At best, experts say, separate timetables can serve as a trial run for the full deal. By living on one paycheck when they’re used to two, couples can experiment with cutting costs to prepare for life on retirement income alone.
On the downside, resentments may emerge when couples become out of sync—one person remains anchored to a job while the other wants to travel or relax. Mitch Anthony, author of The New Retirementality, says husbands often have trouble adjusting if they are the first to retire. “Their identity is wrapped up in what they do for work,” he says. Seeing the wife leave for work every morning can heighten the problem. One man “found himself wandering around the garage and basement looking for something to break so he would have something to fix,” Anthony said.
Ultimately, happiness can come down to how much couples like doing things together, says Kelly Campbell of Campbell Wealth Management in Fairfax, Va. “One spouse may hate the job but not really want the other spouse home at the same time. Other people say they want to retire together … to enjoy life together.”
Despite the many challenges, some couples get it pretty much right.
For St. Louis resident Jerry Brennan, who was a supervisor at Boeing, retiring at 62 did not pose a financial hardship. He and his wife, Peggy, who at 59 works as an administrative assistant, started planning for his retirement years ago. His veterans health coverage was a part of those plans.
Some of his friends have told him a man in his position has “got to clean the house,” and he’s doing some of that. But as Peggy heads toward retirement, he’s begun buying and selling sports memorabilia, combining a hobby with some moneymaking.
Meanwhile, Tom and Jean Falvey have reached an accommodation. He now asks her before making a noisy woodworking cut. He gets out of the house with volunteer work and the occasional fishing trip. He’s feeling his way toward bringing in some income again, in an entirely new field. “Going back to putting together PowerPoint presentations … I don’t need that,” says Falvey.
Jean, meanwhile, spends two days a week working away from the house. “I’m still learning, still excited about the job,” she says.
For now, she and Tom have different lives and different expectations. “We are two circles,” she says, “and they overlap.”