Help Me Retire

‘We stay in two-star hotels’: We’re 70 and have $1.8 million, but my husband insists on living cheap. Don’t we have enough?

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

“He still worries about turning on the air conditioner, drives a cheap old car, wears old clothing and makes me cut his hair.”

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Dear MarketWatch, 

We are both 70. We retired at age 62, but my husband immediately went back to work with two part-time jobs. He constantly worries about money. We own a home worth $550,000 and still owe $128,000 on it. We have a 2.2% interest rate. My husband says it makes no sense to take out money to pay it off. We have no other debt.

We have about $1.8 million in various retirement accounts; many are in Roth IRAs. We lived very thriftily to accumulate this money. We made it, but my husband wants us to live like we didn’t have all of that money saved. He hasn’t touched the money in the Roth IRAs yet.

He still worries about turning on the air conditioner, drives a cheap old car, wears old clothing and makes me cut his hair. We do travel, but that’s because we use the money from my humble post-retirement job. We stay in two-star hotels. All of our money is in various retirement accounts. Most of these accounts are in his name with me as the beneficiary even though I worked hard and contributed half. Therefore, I can’t make withdrawals.

I feel we can now live a little nicer. He doesn’t. I’m driving a seven-year old car that I would like to upgrade. We never bought fancy cars — just cheap ones. I would just like a Honda 7267, -1.36% or Toyota TM, +1.51%. He considers those too expensive! 

What good does this money do for us? Don’t we have enough?

See: I want to invest $100,000 in dividend-paying stocks, but my wife doesn’t. How do I convince her? 

Dear Reader, 

You have more than most retirees, so this isn’t necessarily a question of if you have enough.

It’s more a question of how you and your husband can reach a compromise. Couples can have long, beautiful marriages, and still disagree on how to spend or save money. That’s OK, so long as there is healthy communication, and each person feels their needs are being met. 

Talk to your husband about why he feels this way. Maybe he grew up in hard times, and he never wants to go back to a situation like that. Or perhaps he saw his parents or grandparents lose money in their old age, and he’s afraid that will happen to you two. You won’t know until you have these talks, and they might be tough ones, so come prepared. Instead of coming to the conversation frustrated, talk it out over a favorite meal.

That said, you also need your needs met. You’re right — you’ve worked hard and contributed to your retirement nest egg, and you should have a say in how that money is spent. You bring up a very important point about having access to your money. You shouldn’t be locked out of your retirement assets. When you decide how much you would like to withdraw, discuss access to these accounts. Your husband may be a cautious spender, but you should have equal access.

Your mortgage rate is very low. The 30-year interest rate is currently hovering at around 8%. Mortgages usually aren’t considered “bad debt” (unless of course they’re extremely expensive and put too much pressure on your day-to-day living). If you can afford your monthly payment, it doesn’t hurt to keep the money in your retirement accounts.

Also see: I’m 92 and will probably live to be 100. I have about $250,000. Thoughts?

Running the numbers could also help in your journey to compromise. Look at the big picture: How much do you need for the rest of your lives?

Here’s a rough guide to get you started, while you choose a qualified financial planner:

First, determine a withdrawal rate. For years, the rule of thumb was 4%, but that rule has been highly contested — some experts argue you can do 3%. Turn that 3% into a decimal, and divide that into the amount you will need every year. If you need $40,000 per year, and you chose a 3% withdrawal rate, $40,000 divided by 0.03 adds up to a little more than $1.3 million.

When you do the math, factor in every expense, such as groceries, taxes, utilities, medicine, car and home maintenance, entertainment and so on. Your annual withdrawal may change based on inflation, interest rates, market returns and unexpected life events.

Other questions: What are your annual or monthly retirement withdrawals, and can or should they be reduced? You may be comfortable with increasing those withdrawals. (Husband will likely be less comfortable giving what you say.)

Do you have an emergency fund? Have you already been factoring in taxes and other miscellaneous expenses? How much does your air conditioning cost per month? You need to weigh comfort with finance. After all, that is why you saved for retirement in the first place.

You can become more involved in your finances and not have one person calling all the shots, but you don’t have to change your husband fundamentally. If he’s fine wearing his old clothes, and you don’t mind giving him a haircut, stick with it.

If you’re both working part-time jobs in retirement, you could make short-term financial goals that will allow you to spend a bit more freely — and travel more. You could, for example, explore Airbnbs ABNB, +2.28% instead of two-star hotels. How much do you save buying a used car versus a brand new vehicle? Perhaps there’s a way to take the difference and put it in your “fun fund” that you use for leisure activities.

If you have worked hard to have a financially secure retirement, it’s important that you both enjoy 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