Are You Financially Compatible?

Fights about money have broken up plenty of couples. Learn how to assess your financial compatibility with someone new and read tips for finding neutral ground on money matters from financial experts here.

By Margot Carmichael Lester

"Money and sex are the biggest power struggles in a relationship," asserts Bonnie Eaker Weil, author of Financial Infidelity. That's why experts say it's important for daters to pay attention to their financial compatibility. "Financial issues are the biggest deal-breakers in a relationship. It is important to understand your differences so you can
Each of us falls into one of two categories: spenders and savers.
integrate them to create harmony."

Do opposites attract?
Each of us falls into one of two categories: spenders and savers. And the old rule about opposites attracting holds true with money, too. "I know that's true with nearly every client I have, and it's true of my wife and me," says New Orleans-based financial planner Jude Boudreaux, who founded Upperline Financial Planning. "It's challenging at times, but I think we've both learned from each other and reached a happier middle ground because of [it]." Adds Weil: "Eventually, couples neutralize each other if they learn how to communicate effectively about finances. You must respect each other's different spending styles. However, some attitudes are deal-breakers … signs of lifestyles and beliefs that go against your own values."

Four warning signs to watch for
Here are some common red flags that can alert you to those deal-breakers Weil mentioned above:
  • Spending uncontrollably or being overly thrifty without any regard for the consequences
  • Habitually paying bills late — or not at all
  • Asking to borrow money from you while you're dating
  • Being overly secretive about personal finances
"What you are experiencing during the dating phase is what you will see during marriage, more than likely," expains Taffy Wagner, CEO of Money Talk Matters, LLC, in Denver, CO. "Sure, some things change as people get older — but the foundation pretty much stays the same unless one recognizes some adjustments need to be made for the greater good, [both for the individual] and the relationship."

Money talks…
If you sense a financial incompatibility issue, try to confirm it. "This doesn't mean you have to swap credit reports on the first date, but you should talk about money at the first sign the relationship has a chance of becoming serious,"
A more serious discussion can wait until you're seeing each other exclusively.
says Kim McGrigg, community and media relations manager for Money Management International in Denver, CO.

"Every relationship has that night where you stay up all night and just talk — about your siblings, growing up, etc.," Boudreaux says. "How about just adding a few questions, like: 'What was money like for you growing up?' or 'Did you have an allowance? Spend it all right away, or save it?'" This will give you some additional insight into your date's spending habits and financial background.

A more serious discussion can wait until you're seeing each other exclusively, says Los Angeles psychotherapist Nancy Irwin. "It's best to have this conversation early in the commitment phase of a relationship so that you have a roadmap for your finances," she counsels. "Many people assume [things] or have certain unspoken expectations about gender roles — this happens with gay and lesbian couples, too. Knowing from the start [whether] you want a 50/50 financial split on all expenses or 60/40 or 100/0 — it's best to get that all out in the open before you move in together or marry. Remember, if your date can't talk about money honestly and openly, chances are great that he or she cannot manage it, either."

Finding the middle ground
With a few notable exceptions (revisit those red flags again!), financial differences don't have to be the catalyst for a breakup. "Just because your money beliefs don't fit immediately, [it] doesn't mean you can't both work on it together and find some middle ground," Boudreaux says. "It can help you grow as a person to have to work with somebody who comes at the financial issue from a different perspective. That is, unless it's a real deal-breaker for you personally."

Carrboro, N.C.-based writer Margot Carmichael Lester, is the author of The Real Life Guide to Life After College and coauthor of Be A Better Writer.
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