Good financial chicken soup - for newlyweds and long-marrieds alike

MSNBC recently posted some good advice for engaged couples about transitioning to a new financial life together. It has good tips on how and when to initiate a discussion about money, on budgeting, understanding one another's spending and saving patterns, setting goals and on getting outside advice.

Long-married couples and partners can benefit from advanced versions of this kind of advice. Far too often, couples with even the most solid financial plans hit serious potholes when the main breadwinner(s) retires. To those accustomed to a healthy direct deposit landing in the bank account every two weeks or so, the transition from accumulation to depletion can be a tough (if for some, only psychological) pill to swallow.

Dealing with money as retirees is a whole new ballgame. Everything can come into play, from who keeps the checkbook, to how (and by whom) income will get generated, if need be. The net, unexpected effect of not acknowledging these changes, or of not addressing them, is serious friction -- a kind of pressure in direct odds with the automated relaxation response most expect when work ends, and a leading reason even some well-heeled retirees cite for having a less than fulfilling retirement.

Often, one half of a couple has taken primary responsibility for their investments and financial retirement planning. The move to retirement is a great opportunity to get the less knowledgeable partner more involved, for a raft of good reasons. First and foremost, to create or enhance understanding of the relationships among income, expenses and discretionary spending, and how they may change when the primary earner retires. For some, this will bring a sigh of relief, knowing that the life as they've pretty much known it will go on. For others, it may be a wake up call for modification.

The more knowledgeable partner needs to think about the best way to initiate this kind of talk. Whether it's in the kitchen over a cup of coffee, or at a longtime financial advisor's office, or in some other way, one needs to balance their ability to explain their finances with an understanding of how their partner processes information, and of the overall dynamic at work in their relationship every day. A good start: create a detailed, one-page listing of important assets including all financial accounts, and where to locate vital papers.

It's simply the responsible thing to do, too. No one wants to think about life without their partner. But the truly loving course of action is to empower the less financially involved team member with the information and understanding they need to live their best life if and when circumstances make them the survivor.

Like all retirement-related discussions, it is better to start sooner than later. Early boomer and near-boomer retirees cite financial strain as one of the chief reasons they are choosing to separate or divorce within a few years of retirement, and in alarming numbers. That's not the retirement we envisioned, or deserve.

Michael Burnham is CEO of My Next Phase, a consulting firm offering non-financial retirement planning products and services (www.mynextphase.com).


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