It’s not always easy to talk about money, particularly when one partner makes substantially more than another. Still, even the most iron-clad retirement plan can fail if both partners aren’t on board with the planning or implementation strategy. 

The easiest way to safeguard your long-term plans against unknown eventsespecially when you are the lower-income earner, is to talk to your partner—early and often — so the two of you can work together to incorporate financial thinking into your everyday life. Not sure where to start? Here are a few easy conversation starters.

Discuss your retirement lifestyle as a couple

It’s not always intuitive, but an effective financial strategy often hinges upon the answers to what seem like non-financial questions. These answers can have a lasting impact on your ability to plan for retirement as a couple. Consider the following:

  • When will we retire? The answers to this question will help determine how much you’ll need to save. (A longer retirement means you’ll need a greater amount of reserves from which to draw). What many couples fail to consider, though, is that the when also helps shape how those retirement hours will be spent. For example, will you retire at the same time or stagger your exits? Will you need healthcare coverage before age 65, when Medicare coverage kicks in? How will you maintain or build new social networks after you’ve left your nine-to-five?
  • How will we spend our time?  Many successful careerists aren’t looking forward to leaving their jobs as much as they are eager to kick off their second act. A next life stage could include a second career, a new volunteer opportunity, or the ability to embark upon an extended travel adventure. Sadly, many couples put this conversation off only to find, at the eleventh hour, that they have vastly different ideas of what retirement will entail. Be sure to communicate your expectations for retirement with each other as you save for retirement.
  • Where will we live? Will you stay in your current home, move to a less expensive location, or relocate to be closer to your kids? Planning your housing, even as part of a long-term plan, can be a much smoother process if a couple has discussed the options together and come to an agreement.

Getting on the same page about these vital retirement planning components can not only bring you closer as a couple, it can also help determine your long-term financial strategy. Knowing how much you’ll need to fund your dream retirement can help you decide how aggressive to be with your investment strategy. It helps to identify any cashflow gaps that can be reconciled with a variable annuity or whole life insurance policy. Whatever strategy you ultimately choose, it’s important to initiate a plan that leaves both partners — regardless of income during the income-earning years— comfortable with the anticipated level of risk and potential eventual outcomes.

Protect your long-term plans

It’s quite common for couples to put off the what-would-I-do-without-you? conversation and really, who can blame them? No one wants to think about life after the death of a spouse or the lifestyle changes that can accompany an unexpected permanent injury or disability. Even so, having these uncomfortable conversations upfront can leave both members of a couple, but particularly the non-breadwinning spouse, better prepared to face the financial challenges that can accompany a catastrophe. Disability insurance and life insurance can create peace of mind for a partner who isn’t sure she could bridge the gap between her partner’s income and her own, if it became necessary.

Share intentions for estate planning

Savvy savers who have amassed more wealth than they’ll need during retirement are faced with the challenge of deciding what to do with that overage. Some people want to leave an inheritance to children or grandchildrenOthers prefer to leave money to another entity, like a charity. No matter how noble the intention, not all couples are aware of the other’s long-term plan. That’s where a conversation can come in, to help alleviate any misaligned expectations or to plan a compromise.

In the end, you’re more likely to enjoy your golden years if you and your spouse plan for them together. It’s only when you’ve taken the time to understand each other’s goals, expectations, and dreams that you gain the knowledge required to set the scene for what could ultimately be some of the richest years of your life – both emotionally and financially.