Money fights are the leading cause of stress for couples and the third most common cause of divorce. Have you ever wondered why couples argue so frequently about money? What is the underlying cause of these arguments? Could it be a lack of financial compatibility?
Let’s face it. The act of falling in love centers on an emotional state, not a logical one. When we fall in love, a sense of warmth and excitement fills our bodies, and we focus on the passion in our relationships.
When we daydream about the new love in our lives, we don’t think about financial compatibility. But I wonder, if money is the leading cause of stress and divorce, could we search for romantic sparks first and then test out our financial compatibility?
What would happen if we searched for partners whose financial habits, money management techniques, or values were similar to our own? Would our search result in happier, longer-lasting relationships?
Chemistry or Financial Compatibility: Which Would You Choose?
When looking for a partner, do you search for specific attributes or characteristics? Whether we admit it or not, most of us do. Some of us seek a humorous or adventurous partner, while others may look for a kind or generous companion.
These lists can be long or short and very unique. What sparks excitement for one person will not invoke the same synergetic energy for another.
What Does it Mean to be Financially Compatible?
If we can dream about these characteristics and attributes, why can’t we add financial compatibility to the list? What does it mean to be financially compatible? A couple is financially compatible when they share common values and beliefs. A couple is financially compatible when they share common beliefs and values about money.
Wouldn’t it make sense for a saver to marry a saver or a spender to gravitate to someone who enjoys buying nice things? If you need money to feel secure, wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier to marry someone who believed in building a plushy emergency fund or an extra-large nest egg? Of course, this isn’t necessary, but could it make your life less stressful? Perhaps even happier?
Financial Compatibility is Not About Salaries
Is it wrong to pick a mate based on financial factors? I don’t think so.
Financial compatibility is not about being a golddigger. It’s not about setting your sights on someone with a lot of money or requiring your future partner to earn a high salary.
Some people may confuse financial compatibility with the need for equivalent salaries. That’s not what I’m suggesting. Financial compatibility runs much deeper than comparing numbers on your personal stats sheet.
Salary only provides one data point—the amount of money you earn for working each week. It doesn’t include details on how a person manages their money.
You can make a ridiculous amount of money and burn through it the minute it hits your bank account. You can also earn a middle-class wage and save every penny you make.
If you seek financial independence, you don’t need to know if your partner earns a high salary. You want to know if they can live below their means and set aside extra money for the future.
The amount of money you earn isn’t what makes you compatible. It’s how you view and use the money that matters.
Financial compatibility fits hand-in-hand with financial responsibility. Is your partner as responsible with money as you are? They don’t have to match your personality perfectly, but do they live within their means, spend less than they earn, and pay their bills on time?
It’s easy to see how financial frustrations can arise if your partner doesn’t hold the same views as you do.
Financial compatibility isn’t about avoiding partners who’ve made money mistakes or incurred debt. Compatibility isn’t about dating someone with a six-figure income and a net worth of one million either.
Financial compatibility is a lot more important than your net worth or salary. You can earn a low income and still be great at managing money.
What is Financial Compatibility?
Financial compatibility is about understanding one another’s financial habits and preferences. It’s about holding the same values and saving for the same long term goals.
It’s not about dating someone with infinite financial knowledge. While that might be nice to have, your partner doesn’t need to understand the difference between a traditional IRA and a Roth. They don’t need to know how to convert a 401k either.
Please don’t rule out people who aren’t well versed in financial matters. Not everyone knows the simple math of early retirement or the value of compound interest. Don’t rule out every person who is in debt, hasn’t saved for retirement, or doesn’t know the ins and outs of investing either.
Financial mistakes aren’t unusual. The real question is whether or not your partner learns from their mistakes. Can they design a plan for digging out of debt? If you crave financial security, you might struggle to date someone with a complete disregard for money.
Bad things can happen in life. You can lose your job, file for divorce, get sick, or take time off to care for an elderly parent. Those are all valid reasons to be in debt, as are many others.
We can all make mistakes in life, like buying things we can’t afford. The problem isn’t necessarily getting into debt. It’s failing to figure out a plan to get out of it. Everyone doesn’t come to the table with a high salary or the skills to manage their money.
