A few days ago, I received a Facebook message from a reader looking for dating advice. She was looking for someone stable for a longer-term relationship and that meant that she wanted someone who shared her financial views, which involved spending substantially less than she earned and planning for a future that likely involved early retirement. (She asked me not to quote her directly, but said it was fine to paraphrase her question.)
To answer this question, I’m going to draw heavily on my own experiences of playing the field, dating various people, and eventually finding a lifelong partner, along with several friends who went along a similar journey in more recent years. The key lesson? Don’t hide your values, but figure out how to display them smartly and know how to look for those values in others.
Here’s my playbook for finding a romantic partner who is also money smart.
Finding Potential Dates: Be Smart
You’re single. You’re financially smart. You want to find someone to date – and maybe build something more with – who is also financially smart. How do you even get started with that?
My take is that if you’re financially smart and spending less than you earn, you’re a long-term thinker with goals and aspirations. You’re working for particular things in your life and you’re willing to be patient to make sure those things happen. You’re almost assuredly interested in a mix of stability and freedom, and you’re willing to play the long game to achieve them for real rather than a false semblance of them that you might achieve through overspending.
The key to successful dating and seeking out potential partners who share many of those values is to put those long-term goals front and center in helping you find people to date. Your efforts to find potential dating partners should use those attributes as filters right up front, so you’re not wasting your time with people who don’t have some degree of shared values with you.
Here are some strategies for doing that.
If you use online dating, fill your profile with descriptions of the life you aspire to without discussing dollars and cents. The reality is that most people using online dating services are in that 78% of Americans who live paycheck to paycheck – they don’t really have aspirations that revolve around financial health. What you’re seeking is people in that remaining 22% – people who are aware of and thinking about their finances and how to use them to achieve the life they want.
Focus heavily on the life you want to have when you achieve financial independence. What kind of life do you want at that point? What do you see yourself doing? Describe that life in your profile and indicate that this is what you are working for as a primary life goal.
Words you should strongly consider using to describe that future are “stability” and “freedom,” particularly when paired together.
Having said that, it’s usually a bad idea to start discussing specific finances or numbers in your profile. Don’t talk about how you’re committed to putting away a certain amount in retirement each year or that you have a certain net worth, as you may attract people who want that largesse for their own purposes. Talk about values and aspirations, not dollars and cents.
Those types of signposts should be clear indicators for people who are on a similar wavelength to your own, and should also be good signs when you’re looking for people who share those values with you.
Avoid being “set up” by people unless you are quite confident that the “matchmaker” shares those values with you. Many people who want to play “matchmaker” do not necessarily know the core values of the people they’re matching. Sure, sometimes they get lucky in doing this, but more often than not, such matches end up being miserable.
So, before you allow someone to set you up, make sure that the person in question is someone who knows about your core goals and how important financial security, stability, and eventual freedom really is to you and that you’re willing to sacrifice some pleasures in the short term for the big things you dream of.
If the person setting up your date doesn’t know this about you, have a conversation with them first. Make sure that this matchmaker knows who you are before they try to “match make.”
Get involved socially in scenes that revolve around your interests, but don’t inherently search for or expect love. It’s likely that the things you’re most passionate about – the things that you fill your time with – are things that others who are financially responsible might be passionate about as well.
For example, I love to read and I often get books from the library. I’ve learned that a great way to meet frugally minded and financially minded people is actually through the library’s programs – their book clubs and other groups. They hook me with the love of reading, but many of the people who are already there tend to be fairly frugally minded and often have long term plans, too.
I’ve also had luck meeting people with long-term financial vision through volunteer groups such as the local food pantry or Habitat for Humanity. You can also often find financially balanced people in the more community-facing activities of local churches and other religious organizations.
Another good way to find people that are financially responsible are in meetups and other highly targeted community interest groups. These groups tend to congregate using Meetup or by using a local community calendar to find new members and announce meetup times.
Where I’ve struggled to meet new people that are financially minded are at places that essentially require you to spend money to be there: bars, clubs, and so forth. If there’s a cover charge, you’re going to have to be really lucky to meet someone with your long-term vision. If there’s an expectation that you’re going to keep throwing down money while you’re there, like at a bar, you’re going to have to be extremely lucky to meet someone with a financial mindset with a long-term view of financial freedom. That’s not to say it’s impossible, but that the odds are much lower.
