Congratulations! You’ve finally met a person who is worth your time, and it seems like there could be real potential.
You’re seeing each other once, maybe twice a week. During this in-between stage, you’re neither watching “Big Little Lies” alone on your couch, nor are you having a cozy night in with your new love interest. Instead, you’re swiping your credit card like crazy.
Dates at that new wine bar, tickets to music shows, and flights to be their plus one at a wedding can really add up, putting an unfortunate tax on a budding relationship. Even splitting the bill can get expensive.
While it may seem as though it’s too early to talk about money, it’s not. Yes, asking someone who you honestly don’t know that well to start paying for things or complaining about their expensive tastes can make anyone touchy. However, it’s a conversation every potential couple needs to have, according to Catie Hogan, a financial planner with Element Financial Group and author of “The Millennial’s Guide to Getting Your Sh*t Together.”
“Money is only taboo because we make it that way,” she says. They key to getting past that? “Don’t start this conversation by accusing someone of overspending or being a cheapskate.”
Charlotte, 22, who lives in Miami, recently had the money talk with her boyfriend of three months, Dave, when he picked up the check for an expensive sushi dinner. It felt like a natural time to bring up spending and the types of dates she can afford. Up until that point, she had been letting Dave pay for their outings.
“We had a conversation about financial independence and equality in a relationship, which we felt was an important conversation to have,” she says. “I told him I need to start paying my share, but we can’t keep going to places where a couple of cocktails and dinner cost $200.”
Instead of Venmoing each other every time they go out, Charlotte and Dave decided to take turns picking up the bill, just to make it easier. If it’s his turn to pay and he wants to go somewhere expensive, great. And if it’s her turn, she’ll pick a place she can afford.
“We agreed not to nickel and dime each other,” she says. “It has worked pretty well so far.”
Hogan has high praise for the way Charlotte brought up her concerns.
“She approached it with confidence and honesty, and didn’t make it a bigger deal than it needed to be,” Hogan says. “This is how you set the table for a relationship built on transparency and great communication. Because of the way Charlotte handled this chat, it’ll be a little easier to have difficult conversations in the future.”
While Charlotte aced her conversation with Dave, Matt, 29, from New York City, says he hasn’t talked about money with the woman he’s been seeing for three weeks.
“I know she has a good job, but I know nothing about her financial situation,” he says. “I wouldn’t even think to ask, since that’s kind of personal, anyway.”
They’ve been on five dates. Matt paid for cocktails on the first date and dinner on the second. Since then, his new love interest has been offering to pick up some of their bills, and Matt has been happy to oblige.
“We’ve kind of settled into a pattern of just casually picking up the check whenever we feel like it’s our turn to pay,” Matt says. “It hasn’t really been a problem.”
While Matt feels like the potential relationship is moving in the right direction without talking money, Hogan says he could still benefit from bringing up the topic of spending.
“My suggestion to Matt would be to casually ask her if their system of taking turns picking up the bill is working for her. Let her know he’s happy that they’ve settled into a good rhythm regarding dates, but just wants to check in to make sure she’s on the same page,” she says. A casual conversation the next time a check comes could be a good transition into a deeper discussion about financial goals and values.
Britney, 26, from Phoenix, is a saver who hopes to buy a house in the next few years. Her clarity around her own mindset is likely why she’s already discussed her financial goals with a woman she’s been on four dates with.
“The girl I’m currently seeing also works at a school, so we have a lot in common,” she says. “We ended up talking about how we’re both planning to have fun this summer, but on a budget, since we’re only paid in one lump sum until the new school year.”
That discussion led to them talking about their goals. Britney learned that her date, a school counselor, recently moved back in with her parents after a breakup and plans to live there for at least a few more months as a way to build up her savings.
“I want someone who is on the same page as me when it comes to money,” Britney says. “It’s fine if we have different goals for how we spend it, but it’s important to me that whoever I’m with knows how to live on a budget, too.”
Since financial stability is so important to Britney, Hogan says it’s great that she’s not shying away from making that clear.
“I love that Britney is being upfront and honest,” she says. “There’s a good chance Britney’s current or future girlfriend won’t exactly align with her approach to money, and that’s okay. The important part is being able to discuss what you’re both working toward.”
The bottom line is, whether the person you’re dating has a significantly larger or smaller income, financial obligations, or goals they’re saving for, it’s crucial to make the conversation about finances an ongoing one.
“When we’re dating, we know it’s important to discuss your values regarding family, career and religion,” she says. “But we shouldn’t forget to add money to that conversation.”
Bringing the topic up in a non-judgemental and transparent way is key to making your partner feel comfortable while also setting the foundation for a potential future relationship built on honesty and trust, Hogan says. “Not only is it important to be honest about your money situation, but it’s actually quite freeing as well.”