As your relationship gets more serious, I’m all about having The Talk to make sure you are financially compatible. But even before that, in the early stages of a relationship, you can glean a lot about your potential mate’s money habits from behavioral clues. What kinds of activities do you do for dates? When you go out to dinner, who foots the bill? And—this is a biggie—what’s the state of his apartment??
These questions might seem superficial but they can provide useful insights into his feelings about money, which will only get more complicated as your relationship grows. So many of our money habits are cultural, familial, and emotional. Money is deeply personal and not a topic many people (especially ones you’re dating) like to address directly and openly. So you have to be a bit of a sleuth to know what you’re getting into. Here are three questions to ask yourself to learn more about his ‘tude toward money:
- What kinds of activities do you do for dates? If he’s up for a picnic in the park any day of the week but balks at a reservation at a Michelin-starred restaurant, sure, you might think he’s cheap or fine dining isn’t his thing. But it could indicate underlying financial issues, as well. If he has a job that pays him in happiness but maybe isn’t so lucrative, then there you have it—nothing wrong with that. But if he has a well-paying job and is still tight with his wallet, there could be debt or other financial skeletons lurking in his closet. (Scary but true: half of all people have lied to their significant other about money, and 6 million Americans have hidden financial accounts from their spouses or live-in partners.) Or maybe he’s just one of those “all savings, no fun” people, which sounds good in theory but can be disastrous in the long run. You both need a little fun in your life to keep your relationship fresh and your budget on track. Most people can’t sustain a “zero fun” attitude forever and will end up splurging later on.
- When you go out to dinner, who foots the bill? I’ll spend a little time with this one, because it’s a question I get all the time. If it’s your first date, politely offer to pay, but let him get the tab. It may be old-fashioned to let him pay, but you’ve probably already put money into the date by the time you get to dinner with your blowout, dress, etc. If he lets you pay, then he also may be signaling a “this is a ‘friend date’” vibe and you should just reassess what’s happening there. If he lets you pay and it’s definitely not a friend-date, then it’s time to look a little closer. Maybe he’s just not the old-fashioned type; he can afford to pay, but he sees nothing wrong with taking you up on footing the bill (I mean, hey, you offered!). Or him letting you pay could even be a subtle compliment: he appreciates your initiative and respects your right to buy his meal as an independent and financially savvy woman (amen). But if he keeps letting you fork it over again and again, then it’s a big red flag, obviously, for his finances. This may get me in trouble, but hear me out: if he can’t afford to pay for the first date then you shouldn’t be interested in dating him. (Cue the sound of shock and awe.) “Shouldn’t it be about love??” Of course it is, and of course it’s not just about the money. But, no matter how hot he is, I’ll bet you are not looking for someone to support, other than yourself. If taking control of your own financial destiny is a priority for you—and it should be—then it’s important to surround yourself with others who are financially responsible, including (in fact, most of all) the people you date. And 99% of financially responsible dudes will be able to treat you to a first date, even if it is just for a drink or tapas. Of course, if he does pay, you shouldn’t take advantage of the situation and order the lobster or pick out the most expensive bottle of wine on the menu. Keep it within reason and you’re not only helping his wallet out but also sending the message that you’re financially responsible and not high-maintenance. After a few dates, I’m totally on board with the idea of going Dutch—or at least trying to. After all, the more time you spend together, it’s more about the experience together and less about trying to impress each other. Of course, he may not let you split it, and that’s fine. You should still offer. And, hey, if it’s a special occasion, like his birthday, or if you’re dragging him out to that new raw-vegan restaurant that you’ve been dying to try, go ahead and grab that bill for yourself.
- What’s the state of his apartment? Presumably, if you’ve been going out pretty regularly, he’s invited you back to his place (and if he hasn’t, that could be a warning sign that he doesn’t want you to see it). Well…what’s it like?? This has nothing to do with whether or not you have the same taste in furniture or throw pillows, or if he has a flat-screen TV. Does he keep it neat, indicating that he takes pride in his space and belongings? Is everything in working order, including lights, faucets, and appliances? Again, this has nothing to do with how handy he is (although, that’s always nice!) but how responsible he is with the things he pays for. Are there bills piling up on his desk? Well…that one speaks for itself. Yes, a guy with a messy and gross apartment might still be responsible with his money, and just…messy and gross. This is where subtle (or not so subtle) hints about cleaning up his act (literally) might come in handy. Otherwise, make a mental note that he might have some dirty little money secrets, too.