Divide and conquer...then retire rich together

A survey released, not coincidentally, on Valentine's Day has shed some light on how couples can plan for a financially secure retirement.

The Hartford and the MIT AgeLab teamed up to survey more than 800 retirees or those soon to be retired. All of the couples were either married or living together and were between the ages of 45 and 74.

The researchers found that couples approach their finances quite differently, with either a solo or cooperative planning style. Those who go it alone were labeled drivers (the primary planners) or passengers (those who did little or no planning). Among those who worked as a team, partners labeled "joined at the hip" divvied up financial management tasks equally and conferred about their work. In the fourth group, known as "divide and conquer couples," each spouse took the lead on different aspects of their finances, for example, saving and investing.

I would have guessed that the joined at the hip couples who split the work fared best, but it was the divide and conquer group that were more likely to have a contingency plan in case the other spouse died (45% compared to 32% for those joined at the hip, 27% for passengers and 8% for drivers). This is significant because if a man dies first, his surviving partner often ends up with cash flow problems -- and we've all known widows who've ended up in this situation. The researchers point out that women experience a 50% decrease in income and only 20% decrease in spending after a spouse or longtime partner precedes them in death.

In addition, the divide and conquerors were enjoying their retirement more than those in the other groups. And why not? They didn't have to work anymore and 38% had squirreled at least $750,000. Only 16% of the joined of the hip couples, 25% of the passengers and 17% among drivers had stashed away that much retirement savings.

It seems that both teamwork and developing an area of specialization are key, according to the findings. Where does that leave me? I've been sitting in the passenger seat for 17 years and I may be in for a bumpy ride if I don't start sharing some of the burden of financial and retirement planning.

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