My fiscally conservative nature has been a source of contention in some (read: ALL) of my past relationships, and I recently stumbled across an article that talks about how to address finances when it comes to our dating lives. These issues, among many, are important to bring up early on in a relationship before feelings cloud our judgement.
Granted, it's awkward to bring these matters up, but there are definitely ways they can be discussed. You don't have to ask someone their credit score on your first date, but you should definitely take notice of your partner's habits. Does your date spend money on useless things (in your eyes), or do they refuse to spend money on things you deem worth spending money on? Who typically foots the bill for meals, and is that really what makes both people happy? If so, why? What about that arrangement works for both parties?
Dating And Dollars: How To Mix Love And Money In Your Twenties
By Samantha Sharf
11/26/2013 @ 4:59PM
The internet is brimming with money tips for newlyweds — open a joint account, talk about your money values, budget for date night. While sound advice, these articles ignore a simple truth: your money relationship doesn’t begin when you walk down the aisle. It starts on your very first date. Rather than discussing finances in romantic relationships, we tend to quickly and quietly adapt to our beliefs about how the other person wants to deal with the issue. So if Mr. Wonderful pays on dates one and two, his dinner partner may assume he is happy to pay on dates three, four and 50. But that often leads to frustration from at least one party. Maybe, like most millennials, Mr. Wonderful can’t really afford to treat every time. Perhaps his date feels guilty for not contributing financially.
You are probably thinking, ‘just say something.’ But chances are you wouldn’t.
“We are all ‘funny’ about money, no matter how much or how little money we have,” writes Dr. Kate Levinson in her book Emotional Currency. If, as the oft quoted statistic says, 70% of divorces are due to money woes, what financial changes can couples make early on to fortify their long term odds?
Scott Rick, a marketing professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, studies the links between money, attraction and marital happiness. In a 2011 paper, “Fatal (Fiscal) Attraction: Spendthrifts and Tightwads in Marriage,” Rick and his co-authors reveal that tightwads (people who tend to spend less than they would like to) often marry spendthrifts (people who spend more than they would like to).
“Generally we marry ourselves. We go out and find someone who mirrors the things we like about ourselves,” says Rick, who began looking at spendthrifts and tightwads in relationships when he married a tightwad. “But a tightwad doesn’t like being a tightwad. A spendthrift does not like being a spendthrift. It turns out they don’t want a second one of themselves in the home.” Rick explains that the differences initially lead to attraction but eventually becomes less fun when you need to make decisions of economic consequence.
Around this time last year, a much talked about New York Times article reveled a trend of young adults asking for their love interest’s credit score to determine if he or she is worth pursuing. In one anecdote a 31 year old flight attendant was quickly disenchanted when a suitor asked about her credit score on their very first date.
Like our dating lives, a person’s relationship to money cannot be boiled down to a single statistic. Maybe wait a few dates to bring up nitty gritty details like credit scores and 401k balances. Instead Levinson says you should see if the relationship “has legs” and keep an eye out for “patterns.” Does one partner always pay? Are you are being overly generous, while your partner is being tightfisted? How does that make you feel?
If you are unhappy with your money exchanges, Levinson recommends approaching the topic in the same way you might the dirty socks your girlfriend leaves around. ‘You always leave your socks on the floor and that’s irritating to me. Why don’t you put them in the hamper?’ is not so different from saying, ‘You never let me pay for dinner and that’s irritating to me. What is that about for you?’ Don’t criticize, but instead try to come to a mutual understanding of why you each behave the way you do.
Married financial planners Scott and Bethany Palmer describe money as a laboratory, by observing your love-interest’s spending habits you can get to know him or her. If you, for example, notice that the girl you have gone out with a few times is careful with her pennies you can compliment her self control. If you notice she throws spending caution to the wind you can ask about her non-financial adventures. “When you are dating you really have the opportunity to see what you are about to get into,” says Scott.
There are, however, also warnings signs to look for. You may want to rethink a relationship if someone is unwilling to discuss money, lies about their finances or doesn’t pay you back. Perhaps your date said he left a tip for that friendly waitress on the table, but you find no cash when you run back to get your sunglasses. Don’t let red flags go. “Once we are in love with somebody,” Levinson notes, “we are vulnerable to taking care of someone in ways that are not healthy.”
A psychotherapist, Levinson is currently working with a couple that has been dating for four years and wants to buy a house. Both partners have steady incomes, but one has additional family money. Generous with small expenses, the partner with extra funds wants to split the home 50/50 even if it means buying a lesser property. The other partner cannot understand why his mate isn’t willing to pay more and take a larger share of the equity so they can live in a home they love. “The work,” says Levinson, “is really about figuring out why she needs to be so boundaried here and having her partner understand why.” Being in love (like or lust) doesn’t preclude the realities of financial inequality and assumptions. By the same token, knowing the contents of someone’s bank account doesn’t mean you understand his or her relationship to it.
“There is the financial planning side of money,” says Bethany, “but what about the relationship side of money?” The Palmers’ quest to understand how money operates in romance began when a well-off and well-organized couple they had been advising told them they were getting divorced — over money. It turned out that the couple would clash over mundane daily spending decisions. He liked to go out for lunch, they could afford it but she thought eating out was wasteful. They fought. He liked to buy Starbucks coffee. They fought some more.
Learning about the other couple’s experience stuck with the Palmers, who came to feel that they had failed their clients in a way. “We’d done a great job of convincing people that if you get out of debt, your house is paid off and all these things that we tell you to do are in place, then you are going to have a great relationship with your spouse when it comes to money,” says Scott. “But that’s absolutely not the case.” So The Money Couple, as they call themselves, was born.
Want to put your relationship to the test? The Palmers developed a quiz to determine your money personality. There are five characteristics — spender, saver, risk taker, security seeker and flyer — and everyone has two. “That means inside of a relationship there are four money personalities, rolling around, bumping into each other,” says Bethany. In the long run having different approaches to money can strengthen your finances and relationship but only if differences are acknowledged.
“There is still a very strong taboo against talking about money,” says Levinson. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.