What is a Money Date? Practicing Financial Love

March 14, 2019

Is your partner practicing financial infidelity? Certainly not a sexy topic for lovebirds on a romantic night out. But if you suspect something’s up, it could be time for a money date—a special time dedicated to opening up about money and coming clean with your financial past, present and future.

A recent CreditCard.com report found 29 million Americans, or 1 in 5 who are married or living with a partner, are currently hiding a checking, savings or credit card account from their live-in spouse or partner. Similarly, a recent LendingClub member survey revealed more than 25% admit to hiding debt from their partner. The same poll also uncovered:

  • 14% believe ANY amount of debt in a partner is unacceptable
  • More than 25% would rather date someone who has NEVER used a credit card, than someone with moderate credit card debt ($1,000 – $10,000)

So just like you when shared your romantic history with your partner, trading stories about your financial past (and present) is an important step, too. Regular conversations about money can help keep you both excited and focused on your shared money goals.

Get ready for your first money date

While most Americans are nearly 2X more likely to talk about marital problems than credit card debt with others, you don’t have to be one of them. Thinking about personal finances and debt can bring up feelings of shame, guilt, and isolation, so it helps to know you’re not alone. For example, people carry nearly $7,000 in credit card debt on average from one month to the next. The chart below provides a breakdown of debt owed by the average American household.

average US household debt by debt type table

And when you think of the fact that only 40 percent of Americans have enough saved to cover a $1,000 emergency expense, and 78 percent of workers are living paycheck to paycheck, being on the same page about money (and coming clean about any hidden accounts) is crucial to any relationship.

Can a money date can work for you? There’s only one way to find out:

Look your (money) self in the mirror

Before you go on your first money date, prepare by taking a close look at your own personal money situation. Start by downloading our simple money date prep spreadsheet, grab your partner and, each separately, take 30 minutes to:

1. Log your debts.

Include student loans, credit cards, car payments, paying back Aunt Mary’s loan, etc. Be sure to include the APR (interest and fees) on all of them. Tip: Look at your credit card and loan APRs. If their combined average is over the national average, you might want to consider consolidating your debt with a personal loan.

2. Log your income and savings.

Add up your W-2 income, 1099, child support, side-hustle, and any tips or hourly work. Note the average per month as well as any seasonal trends. Include a list of any personal savings, life insurance, or retirement accounts.

3. Prepare to share your money history.

Think about your relationship with money and be ready to talk to your partner about all of it. Tip: Start by asking yourself: How did your parents handle money? How did that influence your money thoughts? What are some of your biggest financial hopes, fears, and dreams? What do you want your finances to look like in six months, two years, in five years?

Find a good place to talk

When breaking the money silence, pick a time and place that is comfortable, private, free from distractions, and works with both your schedules. A quiet cafe, a blanket on the beach, or a picnic table at your favorite park—all are good spots for money love. If you have youngsters at home, ask a neighbor to watch them for a couple of hours. You need time to focus, and that means cell phones are off.

Be open, reserve judgement

Now that you’re settled in, take turns sharing the financial data and history you’ve gathered about yourselves. Talk about your money attitudes and beliefs, and anything you might be hiding or afraid to admit. Approach what your partner has to say with an open mind. Listen, and stay judgment-free. This may take some patience. Be prepared for surprises and feeling a bit uncomfortable at first. Remember that honesty and taking it slow builds trust in any relationship. That goes for your finances as well.

Face the hardest things head on

Next, talk about any immediate money needs. If you’re managing a sudden job loss, healthcare expense, or a move, mapping out short term money goals can help you adjust your spending and savings plans together. Teaming up to figure out how to tackle student loan debt together can be incredibly bonding. Even if you’re not in a money bind at the moment, you can write down what you each want more of in the short term (more dinners at home, a job closer to home, sticking to a budget). Your next few money dates can be about planning your larger money journey together and how you’d like the future to look.

Schedule your next money date(s)

Once you know your partner’s money reality, it’s time for money date number two, three, four…and on. Remember, regular ongoing money dates are are needed to solve problems or inconsistencies uncovered on your first money date. Ongoing dates also help set a strong foundation for a healthy financial future together. To make sure you don’t give up after just one date, here are some topics to help reignite the money love flame into the foreseeable future:

Splitting expenses

Some couples prefer splitting everything 50/50, even if one makes more money; others divvy it up based on income. Some couples opt for more creative solutions, such as one pays all the living expenses while the other saves up for a big purchase or vacation. Figuring out what works for the two of you will help prevent conflict down the road.

Joint accounts

Depending on how you split expenses, discuss whether sharing a savings and/or checking account makes sense for you. For example, jointly saving for a large purchase or down payment on a new home, or a joint checking from which you pay for groceries or recurring expenses automatically, can help you start streamlining and simplifying your money lives.

Emergency planning

Having a financial safety net is critical to long term financial health. A good rule of thumb is to start building emergency savings that will cover your total living expenses for three to six months. Once you have that tucked away, you can then focus on life insurance, disability insurance and retirement savings.

Rent or buy

If buying a home is important to one of you and not the other, it’s best to get on the same page first. Talking to a lender can help you figure out your loan options, why your credit score matters, and how much of a down payment you’ll need.

Caring for kids and aging relatives

Many people are facing the dual challenge of raising young children or paying for college, as well as taking care of aging parents’ nursing and eldercare needs. If this is you, factoring tips for the “sandwich generation” into your conversation is essential.

Retiring as a couple

The earlier you start saving for when you choose to stop working (or are unable to continue), the better. Many helpful retirement planning tools like this retirement income calculator from Vanguard® are out there to help you analyze your situation, identify what steps you may need to work on, and create your plan for retirement.

Keep scheduling money dates each month until you discover your own rhythm. Eventually talking about money will become a regular part of your daily life together.

Celebrate success

The path to money stability and financial health can be winding, and sometimes filled with potholes and detours. So, whether it means hitting up the arcade after making your last student loan payment, or opening a special bottle of wine after finally funding your joint emergency savings account—however you do you, find a way to celebrate all the wins along the way. And if a getting a personal loan through LendingClub can help pave the the road ahead, go ahead and check your rate now with no impact to your credit score.

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