2. Loans and financial support to family members
Whether it's loans or cash doled out to adult children or money spent spoiling the grandkids, older couples often clash over money that goes to relatives.
For many pre-retirees, some of the most intense disputes occur when their kids graduate from college or when adult children going through unemployment or divorce wind up coming back to live at home.
"The whole boomerang kids issue is really tough for older couples," says Bethany Palmer, who along with her husband, Scott Palmer, operates TheMoneyCouple.com, a business that helps couples sort through thorny money matters.
She says retirees are often at odds over whether to charge their adult children rent, what bills (if any) the couple should require their kids to pay and how to best offer support without enabling an adult child.
"Maybe a son is unemployed or one of their kids returning home is a single mom, so there are grandkids too," Palmer notes. "There can be horrible arguments if you have a father saying: 'I did everything for myself; our son has to go out on his own.' But the mother is saying: 'There are no jobs' or 'It's our job to help.' "
The solution, Palmer says, is that parents must "become a united front" and jointly establish limits to their financial generosity. Then they must clearly express those limitations to their adult children.
3. When to retire
A recent Fidelity Investments study found that nearly two-thirds of couples approaching retirement age disagree on when each of them should wrap up the working life. Sometimes one spouse fears there isn't enough money amassed for retirement. Other times, one party wants to keep working or maintain a salary as a way to have financial independence.
Whatever the root causes, experts say the best way to overcome this challenge is to start a conversation about retirement expectations as early as possible.
"Millions of American couples have worked very hard to save for retirement," says Kathleen A. Murphy, president of Personal Investing at Fidelity. "However, far too many don't take the time, or have the comfort level, to jointly discuss their plans for the future.
"To ensure alignment between spouses, and the best course of action, couples should sit down long before they retire to discuss key financial topics such as when they plan to retire, where they want to live, whether they plan to work and what lifestyle they hope to enjoy."