The solution’s easy, then: simply spend your time getting involved with communities related to what you’re passionate about, and avoid situations where you have to “pay to play.” You’ll find your odds of meeting someone with similar vision is much better in such situations.
The First Few Dates: Screening Time
You’ve secured a date! Good for you! Hopefully, you’ve found someone that seems at least potentially interesting and potentially in line with your values. Good luck, and I hope you hit it off!
Part of the first few dates you have with a person is determining whether or not there’s a fundamental compatibility involved without revealing too much of yourself in the process. For example, you might be using that time to understand each other’s background and core beliefs, but you aren’t sharing checking account or 401(k) balances quite yet, either.
During that time, while you’re figuring out if you’re compatible in other ways, here are a few things you can be doing to determine whether or not your financial perspectives are compatible.
Pay attention to what they say and do regarding uses of money. Do they spend money with ease? (I’d suggest overlooking “first date” spending where they might be overly concerned about initial appearances.) Do they suggest things that involve spending lots of money? When money comes up, do they seem to exhibit more pride in how much they earn and how much they spend rather than how much they save? Or is it the other way around?
These types of things provide a great deal of insight into how the other person relates to money. Do they view it as something to be spent to acquire immediate pleasure and take care of immediate needs first? Or is it something to be used to ensure their long term vision for the future while there are plenty of less costly things to enjoy today?
The key thing with this attribute is to not allow their immediate spending choices on the first date or two be an absolute sign of their true spending habits. Many people feel nervous on a potentially promising first date and will sometimes try to cover up that nerves with spending, by buying an expensive meal or showing off some other form of largesse that they might not do in a less-intense situation where they feel less of an urge to impress. It’s not a positive sign, of course, but it’s not a deal breaker.
Ask about their background – where they grew up, what their childhood was like, and so on. Try to get a sense of the values cooked into them during their childhood. Was it a childhood in which your date’s parents spent beyond their means? Was it a childhood where an endless flood of material goods was considered to be the norm, or something to aspire to? Did they do things for themselves or mostly pay to have others provide services such as food preparation and cleaning (this might be acceptable in a very wealthy family, but if the family was upper middle class and spending money like this, it might be a potential warning sign).
Look for the ways they spent their summers. Did they go camping a lot? (That’s usually a good sign.) Did they go on over-the-top vacations? (Possibly a bad sign.) How did they spend time with their families?
What were their parents like? Were their primary role models people who worked hard and did wise things with their resources? Or did they grow up around irresponsible people?
You want to get a feel of what kind of person they are and one good way to get a sense of that is to simply dig a bit into their history, not only for facts, but also for what they tell you about their background. No one is going to dredge up every family skeleton or horror story from their background on a first or second date, but you can get an idea of the general outline of their influences this way.
Suggest some very frugal dates, especially after the first one. One great way to get a general sense on their views on spending is to suggest frugal dates for those dates after your first (or maybe even for your first one). Find things that cost very little and simply do them together as a date. Ideally, it should be something that you’d both enjoy doing. A few suggestions:
+ Pack a picnic lunch and eat it at a park.
+ Go geocaching.
+ Go on a hike.
+ Participate in a sport together.
+ Go to the beach.
+ Have a game night.
+ Have a movie marathon.
+ Dress up and go to open houses.
+ Go roller skating in a park.
+ Go to a free concert.
See if your date partner is interested in enjoying free or low-cost activities like this, or whether your partner constantly gravitates to more expensive things. A partner who needs to spend money to have fun is likely a partner who will struggle with what needs to be done to have financial stability in their life.
Don’t talk about dollars and cents on the first few dates. It is a very bad idea to begin discussing financial specifics until you know someone well and know that you’re going to be in at least a somewhat long relationship with that person. The first few dates aren’t the right time for that.
It might be tempting for you to know exactly how much debt that person has or how much they’ve been saving for their future, and you might be willing to share your own information, but the other person might not feel the same. The other person might be wary that someone is digging for personal information or just interested in money, and talk of finances too early in a relationship can give a sign that you’re more interested in the money than in the person.
