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How to plan for retirement when your spouse won't

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By Neal Frankle/

There are few things more frustrating than having a partner who won't partner up and take care of business when it comes to retirement planning. When they live their lives without thinking about the future or doing anything about it, you are left holding the bag and in a world of worry.

You can of course continue to try to get your spouse to do the right thing but that is akin to banging your head against the wall. The only thing you'll get out of that is a very bad headache. Instead, take the bull by the horns and follow these five steps to get on the right retirement track without waiting for your partner to see the light.

Accept the situation


Nobody is perfect. Both you and your spouse have good and bad traits. One of their character flaws is that they don't understand the importance of planning and/or they don't understand how to do it. OK. That is difficult, but as I said, nobody is perfect. Don't waste time being angry or judging. You have flaws, too.

Take control and responsibility


Since nobody else is going to do this, you have to take over. The good news is it's not all that hard.

Once you realize that you have to steer the financial ship, take the helm. You may not have the tools you need right now, but don't worry. We'll get to that. And if you have the right focus and motivation, your battle is already halfway won. Just accept the reality that you are going to do this on your own right now.

Gather information

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In order to have a successful retirement down the road, you'll need information on an ongoing basis. Make sure you have access to the following:

  • Monthly investment statements - all accounts including IRAs and 401ks
  • Bank statements
  • Estate planning documents
  • Credit card statements
  • Credit history -- if you find any credit surprises make sure to clean them up. You can get your credit reports for free once a year at, and you can check your credit scores for free every month on
  • Bills
  • Life insurance statements

You may not completely understand what you see on those statements, but that's OK. Right now, we just need to make sure that you get those statements every month. Contact your banks, insurance companies, credit card companies, employers, etc., and make sure they send you the monthly statements. Next, set up a filing system so you can easily access the information when you need it.

By the way, it's also important to put all this information into context. You need to understand your banking and credit card statements if you want to understand what it costs you to live each month. If you notice, for example, that you're carrying a lot of debt at higher interest rates, you might want to look at ways to refinance and lower how much you pay in interest because the cost of debt over your lifetime can have an impact on your savings and retirement.

Also, you must understand your investment statements if you want to do some retirement projections.

Educate yourself


You'd be surprised at how easy it is to learn about money. First, look at the statements you put together in step three. Do you understand how to read them? If not, call the provider and go through them. Don't feel embarrassed. It's your job to have questions and it's their job to answer them. Make sure you understand every date and number on your statements and bills. This is a great free resource that will really give you a leg up on your journey.

Your education continues by learning how investments work. Yes, financial education is a lifelong journey. No, you don't have to get a Ph.D. before you start investing. You need to understand the basics but that isn't all that difficult or time-consuming. There are plenty of free resources on the Internet to help you get balanced and unbiased information.

I suggest that you carve out 45 minutes a day for financial study. If you do that, you'll be able to make very informed financial decisions in short order.

Start investing


You've built the foundation for a very bright financial future. You've accepted the situation, you've taken responsibility. You've gathered your financial information and you've started to learn about investing. Now it's time to put all that prep work into action and invest.

Start slowly, but start. And remember, everyone makes investment mistakes -- even the pros. You have to be ready for that.

Investing isn't about making the most money over the shortest amount of time. Investing is about creating a nest egg so you can enjoy your future without worrying about it.

My strong advice is to create a financial plan to guide you through the investing process. When you create a financial plan, it puts all your decisions in context. It's easier to make smart investments because you know why you are making them.

It's no fun when you have to take up the slack for someone else, especially when it's your spouse. But accept the situation as it is and get into action around your retirement plan. Take one step at a time and give yourself permission to make mistakes. In no time you'll see that this process is far less intimidating than you think.

Have you been thrust into the retirement-planning pilot seat? What happened? How did things turn out?

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