Why Partners Have Influence Over Financial Habits

According to new research, if you’re a college student, there’s a good chance your financial habits are more influenced by your partner than your parents. While your mom and dad definitely know best in this realm, thanks to experience, that still doesn’t stop college students from shrugging off what mom and dad have to say. Case in point: When I got my first credit card in college, my father told me to cut it up, while my boyfriend, who also had his first credit card, was spending like crazy and I followed suit. I ended up being almost $20,000 in credit card debt by the time I graduated from college. (I’m not even going to get into the student loan debt that also accompanied that.)

The study, by researchers at the University of Arizona, University of Minnesota, University of Alabama and University of Wisconsin, Madison, and published in the journal of Family Relations, found that while both the parents and romantic partners of a student can directly influence financial habits, it’s those romantic partners who have the most influence. So, basically, if your college-age daughter is dating someone who likes to spend, spend, spend, while you, as her parent, like to save, save, save, there’s a good chance that while your kid might save a little bit, it’s the spending that’s going to be more likely.

By why is this the case? Here are few theories and how it can be remedied.

1. It Could Be About Proximity

I think it’s safe to assume that the majority of college students, even if they live near mom and dad, probably live in the dorms or some other form of campus housing. With that being the case, students spend more time with their romantic partner than their parents. This sort of leads us to the whole “out of sight, out of mind” concept. If you don’t have mom and dad there every day to offer up their two cents on your finances and spending habits, you’re going to be more influenced by the person you see the most.

2. Students Are In A ‘Melding Stage’

According to two of the study’s researchers, Joyce Serido, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota and Melissa Curran, an associate professor at the University of Arizona, the “melding stage” could also play a part. It’s at this stage in a young person’s life that both their parents and “new social influencers,” like romantic partners and close friends, have an effect on their decision-making process, but the latter group even more so.

3. It’s The Beginning Of Transitioning Into Adulthood

Another reason why romantic partners start having more of an influence on a student’s financial decisions is that it’s the progression of life.As Curran explains, "From birth across the lifespan we're very reliant on our parents in terms of finances. It's interesting to look at romantic partners at a time in people's lives when many are starting to develop committed romantic partnerships for the first time. We predict that as these students continue to age, the influence from family origin will fall further away, although not diminish altogether, and romantic partners' influence will become even stronger."

4. Financial Discussions Are Still Taboo Amongst Romantic Partners

The problem with emulating your spending and/or budgeting after you partner is that, although you may be influenced by their habits, it’s still a difficult subject to bring up — even with the people with whom we’re in serious relationships. The taboo factor still remains, but as Curran points out because the influence on each other's financial habits does clearly exist, it helps when “people are on the same page financially.” What this means is getting over your fear of the taboo and discussing it.

5. Either Way, It’s A Learning Process

As the study notes, budgeting and knowing how to be responsible with money is a learning process that comes with age and experience. As people evolve and grow up, they realize how essential financial responsibility is, especially if you want to own a home some day and settle down — you’re going to need amazing credit for that. Unfortunately, your credit follows you around forever, and once you destroy it, it can take years and years and YEARS to fix it. Trust me; I know a lot about this subject.

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