According to a study published in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues, feeling like your partner spent money foolishly increased the likelihood of divorce 45% for both men and women.
But talking about money is touchy -- especially in relationships -- because when you talk about a person's money, you are also talking about his power, control, and freedom. But before you begin a life with someone, those uncomfortable conversations about money are paramount. If you do not understand each other's attitudes toward spending and saving, you can risk losing power, control, and freedom over your own life. Because, ultimately, the way your partner treats money can affect you both long-term.
While I encourage you to talk about finances regardless, here are five statements (and behaviors) that are cause for a talk:
1. "Everyone has debt. It's not a big deal. I'll eventually pay it off." (But makes no plan to do so.)
Someone who continually accrues debt and feels no sense of urgency or responsibility to pay it off may not know how to handle money responsibly. As you likely know, the more debt you have, the more money it costs you over time -- that's the way interest on loans work. So, if your partner is unconcerned with his or her debt and continues to dig deeper into the negatives without making any effort or plan to pay it down, could lead you to bankruptcy. And should you marry, any unpaid debts or bad credit will taint your own perfectly stellar credit line just by being attached.
2. "I work hard, so I deserve to buy [enter expensive item]."
Lifestyle inflation and feelings of entitlement can be kryptonite -- they'll blow your very rational, reasonable budget every time. And in a relationship, there are few feelings that are worse than working hard and skimping on luxuries of your own for the greater good of your combined future or financial freesom, only to find that your partner has spent the money on themselves. If one party continually violates a joint budget, it is likely to cause feelings of resentment.
3. "I don't have to invest much for retirement, because I'm great at picking stocks."
People who always look for shortcuts can be a red flag in many areas of life. But financial shortcuts, like picking stocks, are especially not something to bank on. Stocks are not a sure thing; old age is. If your parner has extra money to invest in stocks after other responsibilities are met, go for it, but not at the expense of a secure, steady retirement fund. Otherwise you'll see your own plans for retirement slip away.
4. "I need this pair of shoes because everyone has them and I don't want people to think I lack taste."
People who tie stuff to status -- e.g. the sort of people who buy nice cars so people think they are wealthy and meanwhile can't pay for their mortgage -- indicates something is askew not just with how they handle money but also about their values. In this case, actions speak louder than words: when someone spends their limited resources on flashy material gains, it says to me that they lack confidence and are trying to buy happiness. If you do not share that outlook and your partner does, it will likely take a toll on your own happiness and on your bank account.
5. People who make no statements about their finances at all (i.e. People who aren't up front).
Communication is key in resolving money issues. Being unwilling to talk and be honest with your partner about your financial history indicates a lack of understanding and respect that permeates beyond finances.
I understand that it can be hard to discuss your staggering student debt or a previous credit card mishap, but everyone makes mistakes and most financial problems can be resolved with time and willpower. In the end, none of these things have to be deal breakers. In fact, studies show that couples who made a plan and tackled their debt together remained happier with each other over the long-term.
Often times, an honest and open talk where you hear one another out can rectify any red flags.
Christina Garofalo is co-author of the blog Adventures in Frugal, where she writes about travel, food, finance, and more. Her writing has also appeared in Paste, First We Feast, Robb Report, and Art & Hustle. In her free time, you'll find her writing poetry and eating her way through Brooklyn, New York.
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