Retire to Paris? I Was Hoping for Milwaukee

Saving for Retirement

Retire to Paris? I Was Hoping for Milwaukee

If your retirement dreams don't match your spouse's, start talking now to bridge the divide.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in the September 2007 issue of Kiplinger's Retirement Report. To subscribe, click here.

Many of us think of retirement as the last hurrah, the chance to pursue that long-neglected dream. But what if your spouse doesn't share your dream? Perhaps a wife is pining to study in Spain for several years, while the husband wants to turn his gardening hobby into a business. Or she likes the beach, but he prefers the city.


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Retirement is as big a transition as getting married and having a child, and this kind of spousal divide can make it more difficult. For most of married life, husbands and wives are accustomed to being apart during the day, pursuing separate interests and hanging out with their own circle of friends and colleagues. Suddenly, they're thrust together full-time, forced to renegotiate everything.

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Where once the two of you fretted over where to send the kids to camp, now you're agonizing over where to live and what to do for the rest of your lives. "The issues around retirement are different from other decisions that couples make because they have an equal impact on both parties, and they mean a huge life change," says Ronald Manheimer, director of the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement in Asheville, N.C.


One way to synchronize your expectations and goals is to talk about retirement many years before it happens. But a study by Fidelity Investments found that the non–financial side of retirement planning is obviously not a regular kitchen-table topic.

In a survey earlier this year, Fidelity asked 500 preretiree couples about their goals for retirement. For more than 30% of the couples, wives and husbands gave very different answers when asked about their lifestyle expectations, the age at which each expected the other to retire and whether at least one spouse would continue working in retirement.

Even when couples talk, their ideas may diverge. Consider Nick and Susan Mimken, both 63. When Nick was in college, he worked summers in Nantucket, Mass. It was always his fantasy to return, he says, so he and Susan bought land there in 1991 and later built a house.

They made a deal. Nick would close his life-insurance practice in Cleveland. Susan, who earned a degree in interior design in her early fifties, would build a business. After moving to Nantucket eight years ago, Nick became a "beach bum," sailed, took pottery classes and worked odd jobs. "I was loving it," he says. But after a couple of years, Susan wanted to move. The cost of living on the posh island was high, and there were no opportunities for her to pursue a growing interest in fiber crafts. "I was the pusher to think about leaving," she says.


It was a tough sell, although Nick knew that they could not afford to live there indefinitely. "I didn't want to give up my dream," he says. "I felt I had to be an idiot to leave Nantucket because I had wanted it for so long. It was like admitting failure."

To resolve their differences and to figure out their next step, they attended seminars at the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement (, which is part of the University of North Carolina at Asheville. They realized they agreed more than they differed—they both wanted to live near educational institutions and in a diverse community. They moved to Asheville, where Susan does her crafts and Nick hikes and takes classes at the university.

Yours, Mine and Ours

Like the Mimkens, most couples can both reach agreement and fulfill their individual needs in retirement, according to experts. The key is to start talking, perhaps years before the time approaches. The major issues you should discuss are when you want to retire, where you want to live and what you want to do. "If there is enough flexibility, there is a way for each one to get what each wants," says Sara Yogev, a psychologist in Skokie, Ill., and author of For Better or for Worse . . . But Not for Lunch: Making Marriage Work in Retirement (McGraw-Hill).

Many experts suggest that a way to start is for each spouse to separately draw up a dream list. Do you want to travel six months a year, become a photographer, learn to skydive or mentor disadvantaged kids? "You need to list the things that you dream about and then assign a value to each," says Alan Bernstein, co-author with John Trauth of Your Retirement, Your Way: Why It Takes More Than Money to Live Your Dream (McGraw-Hill, $17). "If living near a grandchild is important, assign that a value of one to ten." The book includes exercises for figuring out your retirement interests and goals.


One exercise at the Center for Creative Retirement is called Mansions of the Soul. Each room in a floor plan of a house represents a function -- travel, exercise, work, volunteering and so forth. Separately, the wife and husband allocate how much time each spends in each room now and how much time they plan to spend in each one after retirement. "We have to make sure that each person is thinking selfishly about one's life," Manheimer says. "If they don't do it now, there could be unspoken resentment later."

Often, couples are not that far apart, and it's a matter of fine-tuning. But if you're an out-of-sync couple, the list can serve as a starting point for compromising. In many cases, it's easy to split the difference. Manheimer recalls one couple where the wife wanted to travel, but the husband, who had traveled extensively for business, wanted to play golf and spend time on his woodworking hobby. Their solution: She travels with her women friends.

If you disagree on where to move, start researching destinations years before you intend to stop working. Perhaps several retirement spots offer the amenities each of you desires. Or maybe you can take long vacations in your dream locale, or buy a vacation home there, if your spouse does not want to move there year round.

You can also test out some fantasy activities before you and your spouse plan your retirement around them. Say a wife reveals that she intends to start a business. She should research the field first to see what it's like. Or if a husband says he wants to turn a bedroom into a studio and become a painter, he could take a few lessons before he embarks on the venture.


Part of the discussion should involve how much time you'll spend together and in separate activities. This can be a touchy topic, but it's essential to get those feelings expressed. "There needs to be his, mine and ours," says Susie Campbell, 58, who's been married to her husband, Drew, 59, for 37 years. "Allowing each other space is a skill."

The Campbells learned that the hard way. In 2004, they moved to a rural community in North Carolina from northern California, where Drew had worked as a senior manager for Oracle. Susie quickly developed her own outside interests and friendships, but Drew didn't have a clue what he wanted to do. "He was used to managing 250 people, and now he put all of his energy into managing me," Susie says. Drew adds: "We were arguing and bickering, and almost resentful of each other."

Like the Mimkens, Drew visited the Center for Creative Retirement, where he learned that he needed to find a community to substitute for his job. He now belongs to a photography club, plays guitar with a music group, and meets people rafting and hiking. "Now I think we're partners," Drew says of his wife. "We have our own lives, but we have lives together."

Honey, Are You a Loner or Gregarious?

Out-of-sync retired couples sometimes have a hard time seeing eye-to-eye because they may have different personality traits that affect their decisions. If you're nearing retirement, you must make an effort to understand how your personality and that of your spouse influence your retirement choices, say Michael Burnham and J. Randolph Burnham, brothers and co-founders of My Next Phase (, which provides retirement-related online classes and personal coaching. Their book, My Next Phase: The Personality-Based Guide to Your Best Retirement (Springboard Press, $25), includes hands-on exercises.

J. Randolph Burnham recalls one couple who went through the program: Dick had a "contemplative" personality and craved solitude, while wife Helen was "outgoing" and needed people. Dick wanted to travel extensively in an RV, an idea that frightened Helen, who wanted to be around friends. Burnham says that the two reached a compromise only when they understood how their ingrained personal styles motivated their choices. They ended up buying a home, where they live for six months, and they travel for the other six months.

As you work out your nonfinancial retirement plans, it's essential to get on the same page regarding money, experts say. It's often difficult for wife and husband to feel comfortable about their non–money plans if one spouse, usually the wife, is left in the dark. The Fidelity study found that only 38% of couples reported making decisions together on long-term financial planning. Couples who jointly made decisions were generally optimistic about their expected standard of living.

"It's important for both of them to know how much they have," says Your Retirement, Your Way co-author Trauth. "That way they can both know they're on solid footing. If not, it leaves the woman saying, 'That's what he says, but I wonder how fine we really are.' "