PAM AND JOHN SCHAFFER
He was shown the door in a
corporate downsizing; she is
hanging on to her consulting
work. “We just don’t see a
future at this point,” she says.
“Very quickly we will start
eating into our investments.”
the same time. Other people say they
want to retire together … to enjoy life
Despite the many challenges, some
couples get it pretty much right.
For St. Louis resident Jerry Bren-
nan, who was a supervisor at Boeing,
retiring at 62 did not pose a financial
hardship. He and his wife, Peggy, who
at 59 works as an administrative as-
sistant, started planning for his retire-
ment years ago. His veterans health
coverage was a part of those plans.
Some of his friends have told him a
man in his position has “got to clean
the house,” and he’s doing some of
that. But as Peggy heads toward re-
tirement, he’s begun buying and sell-
ing sports memorabilia, combining a
hobby with some moneymaking.
Meanwhile, Tom and Jean Falvey have reached
an accommodation. He now asks her before mak-
ing a noisy woodworking cut. He gets out of the
house with volunteer work and the occasional
fishing trip. He’s feeling his way toward bringing
in some income again, in an entirely new field.
“Going back to putting together PowerPoint pre-
sentations … I don’t need that,” says Falvey.
Jean, meanwhile, spends two days a week work-
ing away from the house. “I’m still learning, still
excited about the job,” she says.
For now, she and Tom have di;erent lives and
di;erent expectations. “We are two circles,” she
says, “and they overlap.” ;
55 percent of all married
couples having two incomes,
a growing number of spouses
are retiring at di;erent times.
This often raises thorny is-
sues of income loss and mis-
matched outlooks on life.
Though the Falveys embarked on this existence
by choice, the recent downsizings have forced it
on many couples, with serious ramifications.
“A lot of companies make the assumption that
because of somebody’s age … they are prepared to
retire, so you might as well cut them loose,” said
Pam Scha;er, 52, of Columbus, Ohio, whose hus-
band, John, 64, lost his position as vice president
at a major publisher a year ago.
He has COBRA health coverage, but it runs out
in April, four months before he gets Medicare.
Pam’s computer consulting job o;ers no health in-
surance, a challenge the couple will have to face.
But long before the recession, retirement pat-
terns were changing. Formerly, “women would
follow their husbands out of the labor market,”
says Richard Johnson, a senior fellow at the Ur-
ban Institute. “Now as women’s employment is
becoming more important, they’re more likely to
keep working even after their husbands retire.”
A 2004 study by the Center for Retirement Re-
search at Boston College found that fewer than
one in five couples retired in the same year. Gen-
erally the husband stopped working first.
At best, experts say, separate timetables can
serve as a trial run for the full deal. By living on
one paycheck when they’re used to two, couples
can experiment with cutting costs to prepare for
life on retirement income alone.
On the downside, resentments may emerge
when couples become out of sync—one person
remains anchored to a job while the other wants
to travel or relax. Mitch Anthony, author of
, says husbands often have
trouble adjusting if they are the first to retire.
“Their identity is wrapped up in what they do for
work,” he says. Seeing the wife leave for work ev-
ery morning can heighten the problem. One man
“found himself wandering around the garage and
basement looking for something to break so he
would have something to fix,” Anthony said.
Ultimately, happiness can come down to how
much couples like doing things together, says
Kelly Campbell of Campbell Wealth Manage-
ment in Fairfax, Va. “One spouse may hate the
job but not really want the other spouse home at
; Which spouse should retire first? It’s likely
to be first, but the decision
needs some sober analysis: Whose retire-
ment will subtract the most income? Whose
might cause medical coverage or other ben-
efits to disappear—and cause a problem.
Things to Consider
formerly with the Media General News
Service, is a freelance writer in Arlington, Va.
; If you’re the one retiring, should you
claim Social Security at 62, the earliest
possible age? If you can afford it and are in
good health, you may want to put off col-
lecting your Social Security in order to get
higher monthly benefits later on. Having
your spouse continuing to work can make it
easier to say no to early Social Security.
; How could this period help you transition to joint retirement? It’s a good time to test a new budget, what you can live without and what your new expenses (health care?) may be when all you have is retirement income.
; What about part-time work? Many retirees
find that, after the initial euphoria over free-
dom from a job, they welcome the structure
of part-time work—as well as the income.
; Finally, are both of you in this together?
Household happiness will be maximized if
partners agree on the details of this next
stage of life.
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