Retirement, Investments, & Insurance for Individuals Build your knowledge Should we stop working at the same time? 10 retirement questions for couples

Should we stop working at the same time? 10 retirement questions for couples

There’s no universal retirement age. Talk through these questions with your partner to help determine what retirement timeline suits your needs and lifestyle.

Older couple working together on laptop from dining room table.
6 min read |

Do you plan to retire at the same time as your partner?

So many variables factor into the decision—from personal activity levels to workplace flexibility to your reliance on benefits from your employer.

The key to minimizing decision anxiety? Communication, says Kevin Hansen, a financial professional and retirement income consultant for Principal®.

“Start the conversation five to eight years before retirement—and adjust as circumstances change,” Hansen says. “If you wait until the day you’re retiring, that’s too late.”

Here are 10 questions to help pinpoint the retirement timing that’s right for both of you.

1. When do you want to retire?

Many couples don’t confront this soon enough.

Your ideal retirement age or date may move for various reasons—a downturn in the economy or a project at work you want to see through—but if you and your partner lack common expectations, you’re destined for conflict.

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Average EXPECTED retirement age in the U.S.1:


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Average ACTUAL retirement age in the U.S.1:


2. How do we want to spend our time in retirement?

Retirement may upend your everyday schedule and how you and your partner relate to each other. Spending more time together at home or balancing competing commitments with shifting schedules may require adjustment. Some retirees also worry whether part-time work or a hobby can fulfill them as much as the career they left behind.

Confront these concerns together honestly to set expectations and deal with problems before they arise.

3. How do we want to spend money in retirement—use it all, or leave a legacy?

Talk over issues like:

  • Will we spend it all or save money to carry on our charitable work after we’re gone?
  • Do we want to leave a financial legacy for our family or a charity? If so, will that involve sacrifices in retirement?
  • Should we consider long-term care insurance to help prevent spending down all our remaining assets?

“The death part is incredibly difficult to talk about,” Hansen says. “But it’s essential to be blunt with each other before you enter retirement.”

4. How will we cover health care in retirement?

Planning for health care costs is essential. The average healthy 65-year-old couple retiring today can expect to spend $315,000 on health care in the years ahead.2

If you plan to retire early—before you’re eligible for Medicare—can you rely on good health coverage from your spouse? COBRA health coverage lets you extend what your last employer offered for up to 18 months. But it can be expensive and tether you to employer plan changes.

“It really comes down to shopping,” Hansen says. A state health care exchange may provide an affordable option. Or a spouse may opt to work part-time in early retirement to help pay medical costs.

5. Which one of us is more likely to live longer?

The question is tough but crucial. Which of you faces better genetic odds for longevity? The higher earning spouse might want to work longer or at least delay Social Security withdrawals, to preserve more of an earnings cushion for the other, should they live longer. You don’t want a grieving partner returning to the workforce just to make ends meet.

6. When should we begin to collect Social Security?

Longevity isn’t the only factor determining when to draw Social Security. Those who retire early also face a Social Security Administration “earnings test”.

Let’s say you plan to do consulting work on the side in retirement. If you earn more than the 2023 Social Security annual limit of $21,240, that reduces or can even eliminate your Social Security benefit. So you may want to delay drawing Social Security until your full retirement age, when you can earn as much as you want from a job and still receive the full benefit.

7. How active do you want to be with family, friends, and community?

“You see a lot of incredibly active retirees,” Hansen says. “They’re involved in charities, they’re doing stuff in the community, and they’re still working.”

Talk about how active each of you want to be, whether you want to participate in activities together or have some independence, and how you might handle it if you have differing desires.

8. Should either of us work part-time in retirement?

A part-time job may help you afford health care or generally provide a financial bridge into retirement. It’s worth talking about the potential social benefits, too.

9. How much debt will we have when we retire?

It’s common to retire with debt, such as a home mortgage. But couples can also downsize the main residence to minimize cost or relocate closer to family and grandkids. Maybe a second home or vacation home is your financial burden. Don’t gloss over medical debt or credit card bills.

You can take steps now to both pay off debt and save for retirement.

10. Will we be supporting family members in retirement?

A grandchild, an elderly parent, a dependent adult child? Some modern retirees find themselves a “sandwich generation,” helping a child pay college loans while caregiving for an elderly parent.

“That can play a big part in the retirement decision-making process,” Hansen says. Especially if one spouse has to care for the relative full time.

Talk about how that possibility—and all of these retirement-shaping considerations—apply to your family. In time, you and your spouse will find a shared retirement formula that’s unique to you and your goals.

What's next?

Knowing where your retirement savings stand can inform this conversation. Log in to to see how much you’re saving. Don’t have an employer-sponsored retirement account or want to save even more in addition to a 401(k)? We can help you set up your own IRA or Roth IRA.