If you are well versed in money matters, talk about ways to save for future goals and see if your partner is open to your ideas. Listen to a podcast together, talk about an article you read, and see if they are interested in learning better techniques to manage their money.
Your partner doesn’t need to understand the ins-and-outs of money management or even show an interest in it. It would be nice, though, if they recognized the importance of it.
To be financially compatible, you want a partner who understands the value of an emergency fund or a retirement account, even if they don’t have the means to build one yet.
You’ll want to search for a partner that shares your financial values. Do you have the same goals for your lives, and can you work together to achieve them?
Searching for Financial Compatibility While Dating
Early on in the dating process, you can gather a lot of information by observing how your partner spends money. Do they arrive at every date impeccably dressed? Do they carry expensive purses and shoes?
Ask yourself what you are looking for in a partner? Some people appreciate a companion who spends money on their appearances. Others will see this as a frivolous waste of money. Neither answer is right or wrong.
The real question is whether those values line up with your own. If you seek a modest financial life, you might not be interested in a partner who spends money on these things.
You can learn a lot about a person by the car they drive or the apartment they rent. The way they furnish their apartment can also provide great insight.
It’s important to aspire to the same goals. You might not be compatible with someone who buys the latest Apple gadget when it’s released or spends an excessive amount of money on appearances. On the other hand, they might be the perfect fit for you.
Watch how your partner spends money? Do they buy you fancy gifts or take you on expensive adventures? If they do, does their paycheck support that lifestyle?
You might not know how much they earn, but you should have a good idea of what they do for a living. Can your partner easily pay for the experiences you are enjoying? Does that bother them or you?
Evaluate Your Values
What money values do you hold near and dear? Is having a lot of money crucial to you? If so, why? There is a big difference between wanting money to show off and wanting money for security.
You don’t need to pry into personal details. Simply listen to your partner’s stories and observe their actions. Where do they travel on vacation? What adventures do they take with their friends or loved ones?
Pay attention to other values as well. Do you admire your partner’s career-driven approach to work, or do you wish they spent less time at the office?
Right now, this quality may seem endearing, but your feelings can change as time progresses. Will you want this person to be more present in your life as you age? What happens if you choose to step back from work or become a stay-at-home parent?
Are you willing to forgo time in a relationship for more money? If you date a workaholic, you may get more money, but you will ultimately get less time. Which is more important to you: time or money?
How Can You Find Out if Someone is Financially Compatible?
How can you determine if someone is financially compatible while dating? You can start by asking them about life goals. Most goals involve financial resources of some type.
You can’t buy a house, travel the world, or retire early without money. It’s also challenging to become an entrepreneur or form your own company without at least a little money to guide you.
If your partner is driven towards bigger goals, they should have a plan to achieve them. Are they working their way up a corporate ladder? Do they need certifications or additional schooling? Do they plan to start a business or work weekends on a side hustle?
Keep in mind your partner doesn’t need to value goals that involve six-figure salaries or gobs of moola. They can dream of switching careers, performing more meaningful work, or volunteering more often. Each of these big life decisions requires goal setting and financial sacrifice.
You are looking for someone ambitious and self-sufficient. That person doesn’t have to be ambitious in the traditional sense. They don’t need to climb the corporate ladder or bring home a giant paycheck. Instead, they need to have dreams, hopes, and a plan for their future.
Most of us don’t need to date a millionaire. We want a hard-working partner with a stable income who wishes to pay their bills on time.
Share Your Values
As you listen to your partner’s dreams, share your goals and how you hope to accomplish them. To test the financial compatibility waters, tell them about the steps needed to achieve your objectives.
Are you forgoing new purchases or selling unwanted items? Are you working overtime or starting a side hustle? You don’t need to provide specific numbers.
Instead, talk in general terms and see how they react to your ideas. Are they excited by your thoughts or turned off by them?
Do you share similar money habits? For example, do you clip coupons? Do you focus more on earning money or saving it?
You don’t need to be carbon copies of one another to get along, but it does help to feel similarly about the value of money. Is money important to you? Why or why not? What can money buy? How do you use it to better your life? How would your partner answer those questions?
Think of real-world examples if you can. Imagine it’s your birthday. Would you like your partner to throw you an extravagant party or have a quiet dinner at home? Do you want a fancy gift or a gesture of love? Which option would your partner choose?
