I’m 56 and have $3.4 million in assets. I’m semi-retired, but my spouse, 64, has no savings. How do we move forward?


I am 56 years old and semi-retired. I was a single mother for many years, but I have managed to be quite successful during the 30-plus years working in corporate America. My total net worth is approximately $3.4 million, including my home, investments, and liquid cash.

I will be writing my final college tuition check at the end of this year. I do not have any credit-card debt, I own my car, but I have a mortgage on my home which is $325,000 at 3.5%.  The home is worth $800,000.

I recently married and have a prenup, trust, will, and other related documents. My spouse who is 64 is also semi-retired, and already receives a Social Security widower’s pension of approximately $1,400 a month. He has no savings to speak of.

We live on approximately $9,000 a month, from income generated by my small business and my spouse’s part-time job.  My question is whether we are spending too much, and should we begin to consider reducing our expenses so that the money I’ve worked so hard for lasts for the rest of our lives?

Have a question about your own retirement savings? Email us at HelpMeRetire@marketwatch.com

See: I’m 76 with $73,000 in an investment account that has not increased in 2 years. Should I abandon the 50/50 strategy?

Dear Reader, 

First, congratulations. Being a working mom, and a single one at that, is hard enough as it is, and to have built a fortune while doing so is truly wonderful. 

You sound like you’ve set yourself up quite nicely, what with your savings and investments, your home, your small business and no credit-card debt. A mortgage isn’t often considered “bad debt,” unless of course you have taken on too much of a home loan, and you can’t live comfortably on your income, but it doesn’t sound like you’re in that situation. 

I can’t tell you if you’re spending too much, partly because I don’t have all of the pieces in front of me to see your full financial picture, but I can tell you a few ways for you and your spouse to determine if you are or not. 

This will sound rudimentary, but it truly comes down to looking at your cash inflows and outflows. First, focus on the short-term, but then try this exercise for the long-term. Write down all the absolute necessary expenses you spend within the month — the mortgage, utilities, taxes, insurance, groceries and so on — and compare that with your monthly income.

When I have bills that are bi-annual, I like to split the total cost to see what it would be as a monthly expense. For example, if you have an auto insurance bill for $1,200 every six months, that would be $200 a month. I then write down my monthly budget as if I were paying it because I hate paying a big bill when I know that it is something that I can plan ahead for instead. 

Next, add the monthly expenses for things you truly enjoy — memberships to the gym or golf courses, subscription services, your weekly trip to the local cafe for your favorite latte. No, you don’t need to spend that money, but you’ve worked hard for your money, and you should be allowed to enjoy yourself with it. Just make sure you use the gym memberships and subscriptions.

Plan for the unexpected

Make a line item in our budget for savings. Even if you’ve amassed a small fortune, you never know when the unexpected could happen. Having as much extra cash as you can to protect yourself and your family is a blessing. 

Do the same exercise now for your estimated future budget. For example, you mentioned your spouse receives widower’s benefits. Will that change when he reaches his own Full Retirement Age? When do you anticipate claiming your own benefit, and what will it look like? When will you move away from your small business, if ever, and if so, what impact will that have on your income? When will you make your last mortgage payment, and how much more money will that free up in your expenditures? 

I have given you a lot of questions, but they are only a fraction of what you’ll need to ask yourself and your spouse to determine if you’re spending too much now, or if you’ll be able to manage it later in life. When you make that list of questions and answers, you can see if you need to adjust your current spending.

For example, how do your current expenses compare to this anticipated income, and do you feel comfortable that you’ll be able to sustain your current lifestyle with what you expect in income outside of your retirement savings? 

From there, you’ll also be able to see how much of your retirement savings you’ll need to withdraw every year to replace any lost income. A qualified and trustworthy financial planner can help you make sense of those numbers, if this becomes a bit overwhelming.

But I’ll tell you a not-so-big secret: You wouldn’t be alone in feeling that way — retirement planning isn’t exactly the simplest endeavor!

Comfort plays a really big role here. You don’t want to keep your assets locked away forever so that you never take advantage of your hard work, but you also don’t want to dwindle them down too quickly, given that you need them to stretch both your lifetimes. 

And while you’re crunching these numbers, talk about every possibility you can think of with your spouse, such as what income and spending you’d expect to have if he predeceased you or vice versa. If it helps, have this conversation over a favorite beverage. These aren’t easy conversations, and they aren’t quick ones, so get comfortable talking about it.

Readers: Do you have suggestions for this reader? Add them in the comments below.

Have a question about your own retirement savings? Email us at HelpMeRetire@marketwatch.com

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