What Are Financial Red Flags In A Relationship? 11 Signs Your Partner's Spending Habits Are Worrisome
Money is a feminist issue — and yet, women are still reluctant to talk about it. According to a recent Bustle survey of more than 1,000 millennial women, more than 50 percent of people said they never discuss personal finances with friends, even though 28 percent reported feeling stressed out about money every single day. Bustle's Get Money series gets real about what millennial women are doing with their money, and why — because managing your finances should feel empowering, not intimidating. Today's topic: Money red flags in relationships.
You may be in the most perfect relationship ever, but then you discover more and more of your partner's not-so-perfect money issues. How many are too many, and how bad is too bad? You and your significant other may be compatible in 101 ways, yet you may be financially incompatible with your partner, so to speak. Luckily, there are many ways to find this out, and you don't need to hire a detective to do so.
"Money is one of the biggest generators of problems, arguments, and resentment in long-term relationships," Tina B. Tessina, PhD, (aka "Dr. Romance") psychotherapist and author of How to be Happy Partners: Working it out Together. "Partners commit financial infidelity because they haven't established good communication, they're trying to avoid conflict, or they're out of control and don't want to admit it. When one or both partners are out of control, spending money without letting each other know, going over budget (or not having a budget), and fighting over money, they are acting in bad faith financially, which is very similar to emotional infidelity. There is a lack of caring for the other partner, and a lack of self-control. It can be every bit as harmful as sexual infidelity, even if most people don't take it as seriously."
So what are signs that your significant other's spending habits are worrisome? Here are relationship money red flags to watch out for, because the sooner you start to spot them, the better.
1. They're Secretive About Where Their Money Goes
Maybe you find a receipt, or several, for a purchase your significant other made, and they get defensive when you bring it up. Normally, maybe you wouldn't care, but you're both saving up for a big trip, and this purchase put a dent into the trip fund — or what have you.
"When couples have difficulty with money, it can lead to financial infidelity — out-of-control spending, lying, and hiding finances — which can destroy the relationship," says Dr. Tessina. "People lie about money to avoid an argument or being criticized. It's a short-term solution, hoping that it will not come up, but when it does, you've added betrayal to the financial issue. Also, the spender can get more out of control if he or she feels criticized and disapproved of by the saver. Sometimes, one partner will criticize the other for one kind of spending (say, eating out a lot, or buying computer components) while equally overspending in a different way (say, for clothes or household goods)."
2. They Hide Their Debt From You
I'm friends with someone who married a guy with almost $100,000 in student loan debt. Only, he didn't tell her before they got married. When they became husband and wife, she became responsible for that student loan debt, too. Eventually, they divorced — the debt hadn't torn them apart as much as the dishonesty behind it.
"If your partner makes a commitment to you and didn't let you know in advance about his or her money troubles, it's a big problem," says Dr. Tessina. "Not only the debt itself (which is a big enough problem), but also the fact that he or she's either in denial or already hiding problems from you. These problems might be solved, but you two need both debt counseling and relationship counseling to find out if you can save your marriage."
3. They Have A Credit Card Addiction
I know a guy whose wife became addicted to credit cards, so much so that her compulsive shopping habit started to take precedence over their kids' needs, like school supplies. He threatened to divorce her unless she cut up all her credit cards and got help from a financial advisor. "If the debt is due to overspending on credit cards, lack of willingness to earn enough money, addiction, or some other irresponsibility, you may have fallen in love with an out-of-control child who needs to grow up if your relationship is to work," says Dr. Tessina.
It did work out for my friend and his wife, because she got the money management help she needed. She also started to see a therapist to get to the root of why purchases made her happy — at least, why she thought they made her happy — and her marriage even ended up better in the end.
4. They Can't Stick To A Budget
You may be the type of person who was raised balancing a checkbook (for kids) and saving money not only in your piggy bank, but also depositing some into a bank account — and yes, you were a child, but your parents trained you to budget from an early age. You kept up those good money habits into adulthood and know where every penny goes — or almost every penny. However, you may be dating someone who doesn't budget. Instead, perhaps they live paycheck-to-paycheck and have no rhyme or reason to their spending — when their two-week pay is up, it's up… that is, until they get paid and start the mismanaged-money cycle all over again. And forget about mentioning the "b" word to them… unless you want to start an all-night argument about it.
"Another warning sign to look out for is, when discussing budget and finances, you discover that your partner does not have a clear knowledge of their own budget or is not willing to talk about it with you," Zoe Coetzee, in-house relationship psychologist and dating expert for dating site EliteSingles, tells Bustle.
But, it is possible to help them get on the right making-a-budget track if they're willing. "Supporting each other while building a budget could help you reach your financial goals faster, and can even bring you closer together," Brianna McGurran, student loans and personal finance expert at NerdWallet, tells Bustle. "You can also encourage each other to stick to a guideline like the 50/30/20 budget. It suggests spending no more than 50 percent of your after-tax income on necessities, no more than 30 percent on wants, and at least 20 percent on savings and debt repayment. If that sounds hard to achieve now, try making small changes at first, like negotiating down your cable bill."
