The 3 biggest mistakes couples make with retirement planning (and how to avoid them)

Besides the obvious benefits of being in a loving relationship, being part of a couple means you have double the power to accomplish those less-than-ideal tasks in life. Everything from doing chores to planning a social calendar can now become a team effort.

However, according to a new study released by NerdWallet, the power of two doesn’t work out very well for one of the most important milestones couples need to tackle in their lifetime. When it comes to planning for their golden years, an alarming number of otherwise successful couples fail to communicate and successfully strategize together.

In the decade I’ve been helping couples plan for retirement, I’ve seen that this is an unfortunate truism. Many couples are willing to openly discuss nearly every intimate issue under the sun, but won’t touch financial conversations with a 10-foot pole. Retirement planning can be tough enough without being left in the dark – but there are solutions to this problem.

The following are some of the biggest mistakes couples make with retirement planning, as revealed by the survey, along with some suggestions on how you can nip them in the bud:

Problem No. 1: Couples simply aren’t saving for retirement.

One of the most alarming trends is that about one in three American in a relationship reported that neither they nor their partner had started saving for retirement.

The obvious solution to this is to start saving (as early as possible), but like most goals in life, this is easier said than done. A solution I recommend to start saving money while balancing all the expenses in life is the 50-30-20 plan, penned by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi in All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan.

Each number is a percentage of your take-home pay (your income after taxes). Half goes to your essentials, such as your electricity and rent and 30% is your “fun fund”  for spending on items such as date nights or luxury purchases.

Most importantly, the 20% is what I call the “Pay Yourself First Fund,” and it should be used for bettering your financial future. Once any high-interest debt is paid off, allocate this percentage towards saving and investing for retirement.

As a caveat, couples with very different incomes should work together on this to determine how each budget will help their retirement goals. You can also consider working with a financial professional who can suggest reasonable amounts for you both to contribute.

Problem No. 2: Couples discuss big-picture goals, but not the specifics.

The good news is that a majority of couples (76%) have discussed many of their big-ticket goals for retirement, such as when they would like to retire and where they would like to live, according to the NerdWallet survey. However, the bad news is that most couples are left in the dark with specifics for reaching those goals. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, less than half of couples have attempted to figure out their specific retirement needs.

Yes, it might seem scary to finally lift off the proverbial blindfold and take a look at the numbers behind your retirement dreams. We use this false line of reasoning to procrastinate tough tasks all the time, but when it comes to retirement, putting it off actually makes the problem a lot tougher.

By starting to define your goals as early as possible, you’ll have the chance to harness the power of compound interest and investment returns to reach them. Start by setting a budget for retirement. For instance, look up the cost of living in your desired location, and anticipate your monthly spending there or consult with a trusted financial professional who can help you determine a retirement roadmap to start working towards.

Problem No. 3: Couples leave each other in the dark.

Another alarming finding is that most couples leave each other in the dark financially. According to the NerdWallet study, of the 14% that actually have a brokerage account, a whopping 43% do not consult their partner when making trading decisions on the account. In addition, about one in five Americans in a relationship have no idea what their partner has saved.

It might be tough, but starting the groundwork for open and honest financial communication early on is one of the best things you can do for a marriage. Money issues have been found to be the number one cause of divorce, and financial infidelity can lead to very serious problems.

A smart way to start setting the groundwork for open and non-judgmental communication is to have a “financial date-night.” Once a week or so, discuss your finances, including what steps you’re taking towards retirement. The key is that you won’t necessarily agree on everything financial under the sun (almost no couple does), but that you’re starting to reach agreements on big-ticket items, like where you want to retire.

Once you start setting your goals, start doing financial check-ins. This isn’t a way to track every penny your spouse is spending, but it’s a way to make sure you’re both on track for retirement and to re-evaluate if you’re having trouble. Of course, every relationship is different, but what works for many couples is to discuss any purchase over $100.

The bottom line: Discussing finances is seen as taboo, but it’s actually a way to forge a more successful and intimate relationship. You might not look forward to discussing retirement with your significant other, but what’s more romantic than planning your life goals together?


This article was written by Forbes Finance Council from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.