Welcome to Dollar Scholar, a personal finance newsletter written by a 27-year-old who’s still figuring it out: me.
Every week, I talk to experts about a money question I have, whether that’s “What if I don't have a 401(k)? or “How many credit cards do I need?” As I learn, I share simple ways to improve your financial life… and post cute dog photos.
This is (part of) the 29th issue. Check it out below, then subscribe to get future editions of Dollar Scholar every Wednesday.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife... so if you know anyone looking, please have him email me.
I’m only half kidding. Dating in New York City sucks, which is partially why I don’t do it. Sure, every once in a while I’ll get a little tipsy and spend a couple of minutes swiping on The Apps, but mostly they’re a source of endless anxiety for me.
I have so many questions. How do you find someone? How do you keep them interested? And even if you manage to do both of those things, how the hell do you talk about money with them?
Forget whether a guy is rude to waiters or uses the wrong “your” — what if he’s fiscally irresponsible? What if he’s evading taxes?? What if he thinks my Ocean Beauty checks are stupid???
With Valentine’s Day coming up, I decided to investigate finance and romance. Are these fears normal? Is it awful to worry that someone I’m going to date is broke? More broadly, when is it appropriate to bring up money in a relationship?
Shelly-Ann Eweka, financial planning director at TIAA, tried to calm me down. She said it’s valid to be concerned, because “someone else’s financial decisions and behaviors absolutely impact you in a relationship.” Basically, if my goals don’t align with my partner’s spending/saving habits, it could pose a big problem.
Here’s a scary example. Say I’ve found a nice Nick Jonas lookalike to settle down with, but he has a low credit score. That could affect what mortgage rates we get, which could affect how nice of a house we live can in, which could affect which neighborhood we live in, which could affect which schools our children go to, and so on.
(Do you SEE why I’m so freaked out?)
In fact, Eweka identified a bunch of red flags I need to watch out for: overdue bills, unpaid child support, being secretive about money and more. Having one or two of those flaws might be fine in the early stages of a relationship, but it’s probably not a good idea to overlook them later on. After all, as Louisa May Alcott put it in Little Women, marriage is an economic proposition.
Because the two are so closely tied, there are tons of stats out there about love and money. WalletHub found 51% of people wouldn’t marry someone with credit issues, and CreditCards.com reported 27% think financial infidelity is worse than physical infidelity. A Laurel Road survey discovered that 65% of people are hiding debt from their partners.
There is such a thing as mentioning money too soon, though. Eweka acknowledged it might be “jarring for someone to ask what their credit score is after their hors d'oeuvres” on the first date. According to Karenna Alexander, a dating and relationship coach based in Connecticut, it’d be weird to tell a guy my salary early on.
“It’s none of his business, really,” Alexander says. “Sometimes you’ll see men bringing it up … if they like you romantically and see a long future with you, they may bring up their salary generally because they want you to know they can provide for you.”
Sounds a little old school to me, but OK. In the absence of a formal discussion about saving and spending, Alexander said I’ll likely be able to get insight into a man’s finances by paying attention to his actions over time. Does he tip well? What’s his job? Is his apartment nice?
In other words, it’s not how much cash he HAS, it’s what he DOES with it. And the reverse is also true.
“If a guy loves you, he doesn’t care how much you make,” Alexander says.
Bottom line: I’m not evil for worrying that my date might be broke. We don’t need to swap bank balances in our first DM, but if things get serious, we should probably address our money habits and goals.
It’s in the interest of open communication.
“Talking about finances doesn’t have to be a taboo topic,” Eweka adds. “It can be quite a positive experience, actually — a way to get on the same page and achieve something together.”