As a recent retiree,
Victor, who works full-time supervising the landscaping for a property-management company, has other ideas. His order of business: Replace the roof before tackling the trim and the power-wash, and hold off on major landscaping until he retires himself, some five years hence. After poring over the list together, "we've reached compromises and set priorities," says Victor, 65. And because Carolyn, 66, is at home, "I can lay the groundwork," she says. "I see that as my job."
The Prosaks are among a growing number of couples who are taking separate paths into retirement. For some, job loss or disability has forced the decision; for others, age disparity (men are three years older than their wives, on average) has played a role. The closing gap in earning power is another factor, says
Staggering your retirement dates has its benefits. "One is that each partner can retire at the age that works best for his or her career," says Johnson -- say, to get the full value of a pension. The one-two approach also allows the retired spouse to take stock and prepare for when both are out of the workforce. And watching one spouse make the transition to retired life can help the other spouse navigate those waters when the time comes.
Retiring separately also involves challenges, including negotiating financial and personal priorities and adapting to new roles. All that can be tricky, given that about one-third of couples disagree about how they will spend their time in retirement, according to a 2013 Fidelity study. Better to hash out issues sooner rather than later, says
Smoothing the transition
Although the decision to retire was made for her, she was lucky in several respects. Having worked at
One issue she didn't have to worry about: health insurance. At 65, she qualified for
Carolyn used her first weeks off the job to have elective surgery. While recuperating, she took advantage of another
Tweaking the budget
The Prosaks weren't completely blindsided by Carolyn's retirement. Knowing that her job was uncertain, they amped up their preparations, including contributing the max to her employer retirement account (
The exercise was made easier thanks to the Prosaks' conservative approach to finances. "They are frugal and have always been savers, so in that sense they've been planning," says
But for other couples, the difference between two incomes and one can be a shocker, especially if the retired spouse pursues an expensive hobby or travels. In that case, discussing the costs up front with the working spouse and carving out money in the budget for a "playcheck" is crucial, says
Even joint expenses need to be anticipated. Initially, the Prosaks planned to wait until Victor retired to take care of the big-ticket items on their to-do list. Upon looking at their budget, though, they realized there was a balloon in major housing expenses five years out, says Carolyn. Rather than take a hit to their finances all at once, they decided to spread out the expenses while Victor still had a paycheck. By the time he retires, "the big things will be taken care of, and we'll be able to travel and pursue our interests," he says.
Tag-teaming on income
In addition to his paycheck, the Prosaks are eyeing another source of income:
Soon she'll have the opportunity to collect a benefit without forfeiting those credits. Once Victor turns 66 next year, he can use a strategy called file and suspend. By filing for his own benefit, he opens the door to spousal benefits for Carolyn (equal to half of Victor's benefit); by suspending (that is, putting his own benefits on hold), he can earn the 8% annual increase until he starts collecting. At age 70, each spouse will collect a benefit equal to 132% of what they were due at age 66 -- after years of collecting the spousal benefit.
Waiting to claim doesn't make sense for everyone. If you need the money now or don't expect to live for many more years, claiming at 66 or even as soon as you're eligible at age 62 (for a reduced benefit) is the logical choice. Or your reason for claiming might be more personal.
Carolyn and Victor each have an IRA, and he has a profit-sharing plan at work. They plan to hold off tapping the accounts until age 70 1/2, when the law demands that they begin required minimum distributions. In the interim, they should keep an eye on their tax bracket to see if it makes sense to convert part of the IRA money to a Roth. They would have to pay tax on the amount converted, but the tax bill now might be less than the tax bill later if, say, RMDs plus their combined
Adjusting to new routines
One aspect of retirement Carolyn didn't see coming? "It startled me to realize that my coworkers were my best friends," she says. "When you're home, they're working and you're not. You need to make an effort to get together." Men who retire first can have a particularly difficult time developing relationships, says
Being lonely and at loose ends isn't just the retiree's problem. It also puts the working spouse in a tough position, says
For Carolyn, following her passions is no problem. Among her interests: Exercise. Bird watching. African drumming. Quilting. Connecting with friends. Victor is more focused. His main passion is theater. This year, he participated in three community-theater productions and was either rehearsing or acting several nights a week and on weekends.
Their separate interests and schedules mean that each must make adjustments. Carolyn, the more gregarious of the two, wants to discuss her day as soon as Victor gets home; he needs time to decompress. On the nights when he has rehearsal, Carolyn is often in bed before he walks in the door. He rises at
Changing roles in retirement -- say, from breadwinner to homemaker -- can create friction even in strong marriages. But for the Prosaks, who have been married for 41 years, the roles have always been fluid. When daughter Kristin (now 29) was in preschool, Victor spent a year between jobs playing the part of full-time parent while Carolyn worked. His work schedule gets him home at
What happens to their routine when Victor retires? In addition to their joint plans, which include traveling together, he hopes to audition more, perhaps for work as an extra on movie sets in
Carolyn has already started figuring that out. "I like the opportunity to be the first to retire and to focus on myself. If we were doing everything together, we might lose the chance to develop individually." And because they have Victor's income, her transition is a little less daunting. "I'm really thankful it turned out this way."