Things to Know When Your Spouse Retires, You Keep Working


At one point or another we all look forward to our retirement, the time in our lives when we can stop working and start the journey through the next chapter of our lives. Whether you are looking for an adventure or to travel, ideal retirement plans differ from person to person.

When couples are several years apart in age and one spouse wants to retire earlier than the other, retirement can be a tricky transition. With one spouse ready for his or her golden years to begin, the other may still be focused on their career. The challenges you face when not retiring at the same time are unique and personal for each couple.

Regardless of how couples choose to approach retiring at different ages, Dan Keady, CFP and Senior Director of Financial Planning at TIAA-CREF, discussed with what you need to know for a smooth transition for the retiree and the working spouse.

Boomer: What are the potential benefits when one spouse continues working and the other retires?

Keady: Retiring at different times can indeed have some benefits, the greatest one being that one partner will still be earning a salary, which will take some of the strain out of the financial difficulties that can often be associated with retirement and  will allow the couple to take less out of their retirement nest egg. Additionally, the working partner may also be able to provide healthcare benefits for the couple, which can be extremely helpful.

Boomer: What are the financial and emotional implications that couples can expect when one spouse retires earlier than the other?

Keady: Retirement is a tricky transition for couples to handle and the question of when to retire involves focusing on money, age differences, and job satisfaction—often all at the same time. This can lead to a variety of challenges, both financial and emotional for the couple, from brewing resentment about how a partner is spending their free time, to how to reconcile the couple’s spending habits with less income coming into the household.

Emotionally and financially, it is essential that both partners have a clear and a realistic picture of retirement goals. Communication is key, and couples can benefit from discussing their goals in order to understand each other’s vision for retirement.

Boomer: For couples considering retiring at different times, what should they focus on in order to secure a happy and stable retirement?

Keady: Start by reviewing your financial reality and discuss key issues like your expenses and your retirement plan with your spouse. While this planning may feel similar to general retirement planning, consider how your financial situation will change when one income goes away. Compare all salary and benefits information for both jobs, along with health care coverage, life and long-term care insurance, disability coverage and any other potential benefits. Review all retirement accounts and any retiree health savings accounts, along with a recent Social Security statement for each person, which shows the monthly payout for when you start collecting benefits at different points in time.

In addition to financial planning, it’s essential to review both your budget and timeline. Work together as a couple to come up with a projected post-retirement budget. Not only will you be living off only one income, the spending habits of the non-working spouse will likely change. By creating and agreeing upon a budget and timeline, couples can move forward by setting retirement goals that are informed by financial realities. If you and your spouse are struggling to come up with a solid budget, timeline and goals, consider meeting with a financial advisor to help talk you through the situation.

Boomer: What are some important questions to ask a financial advisor when retiring at a different time versus your spouse?

Keady: Couples who plan to retire at different times can benefit from talking with a financial advisor who can look at your entire financial picture to help makes sure all the pieces fit together and can help build a realistic timeline for retirement. Here are a few important questions to begin the conversation with your advisor:

Can one or both of us afford to retire? If not, what steps do we need to take?

What would happen to our retirement plan if one of us were forced to retire early due to layoffs?

How would we obtain health insurance if one or both of us stopped working before age 65?