5. They Don't Pay Their Bills On Time
You don't have to be living with your partner to notice that they're not paying their bills on time. Perhaps you see the late notices in a stack of mail at their place, or maybe they talk about all the late fees they're paying — again. In either case, this is not a great sign that they're keeping on top of their finances. If you do live together, however, there is a way for your partner to pay their part of the bills on time.
"If you live together and have joint expenses like rent and utility bills, consider contributing to those costs proportionally to your income," says McGurran. "That's a fair way to make sure one isn't contributing unduly to expenses. Say your rent is $2,000 a month and one partner makes $40,000 while the other makes $70,000. Together, you earn $110,000, and the higher earner makes 64 percent of the total. So that person will pay 64 percent of the rent, or $1,280. The lower earner will pay $720."
6. They Have No Savings Or Investments
When you mention "401(k)" to your significant other, they panic. Or, worse yet, they ask you what that means. (True story!) But if they have no savings at all, and don't even mention investments, it's a cause for concern.
"The golden rule of personal finance is to spend less than you earn," says McGurran. "If you know your partner's income and it appears they're spending beyond it — going on frequent vacations, constantly buying concert tickets, driving a super fancy car — that's a red flag. The worst-case scenario is that they're building credit card debt or choosing not to save in an emergency fund. That could affect you if one day you want to rent a place or buy a house together and your partner's poor credit holds you back. Or, with no savings, they could be in a difficult spot if they lose their job or have unexpected medical expenses."
7. They Have Bad Credit
Does your partner cringe or change the subject when you ask what their credit score is? Although bad credit in and of itself does not have to be a dealbreaker, if your partner has a lot of other financial red flags, you may want to take this one more seriously. After all, a good credit score effects everything from applying for loans to financing a car or house. In essence, it affects your life together.
8. They Borrow Money From People A Lot
You and I probably both know someone who needs a "loan" sometimes — whether it's so they can cover their rent this month or pay their cell phone bill. But it usually boils down to one thing: money management, and their lack of it. While some people turn to friends or family for this loan, others turn to their significant others. "Borrowing small sums of money often and not paying it back can illustrate a certain irresponsibility and dependence on others when it comes to finances, which can develop into a larger issues and serious debt," says Coetzee. "Financial boundaries should be respected in relationships, and continually overstepping this line is the sign of an issue."
9. They Try To Control Your Money
You may be in a relationship with someone who is fiscally responsible, and they like to give you financial advice, too — i.e., how you should and shouldn't spend your money. But, it can become detrimental — and fast. "Your partner should never use money as a means of power," says Coetzee. "Controlling your access to finances or information about your joint finances is a danger sign in a relationship."
10. They Don't Want To Talk About Money — Ever
Of course, you know that "communication is key," whether it's regarding relationships, an issue you're having at work, or, in this case, money. If, whenever you broach the subject of money and your significant other backs off, you're bound to wonder what they're hiding. But Dr. Tessina says to keep trying, and to talk about money with your partner. "No matter how well or poorly your finances are going at any given time, keep your financial discussions going," she says. "The more frequently you discuss your finances, the less difficult the discussions will be, and the more likely that you'll make good financial choices."
McGurran agrees about the importance of talking about money with your partner. "Communication is super important when you're dealing with money in relationships," she says. "So don't rely on guesswork to figure out whether your partner is spending beyond their means. Open up the conversation with something like, 'I know this might seem weird, but I'd love to talk about our attitudes toward money upfront. It can be such a source of conflict, and I want our relationship to be healthy and strong.' You can ask about how money was treated or talked about in your partner's family, and whether they see themselves as more of a saver or a spender today."
11. Their Money Values Don't Align With Yours
Perhaps you and your partner have tried to come to a mutual understanding about money, and the way you each spend and save it, but nothing works. You may have to chalk it up to financial incompatibility. "If a couple has different spending habits and values, this can be a relationship dealbreaker," says Coetzee. EliteSingles surveyed 581 men and women in their membership pool for their "Love and Money" survey and found that 79 percent of men and 70 percent of women think that a partner sensible with their finances is preferable to a lavish spender. "Sensible spending illustrates responsibility and provides a sense of security in a relationship," says Coetzee. "However, should a couple have differing financial approaches and values, it can be difficult to reconcile in their joint decisions of lifestyle and everyday expenses, especially if living together."
All of the above said, how does your own romantic relationship match up? Are you and your partner in sync, financially, or do you see too many money-based red flags? "Money doesn't have to be a wedge between you and your partner," says Dr. Tessina. "It can be a great tool for learning more about one another, and using money matters as a discussion point can help your relationship grow and thrive. Money can create misery or happiness, depending on how you manage it. Making long-term plans, helping reach goals, and improving your quality of life are just some of the things you will be able to accomplish if you work together, monetarily and not. Overcoming money problems together and working as a team will strengthen the bond between you, and help you create a healthy, lasting partnership."
The above money-related red flags are great signs to look out for in a romantic relationship. I also think they provide a great conversation starter to promote talking about money with the seemingly most important person in your life. The less you have to worry about money and money matters with your partner, the better.