In Retirement Race, Who Should Quit First -- You or Your Spouse?

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- There’s a big difference in the alarm clock that rings to wake you for an early meeting at the office and one that rouses you for an early tee time on the golf course.

Now imagine the first alarm is for you and the second for your spouse.

In a time when half of America lives in a two-income household, it’s becoming more common. One spouse employed, the other retired. The question is, who retires first?

Naturally, when to pull the life-after-work trigger is mainly dependent on financial considerations. Beyond income, perhaps the biggest matter to attend to is health care and insurance. The timing of retirement can mean considering the gap from employer coverage to Medicare, and how to meet the potential thousands of dollars in additional cost.

"Of course, Social Security is important because it depends on the spouse's age and earnings," says Robert Laura, an investment advisor and co-founder of Synergos Financial in Brighton, Mich. Again, it’s all about timing. For example, if the husband is the higher-earning spouse and waits until his full retirement age to retire, it will allow his wife to take higher spousal benefits.

It’s just one of the decisions with long-term ramifications. And it requires input from both spouses.

"A lot of women get hosed in the process because their husband retires first," Laura tells MainStreet. "I've seen cases where the husband made the decision to do a life-only pension and opted for early benefits for Social Security. Long term, that puts the wife in a real bind because when he's dead, she's not going to get any pension and if she doesn't have her own Social Security, she's going to get half of what he was getting -- which is going to be dramatically less than she can probably live on."

Another big mistake Laura sees is retirees "chasing their kids." Their Millennial children get a promotion and move across the country. The parents follow.

"If [the children] get the job of a lifetime in Texas one year and then it's California the next, you're stuck with a house in Texas."

When to retire, and who packs up their desk first, is also about mental preparation. How will the retirement of one spouse before the other impact everyday life?

"Does that mean you're going to be cooking dinner and doing laundry?" Laura asks. Couples often find the one-spouse-working-with-the-other-retired scenario a particularly difficult transition. "I've seen cases where the wife will be working still and come home and make the husband lunch.”

Harriet Pappenheim is a founding therapist of Park Avenue Relationship Consultants in New York City. She says there can be resentment when one spouse comes home in a business suit and heels while the other is still wearing a robe and slippers.

"You may find that a man is ready to retire and his wife is not. His wife doesn't want to give up her career," Pappenheim says. "In that case, the husband can have a lot of resentment of the wife working because he wants companionship."

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