As far back as I can remember I was the designated keeper of financial secrets for my parents. If I happened to be with my father when he bought something he knew my mother would disapprove of, he’d swear me to secrecy. Over the years, I bore witness to his cockeyed parade of impulse purchases: a miracle can opener, a vibrating arm-chair, a weird-looking lamp, and hundreds of other crazy household items. Pretty much minor stuff.
At one point, though, I do recall my dad going completely over the top – the time he decided to buy a used car from a neighbor. Eventually, of course, he’d have to square with my mother about the source and cost of each of his purchases. But until he did so, I had my marching orders, “Do not tell your mother about this.”
My mother, on the other hand, had her own wacky pattern. Through the years, she cultivated an assortment of hiding places for spare cash: a sugar bowl, a cookie jar, several bank accounts, and even a mutual fund. She claimed she shared this information with me only in case of an emergency. And my marching orders were – you guessed it: “Do not tell your father about this.”
So there you have it; three family members, each with a distinct role. My father’s role was to squander money, my mother’s to hoard it, and mine was to keep my mouth shut. But there was no coherent plan, especially for the future.
Now after reading a Forbes article by financial journalist Richard Eisenberg, I’m relieved to discover my offbeat parents have quite a bit of company. According to a dual survey by NerdWallet and Harris Poll of over eighteen hundred married couples and partners, a third claim neither they nor their partner is saving for retirement.
Worse yet, of the thirty-six percent who said their spouse or partner is saving for retirement, twenty-three percent claim they don’t know how much they’re actually saving. Furthermore, twenty-one percent are not even aware of the overall size of their spouse or partner’s retirement account.
All this time I thought my mother’s sugar bowl was a violation! But NerdWallet investment specialist Dayana Yochim offers a more charitable view. Her professional take is that couples don’t keep financial information from one another out of malice. Their motives stem, rather, from a combination of silence and ignorance. “Retirement planning seems like a straightforward topic [yet] it’s anything but. It’s riddled with emotional subtext, based on past experiences, unspoken expectations and how money was handled or talked about growing up….”
So, if you’re married or in a relationship, the retirement planning information you and your partner need to know—and disclose—immediately is the very info you’ve been keeping from one another.
It’s now time for both of you to come clean about your individual debt, savings, credit cards and undisclosed purchases. No more secret bank accounts. Cookie jars are for cookies only.
Much of Eisenberg’s article centers on joint retirement strategies for married couples and partners – open communication about lifestyle goals, plans for eliminating debt, and your mutual promise not to borrow against your 401(k) plans.
To these smart strategies I strongly add my recommendation for couples to invest in tangible assets as a hedge against volatile stocks and under-performing bonds, both paper and dollar-denominated investments. Chances are, if you both have any retirement accounts at all, they’re wholly invested in stocks and bonds. By investing in tangible assets like commercial rental properties or, on the more affordable end, investment-grade precious metals, you’ll be protected against the inevitable downside of paper assets.
It’s a time-tested financial gambit for financial professionals to jump to gold when they’re confronted with weakness in their stocks and bonds. If you anticipate this inevitable weakness, and enter the market before the next big climb, you’ll add tremendous value to any retirement account; the kind of sensible move any couple can agree on.