Wait on the specific talk of money. There’s no need to bring it into the equation yet. Instead, focus on the other attributes above, which by themselves can make it clear whether or not the person you’re dating is financially minded.
When (and How) to Start Talking about Money
Eventually, however, money should become a talking point between the two of you in a specific way. The only question is… when? I think there are at least three different “levels” of financial discussion that should take place in a relationship.
The first is getting a sense of each other’s future plans. This comes at a point when you’ve realized you will be consistently dating each other for a while, but not necessarily cohabitating or making other long-term commitments to each other.
At this point, it makes sense to talk about what you’ll be doing in the near future in a specific way. This talk is usually fairly career-oriented, but it gives a pretty clear sense of how each of you are planning for the future. Again, this usually doesn’t come with a direct discussion of dollars and cents, but it does bring some clarity as to how each of you plans for the future, and from that you can get a sense of compatibility.
The second is sharing expenses. At some point, you may reach a stage in your relationship where you begin to share expenses, through cohabitation or other means. This is a point where you should reasonably expect to have some idea of the other person’s month-to-month budget with some degree of specificity.
This is the point in your relationship where you begin to expose yourself to at least a little bit of financial risk as a result of the choices of the person you’re dating. At that point, you’re justified in asking questions about their day to day finances so you can have a sense as to whether or not they can reliably pay for the expenses they should be expected to pay.
When you don’t have any sort of financial commitment to one another, asking for this kind of information is fairly inappropriate. If you do not have any exposure to financial risk due to the other person’s behavior, you really don’t have any reason to know about their finances and doing so is rather… intrusive.
If you’re choosing to live together as a stable couple and you’re a financially responsible person, it’s likely that you’re not doing so without at least some sense that the other person is financially responsible, too. You might find it a very mutually beneficial exercise to draw up a monthly budget together for the expenses for your apartment (or other living quarters) so that you understand each other’s responsibilities clearly.
The third is long-term financial and personal commitment, whether through marriage or some other arrangement. When you start talking about marriage seriously, then you should open up about each other’s finances, because you’re about to make a lifelong commitment to a situation, and the more information you have about that situation, the better.
The overall picture of one’s financial health that comes from things like total debts and retirement savings gives you a very clear picture as to the level of seriousness that the other person actually gives to long-term financial goals. If they’re carrying a lot of debt and don’t have much savings for the future without a good reason for doing so (perhaps they just now got a job in their field or are still seeking a position above entry-level, for example), then you know that the other person has a pattern of financial mis-steps.
So, what do you do if you gaze into their financial picture and don’t like what you see? At that point, you need to start communicating about it. You probably haven’t reached that level of depth in your relationship if you haven’t found some significant virtues in the other person, and it’s likely, if you’ve followed the above advice, that some of those virtues point in the direction of long-term financial stability.
So have a conversation. Sit down and talk about this, frankly and openly. This isn’t about accusation or demanding change; it’s about understanding each other and understanding what challenges each of you face and whether they can be overcome together. Did this person have a true financial change of heart? Was there an undisclosed challenge in the past? Is the commitment to long term goals that seems apparent now something that’s really true and will last?
Simply put, if you make a lifelong commitment to someone, you need to be in sync on many of your core values, and finances definitely fall into that category. If you look at their financial state and their financial history and it doesn’t look anything like the stability you want to see, then you deserve to know whether or not the financial long-term perspective you think you see is real. You also need to decide for yourself how important it is to you, and how much of a difference in importance between you and your partner that you can handle for the rest of your years.
You don’t have to commit to a situation that isn’t right for you. The pain of being with someone who constantly undermines your values is far less than the pain of being alone.
Finding a person who is committed to financial stability and building a relationship with that person is challenging, don’t get me wrong. However, the effort you put into finding someone who is on the same wavelength as you in terms of finances and other areas of life is well worth it, because having a life partner who really lines up with you and stands beside you when things are difficult is incredibly valuable and life-affirming.
It’s worth the journey, if the destination is a place you want to be.