4 financial questions to ask your significant other
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Good day, all! I've got a fun (and serious) post coming at ya from Paul Andrews who's talking about coming to grips with your significant other's view on money. It's hilariously serious business. Read!
When it comes down to your finances, there are any number of pieces of advice that really do make a lot of sense. “Save 10% of your income and invest it” Is an oldie but a goodie. “Always price compare to make sure you get the best price” is thrown around a lot. “Stop throwing $50 a month at a gym that everyone knows you don’t go to, even though you always swear you’re going to and simply choose to prioritize binge watching shows on your preference of streaming services” is… well… we’ve all been there.
But today I’m going to talk about what is arguably the best piece of financial advice I could give. It’s something that, ever since I graduated from college, I’ve been thankful for every day of my life. It’s helped me cut some of my largest expenses in half, led me to better habits, and frankly is cute as a button. DON’T KNOW WHAT IT IS YET?!
THEN YOU SHOULD READ THE TITLE, BUT JUST IN CASE YOU DIDN’T…
ISN’T SHE JUST TOTES ADORBS?! Yes ladies and gentlemen, there is simply no better weapon to add to your financial arsenal than dating someone who is financially compatible with you. My girlfriend has been, without a doubt, the best thing that has ever happened to my bank account. NO, NOT BECAUSE SHE BUYS ME NICE THINGS AND ALL I HAVE TO DO IS KEEP THIS SMOKIN’ HOT BOD! No, it’s been awesome because she and I have been able to get on the same page concerning the important points of our finances, and negotiate on the things that are flexible. How exactly did we get to this point, might you ask? Well, there are a certain set of financial questions you should ask your significant other, when the time is right. First up:
First thing's first: 1 marshmallow or 2 marshmallows?
I’m going to take you back to your freshman pysch seminar. Yes, the one that left you feeling qualified to FINALLY diagnose your mother’s OCD and your brother’s obvious case of “youngest sibling” syndrome. Remember reading through one of those parts of the textbook where they talk about the marshmallow experiment completed at Stanford?
Long story short, those running the experiment made a very simple proposition to a group of children: They could either eat one marshmallow right now, or have 2 marshmallows at a later time, around 15 minutes later. There were two kinds of children: the ones that simply couldn’t bear the thought of not eating a marshmallow immediately, and those that were able to temper their desire more than most adults (I. Love. Marshmallows.) Later on in life, there were follow-ups that gave the people running the experiment information on how well the participants were doing “in life”, measured by SAT score, their BMI, their highest level of education, etc. And you know what they found?
Surprise, surprise: those that were able to delay their gratification were able to “achieve” higher levels of “success” later on in life.
Now, as a financial blogger, I’m supposed to say that you’re all supposed to look at a single marshmallow and say, “Fuck you, delicious puff of sugary goodness, I’ma take two in a lil’ bit.” But let’s all just call it out for what it is: not everyone is going to want to say no to a marshmallow.
It’s just not how we’re built/designed. What you need to do is make sure that, to some degree, you and your man/lady are on the same page when it comes to deferring spending. For example, you can get a pretty good feel from the question, “Hey, how about, instead of going out tonight, let’s stay in and watch a movie.” Or, “What about, instead of ordering a pizza, we make our own?” Once you’re a little bit further along in your relationship, you can see how the other person feels about maybe not doing some entertainment stuff so you can save some cash for your upcoming vacation. Or maybe see how they feel about taking some extreme frugality measures if it means being able to retire in your mid-thirties and travel the country like some B.A.M.F.
See about page for more details… :)
So when you’re having the “1 marshmallow/2 marshmallow” conversation with your S.O., it’s less about trying to turn one of you (or both of you) into 2 marshmallow people, but more about making sure that you’re one the same page. For example, you can be sure that a couple that comprises of a man who spends $500 tricking out his man cave and a woman who cuts coupons in order to save some $$$ for retirement are not going to last very long. To wrap up, be sure to ask on the first date, “So, one marshmallow or two?” Because it will be hilarious and awkward and I want to hear about it.
Joking, people. I’m joking.
What’s your number?
Please don’t take this one literally, boys and girls. If you’re reading an article about the questions to ask your significant other, then you should already have their phone number. Which means if I’m not talking about getting someone’s digits, what number could I be possibly talking about?
I’m talking about a “retirement” number, for lack of better term. Bear in mind, I know that most people don’t walk around and simply have a number in their mind of how much money they need in order to retire in a given lifestyle, but these are conversations that once you’ve solidified things, it’s good to know.
A simple conversation might start with, “So, have you ever thought about how much money it would take for you to just stop working and see the world?” or “How much money do you think makes someone rich?” These will give you a very good idea as to what kind of life the person across the table from you might want to live. For example, they might say something along the lines of, “Well, I know I don’t want to wait to retire. I’d love to have a boat, always fly first class, visit every continent once a year, and eat at restaurants that use gold leaf as a garnish.” If that’s the case, then your “hyper frugal-save-every-penny-and-live-in-a-tiny-home” dream might not mesh super well with your bo/bae.
