Honey, did I mention I retired yesterday?

Before you decide when and where to retire, you'll need to ask your better half about her plans

By Walter Updegrave, Money Magazine senior editor

(Money Magazine) -- When it comes to retirement planning, a couple should work together like an experienced doubles tennis team, each partner attuned to the other's moves and both striving toward a common goal.

That's the theory, but earlier this year a Fidelity Investments survey of 502 couples ages 43 to 70 found that husbands and wives often act as if they're playing singles games.

How far apart were they? Well, 35% were off by more than two years when asked when their spouse would retire.

Failing to plan together can leave one of you financially clueless. Anthony Ogorek, a Williamsville, N.Y. financial planner, recently met with a 72-year-old woman who had invested her IRA in high-fee annuities after her husband's death.

"She had never been involved in investing their money," says Ogorek. "She had no idea this was a bad move."

You can't expect a couple's retirement planning to be a precisely choreographed pas de deux. Certainly not with differences in ages, interests and career paths.

But common sense tells you that the more you collaborate, the more successful your planning will be. Here's how you and your spouse can begin.

Share your visions

An obvious starting point: Decide when you each plan to retire. You don't have to leave your jobs at the same time; spouses retire within two years of each other only half the time.

But you can plan more effectively if you know when the other anticipates calling it a career. If you both leave work before 65 and don't get coverage from a former employer, you'll have to price private health-care policies or seek part-time jobs that provide them.

Plan to relocate to an area with lower costs? Great, but if only one of you retires, will the other be able to find work?

Count your money

As retirement looms, you should first find out what you'll get from Social Security as a couple, not just as individuals. It's complicated.

A nonworking person receives up to 50% of his or her spouse's benefit. If you both work, you'll each qualify for benefits based on your individual job histories. The lower-earning spouse, however, is guaranteed to receive at least as much as a nonworking spouse would get.

You should also know how much you have tucked away, not only in your own retirement accounts but in your spouse's too. A few times a year you should share your balances and holdings. Ditto for the details of any pensions either of you has coming.

While you're at it, make sure your investing strategies are in sync. Your portfolios don't have to be mirror images, but they shouldn't be radically different either, with one of you loaded up on aggressive small-caps while the other is hunkered down in money-market funds.

Divide the labor

You should each have a share in the planning. For example, I'm fine at tinkering with retirement calculators and monitoring investments - though I'm careful to keep my wife informed. She's good at the big-picture stuff, like deciding when we'll retire, where we'll live and how much we'll spend.

With such teamwork, how can we miss?  Top of page