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Retirement Planning Tips for Couples

Avoiding marriage conflicts when you stop working

Retirement is a financial decision as much as an emotional one. You might be shocked by how much you have to cut back with no paycheck. Planner Joan Gagnon of Mansfield, Mass., advises pre-retirees to spend a year trying to live on only the money they'll have when they quit work. That forces you to analyze — as a couple — where the money goes and whether it might be smarter to work for another couple of years. "The numbers don't lie," she says.

The numbers can also help couples reach an agreement about their lives ahead. At the start of the conversation, write down your separate goals. See what you agree on, then compare your other wants with the money you'll have. "That helps partners understand if one of their goals doesn't make the cut," says planner Craig Larsen of St. Charles, Ill.

"Most couples overspend in the first few years of retirement," says planner Tyler Cook of Columbus, Ohio — especially when one spouse keeps working. Why? "Because they still have extra income," he says, "so they think it's OK if they tap the portfolio early in retirement." Bad choice.

Health insurance is critical to your retirement decision. If you're under Medicare age (65) and have health problems, you might not be able to find affordable individual coverage. One spouse might have to keep working solely for group health insurance, though that might change, depending on what happens to the health care law.

Ultimately, good retirements lie in good relationships — including negotiating the retirement talk. For a couple of years, my late husband, a lawyer, wanted to quit but didn't tell me. He thought I might not want to be the only breadwinner. But I didn't mind! In fact, life got easier when he retired because he took on some extra chores. I remember my son taking him to the laundry room and saying, "Dad, this is the washing machine …"

Jane Bryant Quinn is a personal finance expert and author of Making the Most of Your Money NOW. She writes regularly for the Bulletin.

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