6 min read October 19, 2021
Should we retire together? 10 retirement questions for couples

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

Picture of a couple talking about whether they should retire together.

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

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

The key to minimizing decision anxiety? Communication, says Tyler De Haan, director of business development in retirement solutions for Principal®.

“Start the conversation five to eight years before retirement—and adjust as circumstances change. 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.

Illustration saying that the average retirement age in the US is 65 for men and 63 for women
Illustration saying that the average retirement age in the US is 65 for men and 63 for women
Illustration saying that the average retirement age in the US is 65 for men and 63 for women

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

Retirement may upend your everyday schedule and how you and your spouse 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 this concern 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 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,” De Haan says. But it’s essential to be blunt with each other before you enter retirement.

4. How will we cover health care in retirement?

Health care costs are a big concern for retirees for good reason: The average healthy 65-year-old couple retiring today can expect to spend $662,156 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,” De Haan 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? (You can use the Social Security Administration's life expectancy calculator to find out.) 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 an “earnings test.”

Let’s say you plan to do consulting work on the side in retirement. If you earn more than the 2021 Social Security annual limit of $18,960, 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.

Read more about the earnings test from the Social Security Administration.

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

“You see a lot of retirees who are more active than me,” says 39-year-old De Haan. “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.

De Haan’s parents, for example, have different social appetites: his mother, Deb, a more active retiree and his father, Fred, who likes to spend more time at home with the occasional round of golf. “They had to sit down and discuss that maybe they needed to align or compromise on some of their retirement plans,” De Haan says.

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

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

De Haan’s mother, for instance, is working her seventh consecutive season at a local lake marina. “She does it because she likes it,” De Haan says. “It’s social. She earns a little extra money. But she’s still retired.”

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? These scenarios are increasingly common—with more than one in four adult Americans now living in a multigenerational household.3

Some modern retirees find themselves a “sandwich generation,” helping a child pay massive college loans while caregiving for an elderly parent.

“That can play a big part in the retirement decision-making process,” De Haan 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.

Next steps

1 The Balance, Average retirement age in the United States, March 2021.

2 HealthView Services Retirement Healthcare Costs Data Report, 2021.

3 Generations United, Multigenerational Households, 2021.

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