How to Talk Retirement Savings With Your Spouse

When markets turn volatile, it is hard enough for one person to make decisions. Add another person to the mix, and tempers can flare if a couple disagrees about how much of their portfolio to invest in stocks.

Just ask my parents. While my mother was comfortable holding a high percentage of her long-term savings in stocks, my father wasn’t. So when stocks plummeted in 2008 when they were in their early 70s, he wanted to get out of the market and she wanted to buy more shares.

Tensions over asset allocation, or the desired percentage to hold in stocks, are often magnified when one or both members of a couple retire.

“When you retire, you go from having an income from work to spending from your portfolio,” which can exacerbate anxiety about stock market declines, says Julie Virta, a senior investment manager at Vanguard Group’s Personal Advisor Services, which manages $231 billion.

A substantial chunk of older adults have very different investing approaches. Among Vanguard retail clients between ages 65 and 74, many of whom oversee their own investments, 16% have 98% or more of their portfolios in stocks, while 12% hold no stocks at all—percentages that are fairly steady at older ages as well.

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