Financial Planning For The Second Half Of Marriage

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My wife and I are celebrating our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary this month. Our oldest child is now a freshman in college and our youngest is a sophomore in high school. The financial planning issues that were important during the first half of our marriage become critical as a couple enters the second half.

The second half of marriage can either be the best time of life or the time when a marriage breaks up. The transition can catch unsuspecting couples off guard.

A survey from the book, The Second Half of Marriage , surveyed couples’ responses to the question: “What are the areas that cause the greatest stress in your marriage?” In every decade of life, the number one answer was “finances.” Budgeting, retirement planning, and other money issues can easily ruin what might otherwise be a time of remembering why you got married in the first place.

Times of transition are particularly hard on marriages. As the work of raising a family wanes, couples often look to each other for help in redefining their calling in life. Mothers who have devoted years to caring for children may want to fulfill one of the dreams they postponed decades ago. They may want to go back to school, take on a new career, or be more involved in charitable causes. Husbands, on the other hand, may find they are ready to scale back their careers.

While having a close friendship and spiritual commitment are the most important ingredients of a fulfilling relationship, financial troubles are usually the primary point of contention. Fulfillment in the second half of marriage will require reconnecting with our spouses. Part of that process will mean proactively working on your finances, together.

If you and your spouse are approaching this season of transition, take this opportunity to check-up on your retirement money, your marriage, and your mission.

First, get your retirement plan together. A retirement plan, like a spending plan, helps a couple limit their disagreements to only those issues outside the plan.

It is at this point that a little advance planning can make a world of difference. If you have to choose between funding your retirement and paying for your children’s education, your desire to fund your kids’ college education may not be the best choice. The government will loan you money for college but not retirement. You can also drastically reduce the costs of college but not so with retirement.  If necessary, your children can borrow for their college education.  If they do, they still have a long time horizon in which to repay those loans and to build wealth.

For most couples, expenses drop significantly after their children finish college. Although saving in the early years of marriage is ideal, when the kids are finally off on their own, couples get one last chance to save for retirement.

These years before retirement are critical in determining whether you have sufficient assets to retire. During this time, it is important that your investments are not invested too aggressively or too conservatively. Between age 45 and 65, the size of your portfolio should at least double and then double again. By the first day of retirement, you should plan on having about 23 times your annual income.

Next, reestablish opportunities for communication with your spouse. The period just before the children leave home is often the most difficult on the marriage relationship. After a quarter century, the communication focus of most couples is their children. Creating new channels of communication that are spouse-centered are critical during this time of transition.

The natural course of relationships is to drift apart. So, don’t be down on yourself if you and your spouse are ‘working’ on your marriage. The fact is, if you aren’t working on your marriage, it is probably headed in the wrong direction.

Finally, find your mission for this new phase of your life. It is easy when you are young to think you have all the time in the world for all the good things in life. First your job, then the kids rightfully occupied much of your time. But, as these responsibilities begin to ease, revisit the bigger life questions which are critically important, even if they aren’t immediately urgent.

George Kinder in his book, The Seven Stages of Money Maturity , uses three questions to help people understand these life questions. Take the time to write out your answers honestly and thoughtfully, and then share your thoughts with your spouse.

1. If you knew you would have all the money that you needed, now and in the future, from this moment forward, how will you live your life?

2. If the doctor told you that you would die suddenly and without symptoms in five to ten years, how would you change your life for the time that remains?

3. If the doctor told you that you would be dead within twenty-four hours, what feelings, regrets, longings, and unfulfilled dreams would haunt you?

Nothing is more meaningful than structuring your life around lasting values. Sometimes the vague nebulous answers that we live by are not ultimately satisfying. Reevaluating our purpose can give renewed meaning to our lives and relationships, especially in this season of change.

Photo by Lanty on Unsplash

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President, CFP®, AIF®, AAMS®

David John Marotta is the Founder and President of Marotta Wealth Management. He played for the State Department chess team at age 11, graduated from Stanford, taught Computer and Information Science, and still loves math and strategy games. In addition to his financial writing, David is a co-author of The Haunting of Bob Cratchit.