You’ve found the perfect guy. He’s smart and attractive. Check.
Your family loves him. Double check.
And as an added bonus, you two have the exact same sense of humor.
But after six months of dating heaven, you discover a problem – his financial situation sucks.
His checking account is constantly overdrawn, his five-figure credit card debt is accruing interest at an alarming rate, and his retirement account is a whopping zero dollars.
According to SoFi’s latest survey, debt is the second biggest dating deal breaker for millennials.
In other words, Mr. Perfect might not seem so perfect anymore.
But what if he’s driving for Lyft on the side to pay down his debt and he has a plan to contribute 5% of his salary to retirement, all while cutting down on nights out? Maybe he could be Mr. Perfect after all.
The way your partner deals with financial setbacks is the biggest indicator of whether or not money problems are a deal breaker – not the $ problems themselves.
Consider the Context
Tiffany, a 26-year old marketer on the West Coast, explains, “Whether or not you should dump somebody because of money is a totally unique situation. I could see it being an issue if they were lazy and making no effort to earn money, yet expected financial help. But I doubt an attitude like that would come without other serious character flaws.
That kind of negligent attitude would surely be reflected in other areas of their life. So I guess, yeah, I would dump someone because of money, amongst other issues.”
Money is complicated because numbers don’t always tell the whole story.
There are often reasons for financial setbacks, and many of them are out of the person’s control. Lay-offs, unexpected illness and student loans can all contribute to finances that look bad on paper, but may not be as dire or long-lasting as they appear.
For both men and women, these type of financial setbacks can be a source of deep shame and guilt.
“I got a job straight out of college. It was with a company in Texas and required a move across the country, but I didn’t mind putting the expenses on my credit card because my salary was pretty good. I planned to pay it off as soon as possible once I was settled, but six weeks into the job, I was fired. I’m still paying off my debt from the move and I’m too embarrassed to talk about it because it feels like my fault I got fired,” says 25-year old Matt from Los Angeles.
In order to determine if money problems are a deal breaker, it’s important to hear the full story – ask what he or she is doing to change the situation and trust your gut.
Trust Your Intuition
If it feels like someone is lying to you, they probably are.
Financial infidelity, which can include anything from hidden debt to secretive overspending, is on the rise.
In a recent poll from CreditCards.com, 5 percent of respondents admitted to concealing the existence of a credit card or bank account from their partner. ‘Extrapolate that out to the entire adult population, and it comes to 12 million Americans with secret accounts,’ says the site.
Lily, a financial analyst from New York City learned that the hard way.
When she first met her boyfriend, he seemed to have it all together. From weekend road trips to fun dinners with friends, he always footed the bill. Lily said that there were a few times that “raised red flags” – like the time a card was declined, but she assumed it was simple mistake.
“I’ve had a card declined because I forgot to transfer money from a different account, so I thought it was a similar situation,” Lily explained. It wasn’t until nearly six months later that she caught him in a financial lie that exposed the truth – he was in $30,000 of consumer debt.
The worst part? He had been lying about it.
“We talked about money a lot because I had a lot of student loans and was trying to pay them off fast. He was really supportive, but always commented about how he had ‘no debt.’ It sucked to realize that he had been lying to me for so long.”
How to Avoid (Financially-Induced) Heartbreak
Unfortunately, when it comes to money and love, there isn’t a set of hard and fast rules to follow, but there are some general guidelines that might help you avoid heartbreak and financial regret.
Talk it Out
It’s hard to talk about money problems with the person you’re dating, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid them.
If you’re in long-term, committed relationship, it’s best to be honest about your situation, whether it’s excellent, abysmal or somewhere in between. Your honesty will allow your partner to be honest in response.
Look at the Present Instead of the Past
EVERYONE has made financial mistakes.
Whether or not money problems are a deal breaker will often be determined by what your partner is currently doing (or not doing) to rectify past mistakes. Even though choices in your 20’s affect the following decades, it’s more important to focus on the present.
Remember, Lies and Manipulation are the REAL Deal Breakers
We’ve already established that everyone makes mistakes but what sets a “mistake” apart from a deal breaker is honesty, maturity and taking personal responsibility for what happened.
If money problems are combined with lies, guilt or attempts at emotional manipulation, it’s best to cut your losses and get out of the relationship as soon as possible.
Money is tricky. It’s emotional, messy and often tough to navigate, especially with a partner. But with some honesty, humor and hard work, you and your other half will be able to sail through the choppy waters.