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Published: Mar 05, 2014 3 min read

A few weeks back, I read the retirement readiness quiz for couples that ran in the March issue of Money. (A modified version appears online as "Do your retirement dreams match your partner's?") Taking the quiz led to the following conversation at home:

Me: We need to go over where we are with our retirement money.

Sara, my wife: We just did that.

Me: Eh, that was over two years ago.

Sara (an animal trainer and ASPCA volunteer): Fine, but I'd rather talk about whether we can help a rescue group that just took in a bunch of border collies.

So goes retirement planning chez Matters. Given my job, this should not be. But as I read the quiz, it became clear that a dutiful look at the numbers is, for Sara and me, just a small part of what we have to tackle. Probably the same goes for you.

There's timing. My wife and I are about the same age, but we're at different points in our careers. She's finishing a master's degree and ramping up her dog-training business, and she may want to work at a big zoo. Me, I can start to make out the finish line. Yet research shows that when the husband retires first, both spouses are likely to be unhappier than if they quit together or the wife retires earlier.

There's location. I like to imagine how we'll reconfigure our little log cabin in Vermont into a full-time home. Sara may need to be near a city. Family further complicates things. Ours is spread out, and we'll probably be among the growing number of retirees who have both elderly parents and grandchildren to take into account.

Then, yes, there's money. We'll easily swing retirement in small-town Vermont. Could we afford the standard of living we want in a big city? That's a closer call.

In the end, the quiz made me realize how much about retirement you can't know until the reality is near, and that perhaps the best you can do is talk about possibilities so you're not springing a surprise on your partner.

Sara and I did do that review of our finances — and also figured out which charities we'll be supporting this year. Yes, some of our money will go to the dogs.

Craig Matters
Managing Editor

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