Love and money rarely mix well. If you start Valentine’s Day by talking to your spouse about the mortgage payment or credit card debt, you’re likely to end the evening on the couch — alone.
But you don’t want to ignore financial concerns forever. Sooner or later, you and your sweetie must have “the talk.”
Here are bad habits that can send Cupid packing — and a few ways to keep money from souring your love life.
1. Avoiding Money Conversations
When you don’t talk about money with your significant other, you put your relationship’s stability at risk.
In its 2016 Love and Money survey, TD Bank asked 1,902 respondents currently in relationships questions about money and relationships. Happier respondents spoke more often with their significant other about money than respondents who talked about finances less often, according to the survey findings.
For example, 78 percent of respondents who discuss money at least once a week say they are happy in their relationship. In comparison, just 50 percent of respondents who talk about money less than every few months say they are happy.
Learn to talk about money with your partner. Sharing your feelings about money can make you happier because you naturally start sharing personal goals and feelings unrelated to finances.
“It’s very easy for couples to unravel and live separate lives when they don’t have common goals and activities,” said April Masini, relationship expert and founder of Ask April, an online relationship advice forum. “Money is a handy platform to get to know each other, work with each other and overcome differences — about money and the items and dreams that the money supports.”
2. Waiting Too Long to Discuss Money
A person’s money habits give you an idea of the life choices they make, said Masini. That is why it’s important to talk about money early with someone you date rather than waiting until a later time in the relationship.
“If someone chooses to work hard to afford a fancy home, that’s a choice that’s different than someone who works hard to afford a healthy retirement but lives in a modest home to support that goal,” she said. “Someone who spends freely may be generous — or sloppy. And someone who saves eagerly may be resourceful, or stingy.”
If you delay talking about money with a potential significant other, you might regret it. In the TD Bank survey, 24 percent of all respondents said that putting off money conversations was their biggest money mistake. And of the “happy” respondents, 20 percent said waiting too long to talk about money was the biggest financial mistake in a relationship.
3. Keeping Separate Bank Accounts
The expression “sharing is caring” might sound childish, but sharing money is an important ingredient in a happy relationship. Long gone are the days when one person handled all the finances in a relationship or household.
“There are very few people who feel that one partner should handle the money on their own anymore,” said Masini. “That model has left the building. People want to share the responsibilities and planning of finances as a couple.”
In fact, couples who keep their money entirely separate reported less happiness than couples who shared some or all of their money, the TD Bank survey found. Eighty-six percent of “happy” respondents said they combine at least some of their money, versus 14 percent of “happy” survey participants who don’t.
Even sharing just one bank account can make a big difference, with 61 percent of “happy” respondents sharing at least one such account. By contrast, just 21 percent of “happy” respondents keep all their bank accounts separate. So, it might be time to open a joint bank account.
4. Using Separate Credit Cards
Instead of using separate credit cards, perhaps you should share a credit card your partner. As with sharing bank accounts, sharing credit cards seems to be an important part of happy relationships. Forty-seven percent of couples share at least one credit card, the TD Bank survey found. Those who shared credit cards reported higher levels of happiness than couples who did not.
“The more financial resources couples share, the more they feel like they are working together as a team towards common goals,” said Ryan Bailey, head of consumer deposits, payments and non-real estate lending at TD Bank.
And by sharing credit cards, you and your partner can keep each other accountable for purchases and help each other reach financial goals.
Masini said modern couples create a dual bucket list and plan on how to meet those wish list goals. “And because most couples have double incomes, both parties in relationships feel that they want to be involved and know how their money is going towards investments, retirement, home savings, mortgage payoffs and more,” Masini said.
5. Not Budgeting for Gifts
Unexpected gifts can put a smile on your partner’s face. “Gift giving is usually positive in relationships — especially in the early phases of a relationship where gift giving is perceived as caring for a person,” said Masini. “Someone who gives gifts is typically generous, and this generosity becomes apparent in other arenas of a relationship, but it will first show up in simple gift giving.”
However, it’s best to have a budget in place before buying a gift. Nearly one-quarter of “happy” respondents in the TD Bank survey said they specifically set aside money to budget or save up for a gift. Meanwhile, only small percentages of happy couples pay for gifts by winging it, such as using a financial windfall or forgoing other expenses.
6. Neglecting to Save Up for Vacations
Paying for vacations is similar to buying gifts: the more budget planning, the better. Couples who didn’t specifically budget for vacation costs reported lower levels of relationship happiness, the survey found. Only 18 percent of “happy” respondents use a credit card to cover expenses and pay later, while only 6 percent of “happy” couples use a financial windfall and 4 percent decided to forego other expenses to pay for a vacation.
Don’t neglect saving up for a vacation, because taking time off plays an important role in good mental health.
“So many of us take work home and into bed — literally — with us,” said Masini. “Technology linking us to work and obligations is…pretty much everywhere, giving us opportunity to work — and stress out. Vacations are important to mental health for individuals, couples and families. And budgeting and prioritizing vacation finances will absolutely create happiness in relationships.”
7. Hiding a Financial Secret
Secrecy is rarely a good thing in a relationship, and most couples — 90 percent of “happy” respondents — said they aren’t keeping a financial secret. Still, 11 percent of “happy” respondents said keeping money secret was their biggest mistake.
“One in 10 said they would consider breaking up with someone if they discovered a financial secret,” said Bailey. “And millennials are even less forgiving: One in five say they would end a relationship if they found out their significant other was hiding a financial secret.”
“Secret purchases can be no big deal — shoes — or a very big deal — cars — depending on a couple’s income and the frequency of these secret purchases,” Masini said.
However, Masini said financial secrets that involve spending money on someone outside of your relationship can be the most damaging. “Typically, this is money lent to an ex or given to children from a previous marriage, secretly, because the giver knows for a fact their partner will hit the roof and say ‘no’ if he or she finds out — which they typically do,” she said.
Another harmful secret is keeping a hidden stash of money intended for escaping from a relationship.
“Secret bank accounts, or real estate not revealed, are secrets that really affect trust in a relationship and the true level of intimacy in that relationship,” said Masini. “The damage is never about the money — it’s about the secret. The money is a tool. The secret is the damaging dynamic.”
8. Racking Up Significant Credit Card Debt
Carrying a lot of credit card debt likely won’t score you any points with a potential partner. Forty-four percent of all survey respondents said they’d be less likely to date someone with significant credit card debt. Equally important: 40 percent of “happy” respondents said they would also be less likely to date a person with credit card debt.
“Credit card debt is different than student loan debt because credit card debt is the accumulation of day-to-day decisions over the course of years,” said Bailey. “Student loan debt is the accumulation of one or two decisions to finance education with loans.”
For example, amassing credit card debt paying for daily lattes is not the same as making an investment in your future with a student loan. This is why credit card debt is a better warning sign than student loan liability when it comes to detecting a person’s negative spending behavior.
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