Financial Compatibility Is About Forging a New Path Together
If financial security is important to you, it’s wise to search for a financially compatible partner. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always go as planned, which means you need a supportive partner who can tread through rough waters with you.
How will your partner deal with bumps in the road? If they lose their job, will they search for alternative ways to earn income or take on additional household responsibilities to continue to support you? Would they stop buying stuff they don’t need or sell unwanted items to make money?
How will they respond if the same events happen to you? What about other life changes? Will they expect you to earn money at all costs, or will they support your decision to become a stay-at-home parent or change careers?
If your finances get off track, will they be willing to right the ship with you? To meet your goals, you’ll need to get on the same page financially.
So what do you think? Should financial compatibility rank high on the list of attributes you look for in a partner? Do you think it would result in fewer financial fights and arguments?
8 thoughts on “What is Financial Compatibility in a Relationship?”
I had a few stray thoughts:
– Have you heard about New Relationship Energy (NRE)? Your comment about falling in love being an emotional state made me think about it. There’s also Old R.E. (ORE), and if you’re not familiar it’s worth learning about.
– There’s plenty of complementary financial compatibilities in the world! You don’t need to be just alike-alike. My dearheart for instance is financially irresponsible, but is happy to cede that all to me.
Likewise my sibling is a spender and their partner is frugal. They’re still compatible, and in fact both actually gain something out of the arrangement. My sibling is becoming more disciplined, and their partner is learning to appreciate little things (like kitschy decorations and quality food) more.
– Some people, especially in the younger generations, are taking autonomous approaches to finances. You don’t necessarily need to be compatible financially if you negotiate that from the start you’ll stay separate.
As for the final question:
Finances are high on my list when searching.
Mostly that is overshadowed by finding people with growth mindsets, who are willing to learn and change and become better.
At times I refer to that in shorthand as people who are in the “process of becoming.”
Also more important than finances is communication ability–though that makes the finance part easier.
If someone is able to articulate their approach to finances and their goals to me, it’s a good sign.
First, let me say I love your comments, so thank you for leaving them!
I haven’t heard of New Relationship Energy before, but I have certainly felt it. I love diving into psychological phenomenons like this, so thank you for sharing that with me.
I agree that you don’t need to find a partner who is “alike-alike,” but I think you should look for a partner that understands the need to save if you wish to create a nest egg or plan for your future. The act of saving can fall on one partner’s shoulders, but in some relationships, couples fight because one partner wants to save and the other partner sees zero value in doing that. A partner can certainly be responsible without doing the work of moving money into accounts, etc. Like the examples you provided.
I know that the younger generation keeps separate accounts, but I still think you need financial compatibility. What happens when one partner saves up for a trip, and the other can’t go because they blew all their money? What if they want to buy a house and can’t because the partner’s credit score is terrible? I think a certain amount of financial compatibility is required in every relationship, even those with separate accounts.
Your final comments are spot on, and I love the term “process of becoming.” I’m going to start using that one. Communication is a critical skill in any relationship.
Loved this post. One thing that’s been cool for me is that I started my FIRE journey long after my relationship. At first, my partner was really hesitant. Was worried I was going to stop “enjoying life”. But now that she’s seen me working towards my goals and having some success she’s just as excited about financial independence as I am!!
Thanks for the comment. My husband and I met long before we discovered the term FIRE, but we turned out to be extremely compatible when it comes to money. I’m glad to hear that you and your partner are focused on the same goals!
When I was working, I saw clients arguing about money on a daily basis. It’s very common for “spender” type people to marry “saver” type people. The trouble comes in when they don’t agree on a goal. It’s bad news when one wants to save and the other wants to live the high life!
I think you hit the nail on the head. If you can’t set the same goals you can’t work towards them together!
I think attitude toward money has to be a part of the equation simply because it has become such an important part of my identity/occupies so much of my free time in the form of a hobby. Many of my go-to entertainment options (books, podcast) revolve around money topics, so I think there would have to be, if not a shared interest, at least a shared mentality.
I laughed out loud reading this, because it made me realize how often my husband and I discuss financial topics. In our case money has definitely been a shared interest. Great point!