Maybe it sounds shallow to size up a romantic prospect by guessing his or her earning potential. But who could blame you, when study after study has found that money disagreements are a major source of relationship tension?
Just think of all the money issues that crop up in a serious relationship — especially when you’re married. How much do you put aside for a house? For retirement? For a car? How do you pay for a kid’s college education? Is it fair that one of you is always brown bagging it to work while the other is lunching at expensive eateries? Should you go big on vacations, or choose cheaper, modest trips?
Perhaps instead of fawning over someone’s looks, everyone should be checking out each other’s financial portfolio.
In fact, according to Citi Double Cash credit card’s January 2015 survey of 1,400 American adults in a committed relationship, 73 percent of respondents would prefer a partner who is good with money over one who is physically attractive (the preference of 23 percent).
If you haven’t yet found your financial soul mate, and financial compatibility is important to you, date with these traits in mind.
Look for a financially responsible partner. That sounds like a no-brainer, and on the surface, it is. But be aware that most people probably think of themselves as being financially responsible.
That’s what the LoveFamilyMoney study, released last month by the financial services company Allianz, suggests.
The study, which surveyed 4,500 Americans, ages 35 to 65, with a household income of at least $50,000, found that 66 percent of respondents identified themselves as “savers,” while only 51 percent described their significant other the same way.
Maybe they were on the mark, but their self-confidence may be misplaced.
“People prefer to think of themselves as the fiscally responsible member of the couple, which could cause problems if their behavior doesn’t match their philosophy,” says Katie Libbe, vice president of consumer insights for Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America. “It’s important for couples to have an honest discussion about family spending or saving habits to ensure that they’re both contributing to a stronger financial future.”
So it isn’t enough if the person you’re interested in says the right things about money. Talk is cheap. Actions — how your partner spends money — matter more.
Look for someone who doesn’t mind talking about money. Surprisingly, many people simply don’t talk about their finances with the one they love. It’s understandable initially. It probably is a little too soon on a first date to bring up the $36,000 in student loans you’re trying to pay off, but according to the aforementioned Citi survey, 38 percent of couples didn’t set aside time to talk about money in the past year.
One way to start talking — if discussing money doesn’t come easily to you — is to analyze your parents’ attitudes toward money.
“This can be a genuinely romantic, bonding experience,” says Pam Friedman, a certified financial planner who also runs a divorce planning firm in Austin, Texas.
Friedman sees a lot of marriages fall apart. If money is the culprit, it’s often due to hiding a financial problem from a partner, or not communicating about money well.
So talk about money, urges Friedman, 49, who just married for the first time last year. She says she and her new husband had a long, fruitful money discussion before they got married, where he talked about his debts and obligations to his children for college. Friedman shared wanting to support her aging mother.
“By talking about our concerns, we grew closer than ever before,” Friedman says.
Look for a partner who isn’t materialistic. You will probably have fewer arguments about money than couples who prioritize the finer things in life, according to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy.
That said, if you aren’t materialistic but your mate is, you’re relationship isn’t doomed. And vice versa. It’s when you’re both materialistic, according to the study, that you may run into trouble, if neither partner is keeping spending in check.
A team of professors at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, studied relationship evaluations completed by 1,734 married couples throughout the U.S. and found that when both partners said money wasn’t important to them, they scored 10 to 15 percent better on marriage stability and other positive characteristics of a healthy coupling.
Look for someone can grow with you. You’re both going to change as your relationship matures. It’s inevitable. But if you and your partner are flexible with your thinking, it may help you both as your views on money evolve.
“My wife and I were definitely worlds apart when it came to our finances initially,” says Timothy Trudeau, who owns Syntax Creative, a music distribution company in El Cajon, California. “I’m more of a buy-right, buy-once kind of person. I’m also happy to spend money on things that are enjoyable. A meal out or an activity.”
As for Trudeau’s wife: “She always liked to save money by looking for the cheapest way to do something,” he says of her philosophy at the beginning of their relationship.
But over the course of their 13-year marriage, “we’ve been able to work through this together, and I’m happy to report that we now have more of a single vision to our finances,” Trudeau says.
Look for someone who is working hard to demolish debt. Sure, it would be great to meet someone who is debt-free, but that’s hard to do, and it does seem shallow to write someone off just because she’s purchased a home, a car or is still paying off student loans. And chances are, you have your own debt, and it’s sad to think that someone might avoid you because of the $3,000 you owe on credit cards.
Still, a 2005 study published in the Journal of Extension examined survey data gathered from 1,010 randomly sampled newlywed couples and, as you might expect, researchers concluded that starting a marriage buried in bills isn’t fun.
“Debt brought into marriage was seen by the husbands and wives in this sample as being the most problematic of the many difficulties they encountered during their first months of marriage,” the study authors wrote.
The lesson may be to look for someone who is serious about paying off her debts rather than waiting for someone who is debt-free.
Also: You aren’t getting any younger. From a practical standpoint, you may be cheating yourself out of some great years with that special someone if, instead of trying to meet a mate, you’re living like a hermit and paying down debts.
So date. And if you want, marry and be merry — but the more debt you both can kill off before you unite, the better off you’ll be.
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