If you’ve never talked about retirement with your spouse, you’re not alone. But it’s a crucial conversation if you want your retirement dreams to become reality.
Thirty-six percent of couples say they haven’t even thought about a retirement plan, and 47% of couples disagree about how much money they’ll need in retirement, according to a Fidelity Investments survey of 1,051 couples in 2015.
“People are more comfortable talking about sex than money,” says John Schwartz, author of “This Is the Year I Put My Financial Life in Order” and a reporter who covers climate change for The New York Times.
“It’s so emotionally fraught that it’s a topic a lot of people just avoid,” he says.
How to begin
The million-dollar question that undergirds all other retirement questions is: Are your savings on track to support your desired future lifestyle? Working together to determine this, perhaps using a retirement calculator, can help start the conversation.
Thinking about retirement can be tough for some people. They might associate it with getting old, or a relative’s gloomy nursing home experience. If that’s true for your spouse, plan your conversations carefully.
Don’t bring up retirement when either of you is stressed or tired, says Syble Solomon, financial behavior specialist and creator of Money Habitudes, an online game for figuring out your attitude toward money.
Instead, talk about it on vacation, or over a nice meal.
Mary Ballin, a certified financial planner with Mosaic Financial Partners in Walnut Creek, California, recommends “money dates,” where couples set aside time “to get away from the house and the load of laundry and the pile of dishes and the kids” to discuss any money topic.
The power of open-ended questions
Don’t make demands when you talk with your spouse about retirement. Instead, ask open-ended, nonthreatening questions.
“One way to start is when you see what’s happening to people you know,” Solomon says. If your neighbors just sold their house to travel around the country in an RV, ask your spouse, “What do you think about that?”
Another idea is to envision what retirement might look like. Ask your spouse, “When you think about retirement, when you wake up in the morning, what time of day do you think you would wake up? What would you see out the window?” Solomon says — maybe it’s the beach, the mountains, or your current view.
“You start talking about what are people’s images, their expectations, their dreams,” Solomon says.
But don’t be surprised if you disagree on some points — or even many points.
“You might have two totally different ideas about what you want to do in retirement,” says Shelly-Ann Eweka, a director of financial planning at TIAA in Denver.
“There’s going to be some compromises,” she says.
After some initial discussions, you might be ready to address some more concrete questions together. Here are three questions to ask each other:
1. What will we do in retirement?
People often forget to consider their day-to-day lives, says Rick Kahler, founder of Kahler Financial Group in Rapid City, South Dakota.
“What I find they don’t talk about is, ‘What are our days going to look like?’” he says.
For example, maybe you want to travel and your spouse prefers to stay home and garden.
Differences around discretionary spending aren’t necessarily a problem, says Jill Fopiano, chief executive officer at O’Brien Wealth Partners.
“In some cases, one of the spouses travels a lot and the other doesn’t,” she says.
A trickier problem is disagreeing over major financial decisions, she says; for example, one spouse wants to downsize to a smaller house and the other doesn’t. Resolving those issues may take considerable time and compromise.
2. When will we retire?
Half of the couples surveyed by Fidelity disagreed on when they’ll retire — a worrisome finding given that your retirement age is important in determining how much you need to save.
The good news? Figuring out at what age you want to retire can lead to deeper conversations. Having to wrestle with that and similar questions “got us talking about money and our expectations and our desires,” Schwartz says about him and his wife. “It was a really valuable conversation.”
Another important question: Will you retire at the same time? The answer can have serious implications for how and when you tap retirement savings and claim Social Security. Here are some ideas on when to take Social Security benefits.
3. What are our top priorities?
Your financial situation will determine what you can do in retirement, so it makes sense to prioritize what’s most important.
“Start prioritizing,” Eweka says, “and then ask: ‘What is it going to take for us to afford it?’”
“Realistically,” she adds, “if you have five things on your list, you may be able to get three of them done. That’s why you prioritize. Or, you may be lucky — you might be able to do all five.”
And if you’re behind?
The sooner you start saving, the better, because the power of compounding means your investment returns start building on themselves, making your job a lot easier.
One rule of thumb: If you have a 401(k) or similar plan at work, save enough there to get any company match. That’s free money you don’t want to pass up.
If you don’t have a workplace plan, then setting up an IRA or Roth IRA is the next best thing. (We review IRA providers here.)
If you’re saving something now, consider bumping up your savings rate just a little bit every year. Even small increases can have a big effect over time. See how 1% savings hikes can spice up your retired life by $1 million.
This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by Forbes.