 

I have a tendency to be a saver to a fault and spending in retirement will be a learning experience for me. My wife tends to think money is for spending. So, we’re not just looking at whether retirement is realistic, but if it is, what our spending should look like to allow for a nice but not extravagant lifestyle and prevent every cost from becoming a “yes we can, no we can’t” argument.



See: I’m 52, won’t live past 80 and have $1.6 million. ‘I am tired of both the rat race and workplace politics.’ Should I retire?

Dear J.M., 

I’m sorry to hear of your job loss but congratulate you on preparing for retirement — it makes you ready to weather the unexpected, as you are now! 

Waiting to claim Social Security is a great boost to your benefit, so if you can afford to do so, that’s wonderful. Entering retirement with mortgage debt is normal, although some people feel uncomfortable doing so. It all comes down to personal preference with that, so just ensure no matter what you and your wife do, you are capable of paying those bills and having an emergency fund to fall back on if the need arises. 

I am going to focus on the spending part of your letter — partly because it appears that is a main concern at the moment, and with good reason. Everyone should have a spending plan, especially when they enter retirement, and even more so when they are in a relationship with differing perspectives on how to use money. Some people may call this plan a budget, which it essentially is, but not everyone likes the word budget — it makes them feel they’re restricted from using their own assets. Whatever you want to call it, make sure you and your wife develop one. 

Not only does having a spending plan keep you from squandering your nest egg, but it can also prevent the “yes we can, no we can’t” arguments. 

The first thing to do is come up with a number of what you both can withdraw from your income and still feel secure, said Brandon Opre, a financial adviser at TrustTree Financial. Then, automate the cash flow. This can look like an annuity, which generates “regular and stable cash flow,” or monthly withdrawals from your checking or banking accounts. “The happiest couples I have seen in retirement agree on a certain amount to live on, whether they use it or not,” he said. 

This is where a meeting with a financial planner would be productive. A professional can help you both by creating a financial plan that takes into account all of your assets and liabilities, as well as how to keep that money growing while you enjoy your retirement, said Janice Cackowski, co-founder of Centry Financial Advisors. “This plan, which should be unique to their specific situation, should include a cash flow analysis that can illustrate to them how much they can afford to spend each year and still meet their financial goals and pay for lifetime expenses,” she said. Keep in mind these figures will naturally ebb and flow as time goes on, considering various factors such as inflation, taxes and market performance, but advisers typically account for all of that when they make a plan. 

You personally can benefit from this type of meeting, as it will allow you to have some peace of mind when spending your own money. A saver mentality is an asset in money management, but if you don’t ease up a little bit you may end up overly stressed and miserable as you adjust to retirement. 

“One of the most difficult moments for savers arrives the first month that deferring money for future needs transitions to withdrawing a small amount each month to meet obligations,” said Joel Cundick, a financial adviser at Savant Capital. “I will say that six months into retirement tends to be a better place for both as long as distributions are reasonable: the saver, especially, can feel better when they see a few months of distributions don’t have as much of a negative impact on the balance of accounts as they felt might happen.”  

Also see: I’m 63, my husband is 70, we’ll have $90,000 a year in retirement — how can we claim our Social Security benefits?

One more benefit of a financial planner: he or she can act as that third-party to tell you in an objective manner how your spending is affecting your retirement security. Meeting with a professional opens up dialogue between you and your spouse, to explore why your money habits are the way they are and what compromises you both can make, said Alex Koury, a wealth management adviser at Hosler Wealth Management. 

“In many cases, a financial planner can become the ‘bearer of bad news’ and can help dictate how much a couple should spend,” he said. “These recommendations can be agreed upon, and they can be readdressed at later points in time if the planning falls off track.” 

Don’t be discouraged by your differing viewpoints on how to spend money, said Nicole Gopoian Wirick, founder of Prosperity Wealth Strategies. “I’ve found that a ‘spender’ and ‘saver’ in a marriage can complement each other quite well,” she said. The spender encourages the saver to live a “fulfilling life” while the saver provides checks and balances on cash flow. “When properly managed, this tension can be healthy.” 

There are more serious questions to ask each other as well, including: Will the roles at home change? How do you envision retirement? What are your expectations and how does the other person fit in? What does the transition mean for you both as individuals and also as a couple? 

Remember to also keep retirement fun, and engage in activities that both cost money or are entirely free. Neither of you are officially retired yet, so this would be a good time to do a test run on what retirement will be like when you are both permanently out of the workforce. 

Also, retirement isn’t all about managing the finances and getting older — it’s a time for you to expand on your hobbies and interests, reinvent your schedule and develop important relationships. I have spoken with retirees who have had really great tips to keep active in this new chapter. Some couples take off on an adventure, such as buying an RV and traveling the country, while others have created an “activity jar,” where each spouse writes down something they want to do for a date or day trip and then each week picks one or two out. Whatever you do, enjoy this time.

Have a question about your own retirement savings? Email us at [email protected]

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