Why are People Afraid to Talk About Money and Retirement?

by TTMK on October 20, 2014 · 14 comments

talk about retirementCan you imagine not being able to discuss retirement with your spouse? As in, being able to say that you’ve never, ever discussed the topic with your significant other before?

According to a study that was referenced in a WSJ article, only 39% of people surveyed had ever discussed retirement with their significant other. Think about that. 61% of people have therefore never discussed retirement as a part of their relationship.

How is this possible?

Well, apparently it’s very possible – because it’s the norm! For whatever reason, people don’t want to talk about retirement issues with their spouse. As I think about it, I wonder if it’s because they’re:

  1. Too busy trying to get by, instead of thinking about the future
  2. Afraid to face reality, and want to procrastinate worrying about retirement
  3. Simply not knowing any better, and don’t given retirement a second thought
  4. Nervous about discussing money with their spouse, for fear of causing a fight
  5. Believing that money is a taboo subject that shouldn’t be discussed

Or, there could be any number of other reasons for not discussing money.

If the reason money isn’t discussed is because of the latter two, it’s clear that there needs to be a better approach in the relationship. To me, that means being able to communicate about money!

There are plenty of good times to discuss money. Such as:

  1. When Dating. Nobody wants to make money mistakes when dating, and it’s good to be genuine with money in this situation. Transparency is good.
  2. While Engaged. Marriage is a partnership, with its own legal consequences. If you’re going to be joined together in matrimony you’ll be joined financially as well in many respects. Let’s not kid ourselves, money is important in life – and you should go into marriage with eyes wide open with respect to money.
  3. When Married. Once married, you’re sharing income and expenses. If you’re a saver and your significant other is a big time spender, you’ll be impacted! It’s essential to communicate regularly.

Ultimately, while money isn’t the most important thing in life, it’s obviously not inconsequential either! Thus, like with anything else in life or in relationships, it’s important to communicate. Speak up, and work toward having your partner be comfortable doing the same. Doing so seems to be a critical part of working toward and planning for a successful retirement. I think those of us with an interest in personal finance can agree that retirement is an important thing, right?

My Questions for You

Does it surprise you that only 39% of people have discussed retirement with their spouse?

Why do you think this figure is so low?

How and when do you think people should approach retirement discussions?

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom October 20, 2014 at 2:07 pm

I’m shocked that the number of couples who have never discussed retirement is so high!

I can only imagine that the only reason it hasn’t come up is because it’s so far off and there’s more important things happening right now in their lives.

I think every couple should have a clear idea about their partners retirement plans before they get married.

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TTMK October 25, 2014 at 12:00 am

Absolutely, talk about this topic before getting married.

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Jean @ NearlyRetired October 20, 2014 at 11:25 pm

Wow. I’m, um, completely shocked. Retirement comes up in our household several times a week! But then, we’re less then 3 years from retirement. In years past we talked about it every few months — but we did discuss it! The idea of having never discussed retirement plans with a spouse is a shocker.

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TTMK October 24, 2014 at 11:59 pm

It really is amazing how people don’t talk about retirement. Totally agree.

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Kasia October 21, 2014 at 5:46 am

I’m not surprised the figure is so low. People are afraid to talk about money or if they don’t earn enough they figure there’s no point. The type of thinking just adds to the problem and then puts more pressure on the welfare state.

People should look after their own retirement and only discuss it once they’re in a serious relationship with someone who they plan to spend their life with. My partner never wanted to talk money in the first few years, it wasn’t normal because his family didn’t talk about money. Now we discuss everything and more or less know what we want and need to do to secure our retirement.

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TTMK October 24, 2014 at 11:49 pm

People really do seem to be afraid to talk about money. Considering that it’s such a big cause of relationship problems later on, it only seems logical to make sure two people can be compatible. A great way to do that is to talk early on!

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maria@moneyprinciple October 21, 2014 at 3:07 pm

This is a very interesting point. Regarding the study I’d like to see the break-down by age (e.g. how close to retirement people are). I’d venture that the closer to retirement a couple gets the more likely it is to discuss retiement.

I can see the benefits in the point you make about discussing money in couples. Retirement is different, though. It reminds us of our mortality and old age (and you know how people are about old age lately). I certainly can’t see myself discussing retirement while dating; or even until several years ago. Even now, I don’t talk about retirement; I prefer to discuss financial independence, the time when we’ll both be able to do the work we were meant to doand don’t have to work.

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TTMK October 24, 2014 at 11:48 pm

That’s a good point, and I think this might be to some degree a matter of semantics. Financial independence just sounds a lot better than retirement, as it’s more positive! But there is a bit of a difference, in that the former provides some self-determination, while “retirement” plays out in some ways as a forced stoppage of work.

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Zee @ Work To Not Work October 22, 2014 at 12:03 am

My friends never talked about retirement because I think most of them were just young enough (and following the norm) so that it was far enough away that they just didn’t think about it. But now that we’re in our early mid-thirties I think it’s something that they are all starting to finally think about. Probably not very seriously yet but I’m sure they are starting to save instead of just scrape by.

I know that for me I couldn’t hide that discussion in a relationship. It’s such a big driver for me to save a lot so I can retire early that there’s no way I could not bring it up. That and the fact that I write about it regularly.

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TTMK October 24, 2014 at 11:42 pm

Yes, writing about it regularly would make it tough to not bring up the topic!

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Little House October 22, 2014 at 8:48 am

I’m sort of surprised by those figures! I think people use the ostrich-method when it comes to money (stick you head in the sand); if I don’t talk about it, it’s not there.

I’ve started plotting out a retirement plan and have definitely discussed it with my spouse. We need to be on the same page and make plans now to be ready down the road (and my plans involve moving some place less expensive that we both agree on!). I mentioned retirement the other day to my sister, and I could tell it wasn’t anything she’s thought about (her spouse is my age and should really be thinking about it and planning now as well).

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TTMK October 24, 2014 at 11:42 pm

That’s great that you guys are having these discussions. Hope your sister and her spouse can get going on retirement planning!

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Jon @ Money Smart Guides October 23, 2014 at 6:10 am

That really surprises me! When my wife and I were dating, we talked about our plans for retirement all of the time. In fact, we are always talking about the future and making strides to get to where we want to be financially. We still enjoy living in the present, but we both know we don’t want to be working a 9-5 job until we are 65. The only way to survive financially without working that long is to create a plan and talk about the future.

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TTMK October 24, 2014 at 7:00 pm

Great points, and it sounds like you guys are approaching this in a smart way. Communicating all the way from the beginning was a great move.

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