MONEY ETIQUETTE FOR DATING IN THE NINETIES
Lori Z. Bahnmueller
Michigan Credit Union League - Your Money Matters
With 40% of all marriages ending in divorce and more and more people waiting until their 30s and 40s before entering marriage for the first time, the dating arena is not what it used to be. Once upon a time, high school and college students made up the majority of the dating scene. The biggest concerns centered around what to wear and where to go. Beyond that, it was as simple--find the right person, fall in love and settle down. The girls made the plans and the boys paid the tab.
Okay, so maybe it wasn't always quite that simple. Nonetheless, today's dating scene is definitely far more complex. These days, those eligible boys and girls are more often men and women with jobs, a place of their own and often families from previous relationships. The rules of the game have changed, especially when it comes to money. In fact, the subject of finances comes up almost immediately in contemporary courting.
On the very first date the question arises: "Who pays?" No longer can everyone assume that the gentlemen in obliged to pay for the date. More likely it is the person who officially requests the date that will assume the role of payment coordinator. Certainly some women don't care for this situation, but the growth of women's equality in the job market brings changes of many kinds. Whenever unclear, the best advice is to be open and ask. Many of us retain a fondness for the tradition patterns while others don't. Dating can be awkward enough anyway. Discussing the financial arrangements in advance can eliminate extra stress.
However, the first date is not usually the place to throw out the big financial questions. "How much do you make?" or "what's your VISA limit?" are questions you should avoid until much further into the relationship. On the other hand, if you are beginning to date on a regular basis, it might be a good idea to discuss whether the cost of dates should be shared. If sharing is agreeable to both parties, also discuss how much each of you is comfortable spending. If fast food and a video is all you can afford, make sure your date understands that before you end up embarrassed by not having enough money to cover the bill at a fancier restaurant.
Okay, now you're a couple. This is when you begin to find out about each other's financial upbringing and habits. Did you save to pay for your own college? Does your new friend owe $20,000 in student loans?
Does your significant other speak proudly of the fact that there was a parent at home when he or she was growing up? Would you be expected to stay home with children in the future or become the primary breadwinner? Clearly, these kinds of questions can provide insight to what money management strategies are important to each of you. Understanding one another's financial habits--both good and bad--as well as future goals can strengthen a relationship and can avoid future trouble. Money is the most common source of arguments between married couples.
Given the diversity of personal relationships these days, I should mention joint ownership of resources. Whether it's putting both names on a credit card or signing a lease, think each decision over carefully (remember that 40% divorce statistic). If you care enough for your partner to consider blending your finances, care enough to protect one another as well.
Okay, you've made it to the next step; you're engaged. Before you say those cherished words, make sure there are no financial secrets. At this stage, it is essential that both parties disclose exactly how much they make and what debts they have. Also share any other financial obligations you anticipate. For example, if donating 10% of your income to your church is important, now is the time to discuss it. If your fiancé has children from previous relationships will you be expected to contribute toward their college expenses? If either of you pays child support, how much and for how long? Will you keep separate checking accounts, a joint account or both? How will you pay off your current debts?
Once you're married, continue to talk about your financial situations. Set aside an hour each week -- or at least each month -- to go over the current household financial status. Use that time to discuss key money issues. Are we saving enough? Are we spending too much? How should we invest our savings? Finally, always make sure to decide on any major changes or investments together. Dating may have changed in the 90s but the loving, cooperative partnership of two people who care for one another remains one of the most productive and rewarding ways to live.