I had two serious relationships in my 20s, both of which ended in some part because of money incompatibility. When I saw the red flags I had to ask myself, “Can I accept this person as they are, including their money management skills for the rest of my life?” In both cases the answer was a clear ‘no’ and I knew it was time to end the relationship.
I am a huge believer in accepting people as they are and never having an agenda to change anyone. When I saw the red flags I mentioned my concern. When I realized we were on different money planets, it was time to move on.
Here are some things to look for when dating and to be careful about yourself.
1) Be wary of stinginess
I wanted to find someone who was practical and good with their money, someone who hated debt as much as I did but valued generosity and wasn’t afraid to spend as long as they had the funds to pay for it. I did not want someone who was stingy.
I went out with a guy once who bought me flowers at a roadside stand. How romantic! That was until we drove past the next stand and he saw they were selling for $1 less. He returned my flowers and bought me the cheaper ones. Was I touched at his frugalness? Not a chance.
Don’t use coupons on the first date and whatever you do, don’t gasp when the restaurant bill is delivered. Don’t complain about the price of movies or the size of the markup on popcorn and drinks. Trust me on this one. Life within your means and date within your budget but don’t complain about money, especially money spent on the person you’re dating!
2) Have and look for financial integrity
The first guy I dated was a writer and seemed to be making a good enough income. Money wasn’t an issue. He didn’t live lavishly but he dressed well, drove a newer model Toyota and spend money freely. It was nearly a year into the relationship when he confessed he was $40,000 in debt (none of it mortgage debt or student loan debt) because he’d hadn’t made any money from writing ‘yet’. It turned out the car was his mother’s. He was 30. He didn’t see it was a big deal but I was disappointed. He was pretending to be someone he wasn’t.
If you sense dishonesty in others, be very careful. Living a life funded by credit cards or bank loans is a lie you don’t want to buy into, especially if you find out the debt has been kept secret. If you are deeply in debt and are working your way out, be honest from the start about your plans to turn your life around.
3) Don’t be controlled or controlling
It’s perfectly acceptable once in a long term relationship for one person to take over the money management. In our house, I do it all. I pay all the bills. I track all the spending. I manage the investments, TFSAs, RESPs and RRSPs. I am not, however, controlling about it. I do it because I enjoy it and Brian is extremely grateful because it’s one less thing he has to think about. I don’t tell him how to spend money. He doesn’t tell me. We share our money goals with each other and check in with each other when a purchase is over $100 to double check if it’s in the budget. If either of us wants something, we make a way for it to work. We don’t control each other’s spending.
Find someone you respect enough to trust their money judgments from their investment choices to their spending habits. If they ask you for advice, great! Share away. Just be very careful if someone is trying to control you in any way, especially when it comes to money. This will only get worse as the relationship progresses. If you don’t trust your partner with their money management skills, I’d encourage you to get help or end the relationship. It’s not worth continuing to date someone you can’t trust or tries to control what you do.
4) Talk about finances
Don’t do this on the first date. Don’t even try this in the first few months. As the relationship progresses, begin to have money conversations and see how your partner reacts. Do you agree with your partner’s answers? Does he or she show a lack of basic financial knowledge? Is there a willingness to learn?
Some great questions include:
If you won a million dollars, what would you do with it? Bachelor #1 said he’d buy his Mom a new house. Sweet, yes, but no thought to paying of his debt or anything about our potential future together sent up the first red flag.
Have you started any RRSPs yet? Your partner doesn’t need to tell you what the balance is, but his or her response can tell you a lot about their money habits. If they answer “What, I’m only in my 20s!” or burst out laughing, you may want to reconsider.
The idea isn’t to quiz them on their financial knowledge. The last thing your partner needs is to feel like you are testing them. The idea is to get a sense about how similar they are when it comes to their money management skills and how open they are to discussing it with you.
When I met Brian, we realized we had a lot in common. We both liked camping, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, photography and books. When we found out we were on the same page financially, it was the icing on the cake.
How did you find a similar money-minded life partner? Have you have any relationships end because of financial incompatibility?
Kathryn works in public relations and training for a non profit. In her off hours, she volunteers as a financial coach helping ordinary Canadians with the basics of money management. Her passions include personal finance and adult education. Kathryn, along with her husband and two children live in Ontario.