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Couples Fight More About Finances as Retirement Draws Closer

Many couples fight about money, and those spats may increase and intensify as spouses age and focus more on saving and planning for retirement.
Image: Some Americans may be in better shape financially to retire than they think, if they spend less.
Some Americans may be in better shape financially to retire than they think, if they spend less.Ebby May / Digital Vision | Getty Images

Many couples fight about money — and those disagreements may increase and intensify as you get older, particularly when it comes to saving and planning for retirement.

"There may be differences in where they want to spend their money in retirement in terms of entertainment or travel, how much they can afford to spend and how much risk they take with investments," said financial adviser Diahann Lassus, a certified financial planner and president and chief investment officer of Lassus Wherley. "There may also be increasing financial needs from adult children with children of their own.

"This can create major stress for couples who have a difficult time balancing their financial needs and the needs of their children or potentially other family member."

Earlier this year, Fidelity Investments surveyed more than 1,000 couples — ranging in age from 25 to over 60 years old — about what they expected and how prepared they were for retirement. Nearly half of the couples (48 percent) said they had "no idea" how much they would need to save to maintain their current lifestyle in retirement, and 47 percent disagreed about the amount of money they would need.

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This level of disagreement was highest among those who are closest to retirement: baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964). In fact, of those couples who admitted to fighting about money, at least 1 in 5 boomers and nearly the same number of Gen X couples (born 1965 to 1978) said they argue about saving enough for retirement.

Another poll, by Harris Interactive, also showed that money fights are more prevalent among older couples. While only 15 percent of couples between 18 and 34 years old said finances trigger arguments, more than one-third of couples age 55 to 64 admitted to having "money fights."

Couples who don't know each other's salary or miss the mark when it comes to the amount of their household's investable assets may also have trouble "sorting through and tackling important issues together around the next big milestones in their lives, such as how and where to spend retirement and later-in-life issues involving elder care and estate planning," said John Sweeney, executive vice president of Retirement and Investing Strategies at Fidelity.

"By taking time to engage in conversation and plan, your chances of creating a strong foundation and achieving your goals are greatly enhanced," he said.

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So how can you call a truce and get on the same page?

Financial advisers say you should:

Agree to disagree

"Money disagreements are often more about priorities and trade-offs than they are about the actual money," said T. Rowe Price financial planner Stuart Ritter. "It's very common for couples to not be on the same page.

"Understand why something is important to your partner, and understand why it's important to you," he added. "From that understanding, make the decisions and trade-offs that let you both feel comfortable." You may not be able to avoid arguments, but it is better to have a conversation than not talk about your financial dreams and concerns.

Be flexible

Having discussions where one spouse tries to persuade the other that his or her solution is the only way are not productive. Be willing to compromise.

"If one spouse wants to continue to work for another few years and the other spouse retires, the retired spouse wants to spend more time in Florida, so they rent a place for a few months and the working spouse takes some long weekends so they can be together," suggested Lassus at Lassus Wherley. "It isn't an ideal solution, but it is a good compromise."

Focus on the future

Don't dwell on mistakes or challenges from the past or you may get stuck there. The Fidelity survey found that planning for the future goes a long way to achieving greater peace of mind and making sure you are on the same page as a couple.

Consult with a financial adviser to help guide both of you. Couples who had a retirement plan in place were twice as likely to expect a "very comfortable" retirement, according to the Fidelity survey.