Is Financial Compatibility Important When Choosing a Life Partner?

by Vered DeLeeuw · 24 comments

getting married
If you’re a romantic at heart, if you believe that choosing a life partner isn’t something you think about and plan for but something that just happens, if you believe in “love at first sight” and in “happily ever after,” then I suspect you will strongly object to this article.

I am going to argue here that when choosing a life partner, you should make sure their financial behavior is acceptable and that their financial belief system is compatible with yours. If you identify issues, you should address them prior to committing. And if you realize that the gap between your belief systems cannot be bridged, you should consider letting go of the relationship.

The Importance of Compatibility

When my then-boyfriend asked me to marry him, years ago, I said “yes.” I felt that I had made the right decision, not just because I was in love with him and found him attractive, or because he was my best friend, but also because I knew we were compatible.

We were compatible on many levels, including our financial belief system. It was important to me to marry a man who shared my core belief system. I knew that it was possible to have a loving, long-lasting relationship with someone who’s very different than you, but I also knew that those relationships can have a lot of friction. I also knew that money issues are one of the topics couples argue about the most.

Take, for example, a relationship where one of the partners is frugal and the other is a shopaholic. I just can’t imagine being in such a relationship. It seems obvious that to survive long-term, the partners in the relationship would have to openly discuss the issue and find a middle ground.

Bringing Up The Subject

Even if you agree that the financial behavior of a future partner matters and even if you’re certain you have identified issues with your partner’s behavior that could cause future friction and arguments, how do you approach the subject with them? This is a delicate topic, but I hate to think that some people avoid bringing it up just because they feel uncomfortable doing so.

It’s a lot like the topic of children – if you feel strongly about having or not having kids, will you marry someone without bringing up the topic first and finding out how they feel about it?

As much as discussing finances might feel uncomfortable, or unromantic, it is crucial to address issues before committing and the best way to do that is to be as straightforward as you can. So if you’re frugal and debt-free but have noticed that your boyfriend has splurged over the past year on a luxury watch and on a luxury car that he can’t really afford, financing both purchases with credit, you absolutely have to bring it up with him – assuming your relationship is serious. Otherwise, it’s obviously none of your business.

If You Can’t Bridge The Gap, Should You Still Get Married?

This is ultimately up to you of course. To go back to the example of children, many people decide to take the risk and marry someone even though they want kids and their partner does not. They hope that their partner would change their mind down the road. In some cases, they do. But in other cases, the relationship suffers because the issue of kids is a huge one.

Financial issues are just as major as the issue of kids. You can marry someone in huge debt and hope that you would be able to educate them and that together you would be able to get out of debt and start saving. But you need to be confident that your partner is willing to change.

I was lucky – my husband and I feel the same about saving and spending and have very similar values and beliefs when it comes to finances. Would I have married him if we were incompatible? Should I have married him? I honestly don’t know.

What do you think? Are you and your partner compatible when it comes to financial beliefs? Do you think it’s important?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • MrsMC says:

    My husband and I aren’t all that compatible when it comes to finances and lifestyle choices. I was raised in a patently debtophobic family; his family saw debt as an acceptable way to finance a “better” lifestyle than their income permitted. Both of us are more moderate than our parents, but there is still quite a gap. Sometimes we bridge it successfully (and worry that the other can’t handle the stress or feels like they’re on too short a leash) and sometimes we fail (and eventually the fur flies).

    I love him, he loves me. In many ways we’ve got a great relationship. I’m not sure I’d take it back if I could, I know I don’t want a divorce now…

    …and I also know that I often counsel my daughter against marrying someone whose ideas about money differ from her own.

  • Eliza says:

    Incredibly important. When I married in my early 20s, my husband ran up credit card debts like no tomorrow. Me? I insist on paying off credit cards every single month. When we divorced, the debt was equally mine.

    Enter long term relationship #2. He believed in paying off credit cards every month as well. So far so good. But, he also believed that he was entitled to buy himself very expensive toys, while I shouldered all the living expenses. Ya right.

    Third try I got it right *grin* Mr Very Right and I are totally on the same page about debt, sharing financial responsibilities, and how we want to save and spend our money. Among other things I finally figured out, this has made a huge difference in my life.

