Dear Penny: I’m a Self-Made Man Worth $5M. Why Won’t My Wife Let Me Retire?
I’ve worked hard for 32 years since college to build a good career and save money.
I’m in my mid-50s. I want to retire because I don’t enjoy work, and the stress is affecting my health.
I have no debt, own three houses and have a net worth of $5 million, but my wife won’t agree to me retiring before 60. I think she fears what other people will think. Any suggestions?
Everyone you know has way too much going on in their own lives to sit around pondering the circumstances around your retirement.
In the very unlikely event that they gave it so much as a passing thought, they’d probably conclude that you were successful and got a head start on the good life a little early as a result.
So if your wife really has said she doesn’t want you to retire because she’s worried what others will think, I offer her my words of comfort.
But wait! Did your wife actually say that?
You say you think she fears what other people will think. This sounds like your hypothesis. Have you tried having an actual conversation about what she’s actually thinking?
Before we delve into what could be giving your wife pause, let me acknowledge the obvious: This is a really good problem to have. I get so many letters from people who are in their 50s and 60s with virtually nothing saved for retirement. Often, the problem is compounded by crushing debt.
You, however, have a seven-figure nest egg, three homes and no debt. You have a comfortable retirement ahead of you — your only dilemma is when that comfortable retirement begins.
But there’s a bigger issue at play here.
Retirement marks a huge lifestyle change. Planning for retirement ideally involves a lot more than planning for life beyond a paycheck.
But often the focus of retirement planning is solely financial because most people are woefully lacking in savings. Just getting to retirement in this lifetime is the goal.
Money is just part of the picture. Retirement gives you a plethora of free time. You’re more likely to become isolated. There’s no way your spouse won’t be affected — and that’s something I worry you may have lost sight of.
Here’s what you say: You’ve worked hard. You want to retire. You’re financially prepared. There’s no “we.” No reference to the life the two of you have built together. Your wife only enters your narrative as a force who stands in the way of what you want.
Talk with your wife about what you envision for your retirement. Ask her what she thinks your life will look like. Maybe the two of you have starkly different visions that are at the root of this conflict.
Perhaps you envision a retirement filled with part-time work you love, volunteering, hobbies and quality time with family. But maybe she has flashes of you puttering around the house 24/7 as the hum of televised golf drones forever in the background.
Instead of focusing the discussion on what you hate about work, try talking about what you love about life. How would retiring now let you get more of that? And in what ways does your wife worry your retiring now would change your lives for the worse?
And if she does say she’s worried about what other people will think? Press her on it. Ask her: Who are these people, and what will they think?
It’s easy to mask your own thoughts under the guise of what “other people” are going to think, so figuring this part out could yield valuable insight.
The most important thing you can do here is listen openly and hear your wife out. Ask questions if you don’t understand her perspective. You can only address her worries if you know what they are.
If you can’t agree for now, there’s always a compromise: You could transition gradually out of the workforce by taking on less stressful work with fewer hours.
Just make sure you aren’t looking at retirement through rose-colored glasses. Retirement doesn’t magically give you health and happiness. What it gives you is a lot more time — time that will be a lot more blissful with your wife on your side.
Robin Hartill is a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder and the voice behind Dear Penny. Send your questions about retirement to [email protected]