Take these steps together to help you both get the retirement you want

Retirement can last for decades, so the choices you make in the years leading up to it will have huge implications for your financial security, lifestyle and legacy during your golden years. They are not decisions to take lightly or at the last minute. And if you’re with someone, they’re not decisions to make on your own.

Navigating retirement wisely and optimally requires forethought, communication and compromise with your spouse or partner. Here are seven critical questions to discuss and decide on, together, in “pretirement” — the phase when you’re closer to retirement than to the start of your career.

1. When will you each retire?

The first major choice is deciding when each of you will make the leap into retirement. Do you want to do it simultaneously so you can fully enjoy this new chapter together? Or does one of you want to keep working a bit longer?

“Many retirees either choose to work or need work to be included in their retirement lifestyle,” says Judith Ward, a certified financial planner and thought leadership director at T. Rowe Price. “The decision can have many powerful positive effects, not least of which is financial well-being.”

According to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, the average retirement age in the U.S. is 64.7 for men and 62.1 for women. But averages matter little when it comes to your specific circumstances. Factors like your respective ages, levels of career satisfaction, pension eligibility and Social Security claiming options can all affect your retirement timeline.

Knowing when you plan to stop working will influence other financial preparations. Discuss your hopes and intentions openly with your mate. If your preferred retirement ages differ significantly, look for compromise.

And keep in mind, too, that one or both of you may leave the workforce sooner than anticipated. The Employee Benefit Research Institute’s annual Retirement Confidence Survey has consistently found 46 percent of retirees left the workforce earlier than they had expected. On average, retirement took place three years sooner than anticipated, typically due to a health problem, disability or other hardship.

2. Where would you like to retire?

Early in pretirement, decide if you want to stay where you are or relocate for retirement. Are you happy in your current home and neighborhood? Or have you always dreamed of moving somewhere new, like a beach town or golf community? Will you want, or need, to be closer to children or other relatives?

If looking to move, research ideal locations together and take trips to get a sense of what living there will be like. Research the tax implications of living in different states. Figure out what kind of home you want (apartment or house? Rental or purchased?) and what you can afford. This big move will shape your entire retirement experience, so weigh the options thoughtfully.

3. What does your desired retirement lifestyle look like?

When planning for retirement, most people focus on how much they need to save, where they will live and how they will maintain their standard of living, says Malcolm Ethridge, executive vice president of CIC Wealth in Maryland. Often overlooked, he says, “is the importance of spending money on activities that bring joy and fulfillment.”

Now is the time to have an honest dialogue about what you both want life to look like in retirement. Will you travel often or mostly stay home? Take up new hobbies that require financial investment? Help with grandchildren’s expenses? Undertake home renovations? Your anticipated spending patterns and activities will dictate how much retirement income you need.

Make lists of your individual wishes and compare them. Look for commonalities, and compromise where needed, to create a shared lifestyle vision you’re both enthusiastic about. This will determine everything from your retirement budget to your ideal home location.

4. At what age will you each start Social Security?

One of your most important financial decisions is when to claim Social Security benefits.

You get your full retirement benefit — 100 percent of the benefit amount calculated from your earnings history — by starting at full retirement age (67 for people born in 1960 and later). You can claim as early as age 62, but your monthly payment will be reduced by as much as 30 percent. If you wait past 67, you’ll get an additional 8 percent for each year you delay until you turn 70.

Consider your age difference, health, life expectancy, income needs and more as you determine each of your best claiming ages. Married couples in which one spouse earned significantly more than the other may be able to use spousal benefits to maximize their combined Social Security income.

5. How much do you want to spend on kids and grandkids?

Many retirees anticipate providing financial help to children, grandchildren or other heirs. Discuss how much support you want to provide, in what ways and for how long.

Will you help fund an education? Assist with a wedding or the down payment on a house? Pay for family vacations? Establish a trust? Giving to support loved ones can be deeply rewarding, but be careful not to compromise your own retirement security.

If you’ve been a diligent saver and can comfortably do so, consider whether to use some of the retirement money you’ve squirreled away to enjoy time with your family, Ethridge advises.

“While it may feel like a splurge to take your adult children or grandchildren on an all-expenses-paid trip to a destination you’ve been dreaming about for years,” he says, “it is likely that you’ll find greater satisfaction creating memories and will appreciate the time spent together more than you will miss the money spent in the end.”

6. How will you plan for and cover health care costs?

In retirement, medical costs can rise considerably. According to data from Fidelity, the typical retired couple age 65 in 2023 will need $315,000 over their lifetime to cover healthcare expenses. Since you’re still in pretirement, it’s reasonable to assume those costs will only rise over time.

Honestly evaluate your current states of health and family histories and discuss how you’ll save and budget for medical expenses, expected and otherwise. Talk about steps you can take now to potentially reduce future health care costs, like focusing on diet, fitness and preventative care.

And take time to understand what your options will be when you turn 65 and become eligible for Medicare — what it does and doesn’t cover, and whether a Medigap or Medicare Advantage plan will make sense.

7. How will you address long-term care needs?

Finally, have candid conversations about your potential need for long-term care as you age. The average 65-year-old today has a nearly 70 percent chance of needing some form of long-term care during their lifetime, according to the federal Administration for Community Living.

For most, this will mean personal or medical services at home, but more than one in three will eventually need assisted living or nursing home care. At every level, it gets expensive. According to insurance firm Genworth’s 2023 Cost of Care Survey, the median annual cost for long-term care is about $28,000 for 20 hours a week of home health service, $54,000 for assisted living and $108,000 for a private room in a nursing home.

“Unfortunately, most private health plans don’t cover long-term care, which may lead to you having to pay out-of-pocket,” says Saul Simon, a certified financial planner with Simon Financial Group in Iselin, New Jersey.

Discuss your preferences should one of you require significant care later in retirement. Would you want in-home caregiving or to move to an assisted living facility? Explore options like long-term care insurance versus self-funding future needs. Addressing this challenging topic openly will give you both peace of mind.