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TIME TO SAY 'LET'S TALK ABOUT RETIREMENT'

Think you and your spouse are on the same page when it comes to retirement plans? A reality check might be in order.

Many not-yet-retired couples ages 43 to 70 have significant differences in retirement expectations and plans, according to research Fidelity Investments released last week.

Some big sticking points:

- Whether one of them will continue to work in retirement (41 percent disagreed on that).

- At what age the wife will retire. Husbands expect their wives to retire earlier than the wives say they plan to. Both get the husband's retirement age right.

- Standard of living in retirement. More than a third differed in their answers, with husbands generally more optimistic than wives.

The study also found many people aren't knowledgeable about their own retirement savings and pensions, and even more are clueless about their spouse's resources.

The findings are no surprise to Tampa Bay financial planners.

"Many people haven't taken the time to figure out how they're going to go about retiring," said Kimberly Overman of the Financial Well. "We often find one person is making retirement plans and choices for the other person."

Many couples avoid the subject entirely, said Lana Wagner of Professional Financial Resources.

"They're afraid to talk about it when they know there's not enough money," she said. "It may start arguments." She said couples also would rather not deal with touchy issues such as what will happen to the surviving spouse's income when the first spouse dies.

"It's too emotional for them to sit down and talk," she said.

So how do you start?

A good beginning point is a discussion of lifestyle expectations in retirement. "If one wants to spend all their time visiting with grandchildren and the other wants to go to Tahiti, that can create some budgetary issues," Overman said. You also need to know what you are spending now before you can figure out how much you'll need to retire, she said.

The age discussion comes next. Wagner said the key question is not when you want to retire but when you want to be able to have a choice whether to retire or to keep working.

Only when you know where you're trying to end up can you figure out how to get there. For tips on preparing for retirement in your 40s, 50s and 60s, see Life Times in Tuesday's Times.

Question: How do you think one should invest in the stock market when a person is already retired? How many mutual funds and what kind?

Answer: The how is through mutual funds or their cousins, exchange-traded funds, with index funds my favorite kind. The how many depends on how big your portfolio is. You can buy one fund that encompasses the entire U.S. stock market, or you can put together a group of funds, each of them covering a different type of asset, such as large stocks or small stocks. I'd also include a broadly diversified international stock index fund.

Money that you will need in the next five years should not be in the stock market. Beyond that, the amount you put in stocks depends on your tolerance for risk.

Helen Huntley writes about investing and markets for the Times. If you have a question about investments or personal finance, write hhuntley@sptimes.com or Helen Huntley, Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Read more questions and answers at http://blogs.tampabay.com/money.

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