Navigating Retirement as a Couple
By David Smyth
When it comes to retiring as a couple, it’s best to begin the conversation and planning early. Do you call the doctor before or after you get sick? Do you call your homeowners insurance agent before or after your house burns down? Do you fill up your car before or after you run out of gas?
At Family Financial Partners, we are blessed to have a variety of different personality types in our client base, and each likely has a different set of answers to the above questions. But we can all agree that there is a point of no return where it’s too late to treat the symptoms, save the family photos, or arrive to your destination on time – if at all!
That said, we also can’t pretend to act surprised that most people wait until the last second to begin retirement planning. Although a few clients have come to us a few years before retiring, most call us three to nine months prior to their desired retirement date. If you’re a pilot, this means the difference between letting the air traffic control tower know you’ve begun your approach and are deploying your landing gear, or coming in for a controlled crash, tossing your keys to the gate attendant and saying “fill ‘er up and make sure she’s pretty!”
Now we know, for all you parents reading this, you can’t imagine your own retirement until that last child has left the house – and not come back! But for most families, this is when you should ask yourself those questions about retirement – not when you have three or four grandkids and are weighing the pros and cons of wintering in Florida and golfing at the Villages. By starting early, it allows your planning team to identify any areas of concern or need, and allows you plenty of time to consider your options, and make strategic decisions about your future.
If you’re married and you said those traditional vows, you agreed to for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, and for richer or for poorer. Sound familiar? Well, we know after talking to hundreds of families that most people did not say the words “for breakfast, lunch and dinner” when making those vows. :)
In the years (or months, I know) leading up to your retirement, you and your spouse need to establish how you will spend your time, and what your days will look like once you’re no longer required to to go your jobs.
Thinking back, I can’t count the number of clients I’ve seen whose initial ideal retirement consisted of hanging out at the country club and drinking Bloody Marys before and after golf every day. For many however, within about six months (or by next golf season), these retirees have started a consulting business, where they’re now telling other people how to do what they used to do! We know it’s important for retirees to keep their brains occupied in order to maintain their sanity.
Prior to retirement, you and your spouse need to have more than just an activity plan. You need a transition plan that encompasses reviewing areas that are changing such as benefits, early buyouts, and any pensions or Social Security. Review your monthly cashflow and lifestyle requirements. Also review your housing situation and wants, and lay out a 90-day plan for how you will actually embrace the first three months of retirement. Are there retirement parties? Visits to children and family, or a celebratory trip? Would you rather volunteer at charities you support, instead of just writing checks?
Finally, keep an open mind. No matter what decisions you might make about going into retirement, life will change and the world will change, and you will have to make adjustments. I often see people do all of the initial homework when they first retire because their HR department told them to, but then they get lazy as the years go by because the world has slowed down for them. We often see people go from educated, informed and engaged clients to clients who give us the vibe that we may be bothering them. Whether good news or bad news, it seems we’re annoying them.
Now folks, understand – we aren’t just scheduling meetings for the sake of making phone calls and hearing our own voices. Part of the planning process is getting together on a regular basis as fits your needs, and having open and honest conversations not just about markets, but what you’re doing in life and what’s changing that we need to know about. We may need to update parts of your plan accordingly.
So now you’re thinking, “Dave, does this mean I have to drive across town and put myself together just to talk to your team?” Well, we’ve also adapted to changing technology, so for those of you who prefer it, we are happy to hold meetings via Facetime or Skype, or catch up on a conference call. It’s up to you. So whether you prefer to have a review meeting where you’re fully clothed and have your face on, or sitting at the kitchen table in boxers with your Folger’s brewing, well, either one is fine with us. We simply want to maintain regular contact so that as life happens, we can adjust your plan to fit your needs.
PS – If you are on a call with us, and you aren’t fully dressed, please, please, please – don’t tell us!