How Couples Handle Money at Every Stage in Their Relationships

Finances
Talking about money early in a relationship is an essential step toward understanding whether your partner is a good financial fit. (Getty Images)

From dating to divorce, money plays an integral role in any relationship.

TD Bank’s annual Love & Money survey asks couples and divorcees to share the financial details of their romantic lives. The most recent survey, conducted between June 2017 and June 2018, asked its 1,749 respondents about everything from how often they fight about money to who’s expected to pay for wedding expenses.

Here’s what their responses revealed – and what you can learn from their success and mistakes.

Money conversations are essential. When it comes to talking about money, the majority of couples discuss it often, according to self-reported data in TD Bank’s study. Of the respondents, 6 in 10 claim to talk about money at least weekly.

Having regular money conversations is good for your relationship and your finances, says Beth Sweeney, managing director and wealth manager at Steward Partners. “On a monthly basis, do a check-in and make sure everybody’s on the same page,” she says. “I think it’s fine to [have your money talk] be a part of the dinner conversation as long as there are no children present.” If the money discussions require a more formal environment or a third-person mediator, Sweeney suggests having them during your regular visits with your financial advisor.

While financial discussions are common, so are financial fights. Among survey respondents, 33 percent reported arguing about money at least monthly. Although financial fights are unpleasant, they don’t have to destroy your relationship. Experts recommend avoiding arguments about minor expenses and having a third-person moderator, such as a financial advisor, present for the truly tough disagreements.

Talking about money early – but not too early – is helpful. Talking about money early in a relationship is an essential step toward understanding whether your partner is a good financial fit. Surprisingly, 27 percent of those surveyed in the Love & Money analysis reported discussing how much money they or their date made on a digital dating service before going out on a date with that person. “People are living a portion of their lives online,” says Jason Thacker, head of consumer deposits, products and payments at TD Bank.

While you shouldn’t be divulging your salary on Tinder, early money talks can have their benefits. Almost half of respondents report discussing finances within the first three months of their relationship, Thacker says: “In today’s day and age, I think it’s a reflection of the fact that financial health is important.”

Even if you aren’t ready to talk about money in your relationship, you can get hints as to how well your paramour manages his or her finances through real-world clues, says Roger Ma, certified financial planner and founder of lifelaidout in New York City. Do they always wear the latest clothes? Have the newest gadgets? Take expensive vacations? Do they check the bill before they pay it? “Even before talking about it, you can kind of get a sense of someone’s money management style just through day-to-day activities,” Ma says.

Understanding whether the person is a saver or spender, whether they budget and how they approach financial honesty are all good steps in determining whether your new love will make a good long-term financial fit, experts say.

People are still old-fashioned about certain financial arrangements. Despite changes in how women approach work and earn money, there are still some old-fashioned traditions that have stuck around.

One that continues to remain: Men paying the bill on the first date, as 84 percent of men surveyed by TD Bank claim to do. Their female dates back up that claim, with just 6 percent reporting that they pick up the bill on the first date.

Even couples in committed relationships tend to defer to the male mate when the bill arrives, with 63 percent of men saying they pay for date nights while just 8 percent of women say they do the same.

The same goes for wedding expenses. Old-fashioned rules remain. Respondents still think the bride’s parents should have a role in paying for the wedding, with 14 percent saying the parents of the bride are responsible. Just 1 percent thought the parents of the groom should have a role in paying for the wedding. On a more modern note, 33 percent said the couple marrying should pay, and 51 percent said costs should be shared among the couple and their families.

Also keeping with tradition, women respondents were more likely to say they make everyday shopping decisions, while men were more likely to report taking the lead on large-scale purchases.

Divorce doesn’t have to be a financial disaster. Ending a marriage can be financially and emotionally stressful, but some divorcees approached it positively. In fact, more than 40 percent said they were better off financially after divorce. This was reported equally across gender.

“Initially, [divorce] can be frightening,” Sweeney says. But it’s a chance for new singletons to review budgets, savings, retirement and other financial goals. It might be a chance for someone who was married to a spender to return to previous frugal habits. At her firm, Sweeney says, “we make [divorcees] set up a whole budget.” For some newly single people, this exercise helps them take back control of their money situation and regain confidence.

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