A few weeks ago, I got an interesting question on my blog from a reader named TJ. It was about money, dating and how the heck they work:
The question is super interesting, but also complicated. In fact, it’s taken me almost a month to answer.
The truth is that I did get lucky with my partner, Alex. I was 19 when we met and Alex was 20. And while it’s true that both of us were in college, we were also young and (occasionally) dumb with money.
My Perfect Money Match
We met in London while I was studying abroad for four months and in many ways, we were on “vacation mode” for the first few months of our relationship. I had worked part-time jobs leading up to the trip, and as a result, I had a huge chunk of money that was set aside for “fun.”
We traveled to Paris, consumed delicious pub meals and ran through the streets of London after nights of clubbing with friends. Life was fun and carefree.
But of course, the vacation eventually came to an end.
When I returned to sunny California, I was prepared to return to my normal budget. I had worked and saved for the trip, so I knew that my “fun” budget wasn’t sustainable in the long run.
However, I wasn’t prepared for the other change: (almost) poverty.
Alex picked up the financial slack in a lot of meaningful ways as we navigated this new reality and entered a period of extreme frugality. There were still hilarious nights of clubbing, silly dances and the occasional dinner out, but there were also 3 part-time jobs, tears and seemingly endless stress.
We weathered the storm together and it ultimately had a happy ending: graduation, full-time jobs and a strong partnership.
However, the good (and bad) news is that financial life lessons aren’t limited to your early 20’s, so if you meet your partner later in life, you still have plenty of time to grow together.
Some people meet after college, are further into their careers or even switch partners halfway through. And from what I understand, navigating the world of Tinder swipes, first dates and funny encounters is enjoyable but also overwhelming.
If you’re anything like TJ, you’re looking for a partner who shares your values, including the financial ones. But chances are that if you’re in the young adult dating pool you’re, well, young.
In other words, we’re all still figuring it out. So don’t panic if it seems like everyone is spending like crazy to impress his or her date. Instead, focus on the big picture.
When it comes to finding your money match, these are the traits that actually matter:
1. Financial Responsibility
I agree with TJ that a lot of people in Southern California (and the world) are not frugal. But that’s not the whole story. Millennials, especially young twenty-something year olds, care more about money and creating a prosperous life than any other generation.
Sure, they might own a car or indulge in beers on the weekend, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care or are financially irresponsible. It probably just means that they’re young and having some fun. But even beyond that, it might simply mean that they have different priorities than you, and that’s okay. Perhaps your date eats out every weekend and drives a new car, but shares a house with five roommates or lives with parents to save money.
Those priorities are completely different than mine, but that doesn’t make one of us better than the other. Instead of looking for someone who matches your exact spending patterns, try to find a partner who lives a fiscally responsible life.
When you’re trying to find your perfect match, generosity is the #1 most important factor and can manifest itself in a lot of different ways. Just because your partner spends more money than you doesn’t mean that he or she is frivolous and materialistic.
In fact, it could mean the opposite. For example, my mom and stepdad tithe 10% of their salary to church, no matter what. They are generous with their money and occasionally prioritize giving over saving because they truly believe in their church and community. That’s a beautiful thing.
Similarly, I spent over $3000 last year on surprises and gifts for my family, partner and friends. When it comes to the people I love, no expense is too high and I love being able to spoil them. However, generosity doesn’t always take the form of cash. Sometimes, it involves giving time or energy instead. Regardless of the form it takes, a generous heart is more important than a frugal mindset.
3. Frugality Isn’t Always Best
Living a frugal life comes with a lot of perks: peace of mind, travel and even early retirement. But the truth is that it can also come with a lot of stress.
Advocates of frugality rarely talk about it, but more often than not, frugality comes with a side dish of guilt.
When you’re in the mindset of scarcity and fear (which often accompanies extreme frugality) you are depriving yourself from a life of joy. Agonizing over every purchase and depriving yourself of a dinner out or drinks with friends sets you up for failure because it inevitably leads to a spending binge.
But even beyond that, it’s important to enjoy life and TREAT YO SELF. Moderation is the key to success in life and in finances.
If you and your new partner have different money mentalities, than respect is crucial to the relationship’s survival. If your partner respects you and your opinions, then there’s a very good chance that he or she will respect your lifestyle and even make changes to accommodate your beliefs. (Of course, the reverse is true as well. So be prepared for some personal change too!)
“R-E-S-P-E-C-T: You’ve got to have it to get with me,” should be your new dating mantra.
Get honest about your finances upfront. Debt isn’t shameful and a low salary isn’t a deal breaker (unless you’re this girl…).
But in all seriousness, get honest with your partner as soon as possible. Share your money goals and aspirations. Talk to each other about where you currently are and where you would like to be.
If you’re afraid of being judged, just remember that the sooner you determine whether or not you are a good match, the better because it means that you will waste less time and money. In other words, if someone is a jerk, bad match or financial train wreck than it’s better to know as soon as possible so you can get out.
6. Have Fun
In order to minimize the expenses of dating, be sure to keep the first date relatively cheap by opting for coffee or a drink. (That way, if they’re a dud, you’ll have minimized the money you spent.) But once you’ve determined that you like the person and that you enjoy his or her company, allow yourself to have some fun, enjoy the process and date to your heart’s content.
Do you have any advice for TJ about dating and frugality? Any experiences of your own? I would love to hear them!