“We came out not any better than we had been before,” Ms. Hobert said, describing a “mess” of six insurance policies and a collection of pensions and stock and bond accounts handled by different advisers. “We had all these pieces but we really didn’t know what we would have in retirement and wondered, ‘Are we ever going to be able to retire?’”
Working with Ms. Rehl, they consolidated accounts, started saving more aggressively, and set a goal of retiring in their 60s. When Mr. Hobert died five years ago, Ms. Hobert said she felt reassured when Ms. Rehl urged her not to worry about money or making any big decisions for six months based on the planning they had completed.
Even though Ms. McLaughlin-Klotz and Dr. Ward are years away from retirement, they have already started talking about the long term.
Now, he said, “There’s complete transparency” about their finances. “It would be easier for me to do everything, but the easiest thing isn’t necessarily the best thing.”
Ms. McLaughlin-Klotz said she was glad they are working on it, though she has also found it challenging. “It’s a really uncomfortable topic, but we talk about it all the time. I want to make sure I’m contributing so it was important for me that we had those conversations so I don’t feel left out.”
Sheryl Garrett, a certified financial planner in Eureka Springs, Ark., has tips for couples:
How can couples talk about money without fighting about it?
To begin, don’t start by talking dollars and cents. Instead, try to create a clear picture of long-term wishes. Each person can start by making a list of 30 goals, dividing them into three categories, called “I would love to,” “like to” and “it’s not that important.” They could range from the practical, such as saving for retirement or starting a family, to desires such as living overseas or studying a new language. (One of Ms. Garrett’s personal goals is to master conversational Mandarin — a skill she is still working on.) Next, swap lists and begin talking about how to create a plan together to make those ideas happen.
What concrete steps should we take every year?
Take stock of your financial situation annually by looking at each person’s net worth separately and the couple’s net worth together, Ms. Garrett said. Compare where you were a year ago and start thinking about what changes you want to make in the year ahead.
What ground rules should couples follow to help stay on track?
Set aside time — no more than 30 minutes — to talk about money at least once a month. Try to find a low-stress time, perhaps a weekend night, and involve everyone in the household — including children. Consider modeling how to work through the kinds of financial trade-offs you need to make as a family. For instance, would you rather have a lavish trip or go camping, allowing a lasting purchase like a trampoline, which everyone could enjoy on a regular basis? Commit to talking together with “no blame and no shame,” Ms. Garrett said.