Over 20% of Women Take No Part in Couples’ Retirement Planning, Study Shows

Serious African American couple discussing paper documents, sitting together on couch at home, man and woman checking bills, bank account balance, terms of contract, mortgage, loan agreement.
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American couples may not be as in touch with their financial lives together as they believe they are, according to the findings from the latest Fidelity Investments Couples & Money study. Even though 57% of the survey’s 3,426 respondents said they are “joint decision makers on retirement and other long-term financial goals,” more than half of all non-retired couples disagreed on how much money they need to retire comfortably, according to a press release.

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“One thing that stands out is that while many couples claim to communicate quite well when it comes to finances, when you take a deeper look, you realize so many have a discomfort level when it comes to talking about money,” Stacey Watson, senior vice president of Life Event Planning at Fidelity, said in an interview with GOBankingRates. “Even couples who say they are totally comfortable discussing their finances don’t always dig deeply enough to make sure they are truly on the same page.”

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Communication Gaps Can Lead to Struggles

Even worse than communication gaps when it comes to money is failing to work together. The study found that 40% of people in same-sex marriages and 27% of people in opposite-sex marriages said they have only one primary retirement decision maker. Overall, 22% of women said they have little or no involvement in retirement planning, according to the study.

It wasn’t just retirement planning that showed a disconnect between couples’ money beliefs and the reality of how they manage finances. While 71% of partners claimed they communicate “at least very well” with their other half about money, 39% of respondents didn’t know their partner’s salary.

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The disconnect between how couples believe they manage money together and how they actually communicate can cause problems, as 18% identify money as their greatest relationship challenge. Also, 44% admit to arguing about money at least occasionally.

“Money discussions are not always easy, but the fact so many couples feel they are in sync and are comfortable talking about financial topics is encouraging, even if the conversations do occasionally end in disagreement,” Watson said.

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Tips for Talking about Money

Watson offers tips for talking about money with your partner. She points to the “three Cs” of talking about finance as one way to get started. The first — and arguably, most important — “C” stands for communication. “Openly discussing financial matters helps people feel more confident, more closely aligned and better equipped to take on the future. For all couples, the best advice for money conversations is that it’s not a competition, so stick with it and keep the dialogue going,” she said.

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The second “C” represents collaboration, Watson said. “Building a financial plan together gives each partner an equal opportunity to understand their financial needs and how to get there. Planning allows couples greater control over how they can reach shared financial goals and helps identify potential hurdles to overcome.”

Finally, with these steps in place, talking about money should begin to become a habit, according to Watson. “We all lead busy lives and it’s natural for some things to fall through the cracks,” she said. “This study shows that as well aligned as you think you may be on the subject, there is always room for improvement, or there are topics that you haven’t visited or you may need to revisit, as time goes by.”

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The third “C” — “control” over finances — comes when both partners gain greater confidence in their financial future as a couple. “Having a plan — and sticking to it — leads to greater confidence for both partners, which brings greater peace of mind that a solid roadmap is in place to achieve your goals and dreams,” Watson said. She recommends reviewing your financial plan at least once a year to adjust for life changes and make sure you’re both still on the same page.

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When it comes to retirement planning, or even budgeting or daily decisions about money, knowledge and communication are the keys to success, the study findings show. Not only is it smart to know what’s going on with your money, as a couple, for day-to-day living, but if something should happen to your partner, you don’t want to be in the dark about your finances.

It’s important that both partners become active decision makers when it comes to their money. “It’s okay to delegate, but don’t abdicate,” Watson said. “We strongly encourage all couples who have a partner taking the lead in certain money decisions to make sure their other half is aware of what’s going on and prepared to jump in and take over, if need be.”

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About the Author

Dawn Allcot is a full-time freelance writer and content marketing specialist who geeks out about finance, e-commerce, technology, and real estate. Her lengthy list of publishing credits include Bankrate, Lending Tree, and Chase Bank. She is the founder and owner of GeekTravelGuide.net, a travel, technology, and entertainment website. She lives on Long Island, New York, with a veritable menagerie that includes 2 cats, a rambunctious kitten, and three lizards of varying sizes and personalities – plus her two kids and husband. Find her on Twitter, @DawnAllcot.
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