Editorial Policy

Experts Sound Off On Money and Dating

Allie Johnson

February 7, 2013

You might think you know everything about your new love: favorite food, passions, dreams for the future. But could you rattle off your significant other's ideas on spending vs. saving, debt or investing?

If not, you're in good company: Experts say it can be difficult to bring up the topic of finances in a relationship.

“We're not taught how to talk about money, so couples just don't do it,” says Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., a therapist known as “The Love Doctor” and author of “Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship.”

However, discussing dollars is something many daters think they should do. A Valentine's Day survey conducted online in January 2013 by Research Now on behalf of Chase Card Services found that 65 percent of Americans think money should be discussed in the first three months of a new relationship.

If you think it's important to talk about money in the early stages of dating, but you aren't sure how, here are six tips from relationship and money experts.

Take it slow at first. Some experts say it's a good idea to start talking about money on the first date, while others think it's better to wait a little longer. However, they agree on one thing: Don't put all your (credit) cards on the table too soon.

Start with casual getting-to-know-you talk, which might reveal some clues about how your date views money. For example, if he talks about the vacation he recently took to California, he might mention whether he stayed at a luxury resort or slept in a yurt on the beach. But definitely don't ask how much the trip cost or if he saved up for it or put it on a credit card.

“People don't like to feel like they're on an interview,” says Orbuch, adding that trust comes with time.

Grant Langston, vice president of customer experience at the online dating site eHarmony, agrees.

“The first few dates are about trying each other on to see if you even like each other,” he says. “You want to see if there's any chemistry and any connection.”

Take time to observe. When you're first getting to know someone, their actions can tell you a lot, experts say. So, relationships expert and finance coach Janine Elias, who dishes out advice at JanineElias.com, recommends taking note of details about your date. Does he pay with cash, debit or credit? Does she wear designer dresses or thrift-store jeans? What type of car does he drive?

“Does he or she drive a BMW, but live in an apartment?” Elias says. “It could be a sign that they're not managing their money well.” Of course, that wouldn't always be the case, but simply paying attention can provide quite a bit of information, she says.

Share something about yourself. In the first months of a relationship especially, talking about yourself can be a good way to encourage the other person to open up. For example, you can talk about how your family deals with money and then ask your date about his or her family's views on finances.

When you share something about yourself first, it's a non-threatening way to broach a touchy topic, says Bonnie Eaker Weil, Ph.D., a relationship and marriage counselor and author of “Make Up, Don't Break Up.” It's important to segue into money topics naturally, she says: “Otherwise it sticks out like a sore thumb.”

Once you've been dating a little while, you can talk about money and gently ask some questions, in the context of discussions about plans, goals and dreams.

Have a big talk when the time is right. When should you have a serious, open conversation about money? When both of you have made it known that you really like each other, you feel a true connection and you see a future in the relationship, Langston says. The best approach, he says, is to acknowledge your connection and then say that you just want to tell the other person a little bit about where you stand financially.

At that time, if you have any major negative factors in your finances, such as a large amount of debt or a bad credit score, you should probably reveal it. If you talk about your own financial status, your partner probably will open up too, Langston says.

“If you meet someone and fall in love and then find out they have $400,000 in debt, that's a big deal,” he says. “So you don't want to put off this conversation too long.”

Discuss money habits. In addition to talking about your big-picture financial situation, it's also a good idea to share how you generally handle money day-to-day.

“Talking about your financial habits is as important as any conversation you're going to have,” Langston says.

You can start by talking about yourself. Are you a spender or a saver? Do you donate a lot of money to charity? Do you pay with cash only? Do you pay the minimum on your credit card or pay the full balance each month?

“Two people who can make peace with each other as far as financial habits go are going to start off on more stable footing in the relationship,” Langston says.

Get more detail when you get more serious. If you're already pretty far into the relationship and you still don't know the nitty-gritty details of your partner's finances, it's time to talk.

Personal finance blogger David Weliver, who blogs at MoneyUnder30.com, says it's especially important to have a frank discussion about money before you move in together and especially before you mingle any of your money — or marry.

“That's the time to share credit reports and talk about any problems,” he says. “Because one person's finances could really affect the other's.”

Whenever you do decide to bring up money, it might be hard, but your significant other might actually welcome it. The recent financial crisis has made people want to be more open, Eaker Weil says.

“Money is no longer as taboo as it used to be,” she says. “People want more transparency not just from Wall Street, but in their relationships with each other.”