  • vered says:

    Hi Cath, Yes, I know about your own story. I remember you sharing it on your blog. I knew you would relate to this post. 🙂

  • Kate Shaw says:

    Yes, you should discuss money and the sooner the better. You should exchange credit reports, and discuss anything on them that might be a problem. My college roommate married a man she met in a traffic accident (it’s a long story) and found out many things about him later, including that he was divorced and had outstanding warrants for unpaid child support. Another married a man with a swath of unpaid back taxes. Hint: a man who has always “forgot his wallet” is a man you should run from at warp speed.

  • kl says:

    I’d say that agreement on finances is important, but it leaves room for personal differences. I am the frugal one who considers everything for months and would like to buy the cheapest. My husband goes for the best and (when we still dated) believed that it is ok to max out your credit card on big purchases. Over time, we have created an understanding on how to handle our finances – on big purchases, I’m still holding a veto, but he has also taught me to pay for quality. (I now regret a couple of cheap pieces of furniture I insisted were a bargain when we moved in together, and love that – with his encouragement – we spent a little more on a few pieces we love – not on credit though.)

    I think we have learned a lot from each other and while we still sometimes need to discuss seriously about money (last time on car upgrade that I vetoed) we don’t argue that much over it any more. Much of it is thanks to our stable financial situation, which we will most likely be able to preserve as we do have a shared goal.

    It is important to talk about these issues though, and define those goals: as the saying goes, sex and money are pretty much at the bottom of any breakup…

  • money babe says:

    Your article reminded me of my mother saying “Save yourself first before you save others”. Even though she told me this to avoid my rebellious ex, it’s quite similar to your idea. It’s really hard to teach an adult so when you try to save someone who is already sinking you will find that you are already sinking yourself halfway. Indeed choosing a partner with the same mindset as your can lead you to your financial goals more easily. My husband and I have different financial mindset. Luckily you can call him the one who is willing to change but then it took me real hard work and a lot of compromise to do that.

  • Cath Lawson says:

    Hi Vered – I think your advice is spot on. As you know I’ve been married twice and my last husband had very different values to me – he would run up debts and I would pay them off, only for him to do the same again. He wound up bleeding me dry. This was my own fault – he had debts when I first met him but I hoped he would change as he got older.

    To be honest, my second husband is a bit clueless about money. He isn’t wasteful but he has got into trouble in the past, because he doesn’t know how to manage money. I didn’t know about his past mistakes until I married him and yes – it would have put me off. I told him that when I found out. Now I’m trying to educate him.

  • Benjamin says:

    you should have to do a financial compatability quiz get a marriage license. Working in insolvency I get to see all the fall out. 78% of people who we counsel have ‘relationship problems” because of their financial problems.

  • Money Up says:

    I would say that financial compatibility is important in choosing a life partner, but it is not a deal breaker (or the most important thing to consider in a relationship). There is always the option of having a pooled account and then two separate accounts for couples who share their expenses and still want room to do their own spending or saving. Financial difficulties are something that can be solved with a lot of communication, so if you are not financial compatible with your partner you could still learn how to cooperate with them and deal with their choices about money.

  • marci357 says:

    If you are on the same page about your attitudes towards finances, that is one less thing that could potentially cause an argument. There are enough problems out there already and money is of course a major major one. Yes, it is definitely something I did consider, and would consider again.

    Remember that marriage is a legal contract – the same as a business contract in many ways. There are financial liabilities that go with marriage – make sure you are not being made liable for things that are not in keeping with your financial principles.

    • marci357 says:

      of course, if you are NOT getting married legally, NOT combining finances, and NOT combining assets, and NOT financially responsible for the other’s liabilities, then it’s not as important.

  • Jenna says:

    Well hopefully you have the money talk before you get married. I’ve heard some pretty brutal post wedding announcements about tons of debt and other money issues.

  • Invest It Wisely says:

    Money and finance is definitely an important topic to be on the same page on. I think that the couple should agree on how the common expenses should be shared and on the savings/retirement planning for the future, but that each couple should also be free to spend their discretionary income beyond that on whatever they wish.

    It’s all about coming together and being open and ready to make a plan. Open lines communication helps in reaching the agreement.

  • Phi says:

    Well ultimately everything is about compromise in life and in marriage. I think that it’s okay to have different finance styles but it comes down to how you two compromise in the end as a couple. Money is a big issue for many couples so it’s definitely something to establish before you get engaged.

