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Retirement Planning and The Big Assumptions That Can Lead to Conflict

Mark Zaifman   |    Wed, Jan 23, 2013 @ 10:54 AM

10,000 baby boomers retire each day

For the next 19 years, close to 10,000 boomers will turn 65 everyday and the majority will also be heading into retirement. 

This means that the 79 million baby boomers, about 26 percent of the country’s population, will be redefining what it means to be older and what it means to be ‘retired’. And what retirement means to you could be, and very often is, very different than what it means to your spouse or partner.

My parents are a perfect example of how assumptions, made separately by each of them, backfired in a major way. Both of my parents were immigrants to this country, arriving after WW II, and like many other immigrants of that era, they worked their butts off to get ahead.

As children of immigrant parent’s, me and my siblings often felt like indentured servants to the family business, but that’s a story for another day and hopefully a screenplay that Woody Allen will one day make into a major motion picture…but I digress.

My Dad devoted the majority of his adult life to being a successful entrepreneur. He loved being an entrepreneur, starting new businesses and being successful. Truth be told, we didn’t see my Dad much growing up, but like many men of that generation, especially immigrants, work was the major priority in life and everything else came second.

To Dream the Impossible Dream

It’s so easy to remember my Mom endlessly dreaming and talking about the life her and my Dad would lead once he retired. All the places they would go together, but most importantly to her, all the time they would finally get to spend together to make up for lost time.

According to my Mom, it was time for my Dad to retire in his late 60’s. Yet, instead of retiring, what did he do? He started yet another new business. Ok, so her dream would have to be postponed a few years, but a few years turned into many years and it wasn’t until my father was in his mid 70’s that he finally gave in and officially ‘retired’. 

I would love to say this story had a happy ending - that once my father retired that he and my Mom lived happily ever after. But that’s not the case. For my Mom’s assumptions all along about what life would be like once she and her beloved were finally together were based unfortunately on fantasy and not reality.

The best way to describe my father’s transition into retirement is ‘crash landing’. His assumptions were diametrically opposed to my mother’s assumptions regarding lifestyle in retirement. For the first few years of their retirement, conflict was often part of the narrative. Many reading this I’m sure can relate to how painful it is to witness your parent’s supposed golden years turning into chaos.

Eventually things calmed down, their lives took on a sense of normalcy, but disappointment and sadness of what could have been often hung in the air like a humid summer day in NJ. Their story is not uncommon and more often than not, more common that you could imagine. They never talked about their visions and dreams about retirement and instead believed they both wanted the same thing, which was not remotely true.

Share Your Feelings, Your Dreams and Communicate Often

As a comprehensive financial planner that specializes in retirement planning for boomers, it’s my heartfelt goal to make sure couples are communicating and talking about their dreams about the future.

What happens all too often when it comes to retirement planning is focusing purely on the number - how much you need to accumulate by the time you reach the finish line, and neglecting the other crucial element of retirement planning which is making sure you and your partner are on the same page.

Will you live in your current home when you retire or will you downsize? If you downsize, will you stay in the community or move out of state or perhaps out of the country? How costly a lifestyle do you wish to lead in retirement, lavish or frugal? Will you be helping your kids or grandkids or are they on their own? Will you be working part-time or volunteering? How often do you plan to travel and what’s on your list of places you must visit before you die? Do you even have a list? And what’s a typical month look like to you when retired and what does it look like to your partner?

These questions just scratch the surface when it comes to aligning your individual desires and dreams of retirement with your partner. The main goal is to start talking about your vision of this next phase of your life and listening appreciatively to your partner’s vision.

Ultimately, you don’t want to wait until the last minute to have this discussion. Even if you’re in your early 50’s and retirement feels like a long way off, don't let that stop you. At a minimum, begin the discussion and see where the similarities are as well as the differences.

And if for some reason you run into conflict during this conversation, I highly recommend a life coach that can help you open up the conversation and resolve the conflict and of course get you ready and primed for a meeting with a fee-only financial planner. Pat Chambers, Ph.D., based in Oakland, CA is the best of the best and she serves clients in the entire San Francisco Bay Area.

Bottom line, the sooner you start talking about the future, the sooner your dreams of retirement will turn into reality.


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