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‘My wife is really cheap, which I adore’: We have $3M in investments, but I paid the bills while she worked as a teacher. How should we split our expenses in retirement?

Dear Quentin,

My beautiful wife and I are both 64. We were married late in life, and thus keep our assets separate. My wife is an amazing investor. She retired from a career as a teacher, and did not make much money, but she has amassed $1.5 million through aggressive investing and dollar-cost averaging.

I, on the other hand, acquired $1.5 million, through contrarian investing, diversifying in U.S., euros and precious metals, and real estate. At the moment, I have 50% of my assets in cash and 50% in a mix of bonds and contrarian assets. My wife continues to play an aggressive 80% stock strategy.

“‘If you ever see a penny with tears in its eyes, my wife probably was probably squeezing it at some point.‘”

At the moment, I am the sole breadwinner so I am paying for 90% of our existence, which is OK for me. I want my wife to continue to build her mountain upon which to retire. Plus, we moved to Europe so she could take care of her ailing mother while I continue to work.

She manages our daily expenses and my wife is really cheap, which I adore. If you ever see a penny with tears in its eyes, my wife probably was probably squeezing it at some point. We live on $2,500 a month, which includes renting here and a 100% paid-off condo in the U.S. Travel is our biggest and only extravagant expense.

The problem: My wife rakes in $150,000 a year in dividends, and the interest is growing. I pull in a meager $20,000 in dividends in good years. When we retire, my wife feels we should split expenses. I am wondering if this is fair considering I have been the base financial asset in case the market tanks.

I feel we should pool our resources, and live off that. When the market tanks — oh, and it will, BIG time — we can then dig into our (mostly mine) assets.

What do you think?

An Adoring Husband

Dear Adoring,

This is a pandemic puppy of a problem. I’ll explain why.

All things being equal — or as close to being equal as possible — it’s fair for you to reevaluate your respective contributions in retirement. Put down your assets, investment income, IRA/401(k) distributions and Social Security on paper in two separate columns, and then list out your joint rent, taxes, insurance, utilities and other bills in a separate column. The answer will reveal itself.

Take a long, hard look at your financial strategy — your wife being 80% in stocks is very risky given your respective ages — and enlist the help of a CPA or financial adviser for a third, independent voice. You want to ensure that you (a) have enough to retire and (b) establish what kind of lifestyle you can afford in retirement, and only then (c) figure out what would be fair for you both to contribute.

Studies suggest that finances are the biggest source of anxiety and conflict between partners. According to the American Psychological Association, younger people typically experience more stress in relationships than older couples, regardless of the economic climate. Dynamics between couples shift over time, and across generations. (Also, teachers are grossly underpaid.)

“Dynamics between couples shift over time, and across generations.”

Prenuptial agreements appear to be less taboo among millennials than previous generations. They could be more realistic about the prospects of success of their own relationships, having seen their parents divorce, and/or may have come to the wise realization that they must protect their own assets, especially as women’s earnings have increased since their parents’ generation.

More boomer couples were also single-income households than their younger cohorts, and that obviously plays a role in their expectations about who pays for what, especially with women raising children and sacrificing their careers and earning potential to raise them. Your situation has its own set of unique circumstances, given your wife’s success thus far at investing.

How you split your expenses should be part of that bigger conversation. You have set a precedent, but by taking stock of your nest egg for retirement you can have a conversation about what would be fair going forward. Your wife has grown accustomed to you taking care of the bills. Like having a puppy, it has provided a sense of safety, stability, and love. It’s hard to give it up.

Just make sure the expenses are worth it.


You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

More from Quentin Fottrell:

• I live with my girlfriend, 59, who owns several homes and has saved $3 million. I pay utilities and cable, and do lots of repairs. Is that enough?
• ‘Until now, I’ve been waiting tables’: I’m 32, and just started a new job in a factory. I have a 401(k) and an emergency fund. What can I do to retire at 55?
• ‘He is the most computer-illiterate person I know’: I was my husband’s research analyst, caregiver, cook and housekeeper. Now he wants a divorce after 38 years.
• My daughter, 29, will inherit a ‘substantial sum’ from her late grandfather. But my husband maintains a tight grip on her trust.

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