  • Mitsuko G. says:

    It comes down to responsible spending as the act of spending is unavoidable in our daily lives. Spending is subjective, relative, and very personal, so it ought to be a no-brainer to find/have a partner with the same or close to the same monetary philosophy. I just have to remember to schlep all my financial records up to Cloud 9 if ever a next time. Oh… my advisor too 🙂

  • Richard says:

    My wife and I were much different in our money management styles prior to getting married. She was the frugal one who paid of the credit card every month. When my first VISA bill arrived after the wedding, she asked, “Why do you have such a high balance?”

    “Oh, that’s your engagement ring.”

    Prior to the wedding we had agreed to pool our resources into a joint checking account, so over the next several months she helped pay of her ring and my car. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for her to infect me with her frugal nature, and we have been financially compatible for almost 22 years now.

    That’s not to say we never argue about money. But we do so from a foundation of absolute commitment, and willingness to compromise. I don’t think a couple has to be 100% compatible on finances, but I do agree that the topic should be addressed well in advance of the wedding day.

  • vered says:

    Sometimes the different values are not about spending or saving, but about investing in the right/wrong thing. I know a couple of families here in the Silicon Valley where both husbands are serial entrepreneurs. In one family, the husband basically invested their entire life savings into an unsuccessful company and now they have nothing.

    The other family, the wife knew that this could happen, so after a successful exit from one startup, she made sure they bought a house in a good neighborhood – she had told me that this was her way to make sure that at least some of the money was invested in a down payment on the house instead of being reinvested into a startup that might not be as good as the first one.

  • kt- lifedividend says:

    i don’t have a partner but what you say makes sense. I would like to marry someone with the same interests of investing and wealth creation as i do. I have also seen more than my fair share of divorces and strained relationships caused my money issues and i can tell you that this is not something i want to experience in my relationships

  • vicki says:

    I love this article financial compatability. This is very, very important in a primary relationship. There may still be some differences in minor things, but these can be worked out. Thanks for this.

  • KM says:

    I have also noticed that monetary philosophy translates into other aspects of the person’s character. I am a frugal person that loves to save, so I also tend to value other things like relationships with people and good traits in people. My SO splurged as soon as he received any money, then was left with almost nothing to get by for however long it took to get more. He would also mindlessly upgrade his “business” without thinking about how he would pay the people doing the work or if it would actually increase the number of customers. After a while, I noticed that not only did he not value money, he also did not value our relationship or anything else. He always took everything for granted and wasted all the chances I gave him when our relationship started falling apart. At some point I realized that it was a destructive relationship and ended it, but later saw the relationship between his money-spending habits and his inability to value anything, including the people that he reportedly “loves”.

    Now I can see that spenders are not for me, not only because they are not compatible with my financial beliefs, but also because they will not value other things that are important to me, like family, relationships, happiness, and security.

  • Miranda says:

    I think you make a good point about core values. Even though my husband and I have different spending habits (as in, what we like to spend money on), we are both agreed that saving for the future is important, and that being out of debt is important. Once we were on the same page with those issues, everything else became a matter of compromise.

  • Leigh says:

    I am now going through a divorce, and though there were many issues at play, I’d say it boiled down to money. Significant Other came into the relationship with a great deal of education debt, which most personal finance writers will say is the “good” kind. But be wary of even that.

    What I didn’t accept was that this spending is indicative of a monetary philosophy that borrowing against the future is a-okay. Small amounts, yes, maybe. For the right purposes and in the right amounts. But six figure debt for any reason doesn’t go away quickly and will impact the choices you make with your partner for decades, if not a lifetime.

    While I worked to whittle down that debt, SO refused to make any sacrifices that may have helped put us back in the black. My efforts eventually made me the “bad guy” and the “kill joy”.

    Choosing a thrifty partner may end up being the most significant financial decision you make your entire life.

  • Adam Porter says:

    Exactly. People don’t realize that the money situation becomes (almost) equally as important as the love for each other, in order for a relationship to last. It’s not so much the income level (as Sandy mentions), but more the money habits of each person.

    Destructive money habits are just as harmful to a relationship as negative interpersonal actions and habits.

  • Sandy L says:

    Absolutely right on.

    It’s not shallow to want someone who’s good with money if that’s important to you. To me, it doesn’t matter how much someone earns. It was more what they did with it that was important. I’d rather have someone earning a living wage and be debt free than someone earning 6 figures and being in debt.

    I had a saver girlfriend who married a spender. He used their house downpayment money to buy a Corvette. REALLY. As you may have guessed, they are no longer married.

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