Who retires first?

Mongrel Punt and Mongrel on Fire, circa 2030

Let’s say you’re in a relationship with someone who is older/younger. By more than 5 years. How do you deal with retirement?

What if your spouse is 10 or 20 years older? Or if medical conditions mean that they have to retire much earlier? What do you do or say to open this discussion up, and make plans that are fair to everyone?

What if you want to keep working and your partner wants to retire early? Or if the person who wants to retire is absolutely rubbish at household management? What happens if your partner hates their job and is becoming a bit of a jerk because they are so deeply unhappy? What if you’re the one becoming a jerk? How do you negotiate expectations?

Mongrel Punt is over 10 years older than me. Obviously, he will retire before I do. But I don’t want to have to wait until he’s 70 before we can spend our days together.

Early on in our time together, we had a few strained and serious conversations which led us to finally realising how we can get from A to B in almost every discussion we have. I asked earlier in this piece how you begin a conversation about a touchy subject and make it fair – you have to really know your partner. Mongrel Punt wants to know what the end of the conversation will look like so that we aren’t going around in circles for hours, or straying off track (my specialty). I want to talk things through until I am satisfied that I understand where he’s coming from, so I can’t be surprised later by an expectation or assumption that I never picked up on. It felt incredibly ridiculous to say “I want to talk about our staircase. My end goal is for us to to decide if and when we replace it, and how much we spend”, but it was surprisingly effective. I’m OK with feeling like a poster girl for the latest trend in management communication strategy for a few minutes if it means we get a great result. I also had to take a leap of faith that he wasn’t going to play stupid games (and win stupid prizes), but would actually tell me exactly what he wanted and why. We both figured out early on, that difficult conversations were easier when we say what we mean and want without trying to say what the other person wanted to hear. The love and care that you have for your partner should become apparent later in the piece, when you work to reach a compromise. There’s nothing worse than having a discussion about something serious, and then meekly agreeing to something you dislike, all because you don’t want to make waves. It just leads to resentment. Massive, crazy, resentment.

Really, our initial discussions have been relatively easy. I handle our finances and retirement planning so I laid out a few options and we spent some time nutting out what we actually want out of our lives.

We both wanted a property out in the country. A few acres, with a small house. Unfortunately, that would add a whopping six to eight years onto his working life. That plan was shelved as a FatFIRE (otherwise known as rolling in the Benjamins) dream, reliant entirely on excellent investment returns.

I want to travel. Neither of us wants to travel cheaply. Fortunately, I’m OK with working an extra few years to fund some amazing trips. So this one is a medium FIRE target.

Most of all, we just want to hang out together. We literally don’t need much else. We would watch basketball, read, talk about what we’re reading, and generally mess about. We would love to get back to playing Neverwinter together, or find some other 2 player PlayStation games. This is our Lean FIRE scenario.

So, back to the understanding that he retires first. Primarily, the issue is how long he would work to essentially subsidise my retirement. If he works until he’s 65, we can both bow out at the same time, and have what I consider to be an extremely cushy retirement. But I don’t want to plan for that. I want us to have choices. If one of us gets sick, or loses our job, then I want a financial cushion.

I made a stack of different timelines, all with extremely conservative assumptions. Our biggest weakness is our inability to save much over the next few years (we both work part time so that we can spend time with our baby girl). Our greatest strength is that we are ‘all in’ on our life together. Our assets are shared, and all of our plans include each other.

The most palatable scenario sees us banking my wage, while living off his, and making the most from salary sacrificing (childcare and some limited contributions to super). When we get to our medium FIRE amount, Mongrel Punt would retire. I would work full time while he becomes the house-husband (which sounds pretty sweet to me). We’d let our asset base grow and take care of itself while we live off my wage. Then, we’d talk things over yet again, to work out if we are on track.

Where do I see this falling down? The numbers are fine, since I’m insanely conservative with my projections, but it’s the human factor that could trip us up. Our roles will need to change. If he is retired, would he take care of ALL the household chores? I would say probably not. I would hope that I’d still pull my weight – I’d carry on doing our finances, and our end of day ‘clean for ten minutes’. That said, I probably would talk to him about handling the basic chores, and the Monday to Friday stuff, like dealing with service providers or organising repairs. I’d expect him to get up at a reasonable hour, and go to bed at a time that won’t negatively impact me or our daughter. In other words, retirement isn’t going to be a complete abandonment of responsibility. Life still goes on.

Would I feel resentful about getting up and heading off to work? Probably not – I see a lot of value in the day to day structure that work gives me (though I might get a tad grumpy about waking up early during winter). Would I penny-pinch and question his purchases? Doubtful, since we get the same amount of personal spending money which goes into our own accounts. How about travel? Or late nights out? If one person is retired, the other person still has to organise things within the constraints of their job. It’s still a team effort.

One horrible thing that requires discussion is what happens if your partner gets sick and needs care. What are the expectations around that? Would you need to move house? Quit your job? Take extended leave? Do you have a will? It’s not pleasant stuff to discuss, but it’s better to lay out the options while you’re in reasonably good health. Before I even got pregnant, Mongrel Punt and I made a will, just in case something happened to him and I was left alone with our little one. Before I gave birth, I gave him very strict instructions on what to do if things went badly – the health and safety of our baby would come first. The point is, if either of us get sick, we need a plan that wont see the other person shouldering the physical, emotional and financial weight alone.

Even if the finances are in order, a good retirement isn’t guaranteed. The people factor is where the variables come into play. Would MongrelPunt make a good stay-at-home partner? Will I change my mind about travel? Will one, or both of us, decide we want to stay at work longer because we enjoy it? The variables are important, but what’s more important is actually talking it over. “SURPRISE, I’m retiring!” just isn’t the way to go. We have literally scheduled a talk for later in the year, so that we both have time to think things through carefully. I spend so long sorting out the money side, it would remiss of us to neglect the personal expectations.

2 thoughts on “Who retires first?

  1. Loved this. We are two years apart and will retire at the same time (not for 15 years or so), but I’m going to be busy/continuing to work in some capacity in my retirement while I suspect Mr. ETT may not. I have all of the concerns you’ve listed above. Retirement is way, way more than money so planning for that aspect is essential. Guess I should get our own talks scheduled!


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