Dear Penny: We’re in Our 50s. My Wife Isn’t Saving for Retirement. Help!

A couple have a disagreement while sitting on a couch.
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Dear Penny,

I'm 53 years old and started saving for retirement late. Fortunately, both my wife and I work, so I'm saving at least 10% of my income for retirement. I asked my wife how much she’s saving for retirement, and she replied that she wasn't planning on saving at all.

I was floored by her answer. I shared some info with her and explained that if we were to retire right now that I would not be able to make the mortgage payment let alone the other household bills to live off of my retirement. She wasn't moved at all by my explanation. What can I do to convince her to save for retirement?

— Catching Up

Dear Catching,

It’s not your responsibility to “convince” your wife of any decision you want her to make with money. As partners with shared financial commitments, you do have to make plans for how you want to move forward together — but, with your wife’s input, that might not look like what you picture.

Instead of leading the conversation with your evidence and arguments for saving, start with asking her why she doesn’t plan to save. Listen earnestly to her answer. Without launching a debate, talk to her about why you’re saving the way you are.

In both cases, each of you should only talk about yourselves. This isn’t an invitation to determine who’s “right”; it’s an opportunity to reflect on your own relationship with money and to better understand each other’s.

As you talk about why you want to save 10% and why she doesn’t plan to save anything, consider your histories with money, the fears you carry and your expectations for your future together. Talk about what you each believe to be true about work, spending, saving, debt and investing. Talk about when you each expect to retire and what you each imagine doing in retirement.

Considering questions like these can lead you to the reasons you and your wife are misaligned on retirement planning. Maybe she mistrusts the stock market. Maybe she expects to earn money long after you’ve retired. Maybe she wants to sell the house and downsize to a rental. Maybe she harbors fears of scarcity that make it difficult to sacrifice a portion of her paycheck. Maybe people in her family have died young, and planning for old age brings up those traumas.

Once you’ve built this foundation of understanding, then you can make plans for the future together that honor both of your needs.

Regardless of what you decide, your late start might make it tough for you to follow a typical retirement planning trajectory. Talk with a financial planner about strategies for later retirement saving, focusing on growing savings as quickly as you can while limiting volatility in your investments. Ask about a Roth IRA if you’re saving more than the max in a 401(k), and check your latest options for catch-up contributions based on your age.

Talk honestly with your wife and a financial planner about the income you can expect in retirement, and plan for how you’ll live comfortably with it. Consider other resources you have access to, as well, including government resources (like Social Security benefits and Medicare), community programs, assets (including your house); and debt resources you could tap when money’s tight, like a home equity line of credit or an increased limit on credit cards.

Dana Miranda is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance®, author, speaker and personal finance journalist. She writes Healthy Rich, a newsletter about how capitalism impacts the ways we think, teach and talk about money.