Or what if they say something like, “I don’t know, I’m not going to worry about money for a while”, while you're more goal oriented than Cristiano Ronaldo? You know that you need exactly $2,523,089.73 in order to have everything you want out of retirement, and you’re ready to be more ruthless than a room where no one is named “Ruth” in order to achieve that? Well, then you might need to rethink where this whole relationship is going.
So make sure you have the number talk on your list of questions to ask your significant other. And remember, if they’re worlds apart from each other, either think about ways to mitigate the difference, or… well…
The next step to any healthy relationship is to slide around a hardwood surface with your guy/gal in your respective underwear and see how well they slide.
No, that’s a joke. Please don’t do that. Steve and Paul are not responsible for any injuries sustained while misunderstanding humor in blog posts. K, back to business: The next step in any relationship is to get a firm idea of where the other person stands in terms of risk appetite. To be frank, as a financial blogger, I really don’t care if you both like roller coasters, sky diving, shark fishing, or UFC fighting. I’m talking about financial risk appetite.
This one is pretty close to home, because my girlfriend and I are VERY different on the financial risk spectrum. You see, she’s very intelligent and is able to see things very reasonable.
She can pick out obvious flaws and pitfalls in plans, and scary accurate when it comes to predicting how people act. I on the other hand, can be a bumbling buffoon whose finance degree has told him to take all the financial risks he possibly can because, well, fuck it: I’ve got 40 years to recover [Steve here: You and me both, brother!].
This has made for some SUPER interesting dinner conversation!
To give you the perfect scenario, earlier this year I had the chance to take another teaching job where I was making a little bit more money, or stay with my current job and hope to negotiate a raise. The issue was, I wasn’t going to be able to negotiate for my current job until the offer from the other school was taken off the table. As such, my girlfriend thought I should go the safer route; I opted to take the risk.
This was something that she and I very much had to work through and communicate. “I feel” statements were littered all over the apartment. In the end, it turns out that I made the “right” decision, as I was able to negotiate an $11,000 raise, $5,000 more than I would have made at the other job. But the safer route would have been to take the smaller raise.
So when discussing financial risk, be sure to at least understand where each of you are.
Doing so will make sure expectations at least line up with reality, and discord will (hopefully)
We all have them, right? For me, if a girl chews with her mouth open, calls me a sexist because I opened the door for her, pulls out her phone during dinner, or uses the word “Like” as a way to separate her goddamn words, then I’m 110% not going to call/text/tinder/facebook/instasnaptweet you.
Thank GOD I don’t have to deal with that shit any more.
But this is a financial blog, not a dating blog, so I’m really not concerned with knowing whether or not you can date a girl who’s, “More basic than unnecessary horned rimmed glasses wrapped in a bullshit humanities degree, all dipped in a pumpkin spice latte that’s being drunk out of an Ugg.”
JK, Art History majors, we all love you.
The “non-negotiable” questions to ask your significant other are the financial non-negotiables. Or even those non-negotiables that have financial implication. To give you the perfect example, my girlfriend and I have talked back and forth about the best time to get married. That’s a negotiable, because while it might be great to be married young, we’re willing to put it off if it means achieving other things in life.
However, we’re not willing to negotiate on when we’re having kids. We’ve established a day, and dammit we’re going to stick with it. But because that has HUGE financial implications, we were sure to verify that we agree on when to do that.
One of my own personal non-negotiables has to do with the fact that I want to use real estate as a way to build wealth. I’m going to be a landlord, as soon as I stop moving around this awesome country. I know of the benefits, I know it’s the “easiest” way to build serious wealth, and I’m not going to change. Whoever I chose to be with HAD to be ok with that fact. Fortunately, it was a pretty easy sell for my girlfriend.
So be sure to have this conversation with your S.O. at some point. And it really doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It really just needs to be, “What are some non-negotiables that you have regarding lifestyle?” Do you want to save every penny to retire at 40? If so, be sure to find someone that wants to as well? Are you ok not saving quite as much money if it means a bitchin’ vacation once a year? Well, if you are, then you really shouldn’t be match up with a penny pincher, or someone who wants to spend every last cent they earn.
A word about timing…
Folks, there is such a thing as coming on too strong. I don’t care if that’s how you were raised or if you think that being brutally honest is the way to live your life: if you want into a first date and ask these questions, you’re probably going to get some weird looks. After all, this is coffee/ice cream/minigolf/dinner/movie/whatever. You’re not looking to get every aspect of their personality. Do I think you should see if they’re a sucker for an upsell? Sure. Should you pay attention to see if he/she expects you to pay for everything on the date? Yep.
But am I saying that you should ask him or her for their 20-year plan in terms of their finances? Not at all. You should not simply rank your girlfriends/boyfriends by what percentage of their money goes into an IRA each month.
But once you’ve been dating for a while, and things start to go the more serious route, these are questions that you desperately need to have answered. After all, more than 1 in 3 relationships experience some sort of friction due to money. And there is evidence to support that financial arguments might be an accurate predictor of divorce.
So sit down, take a deep breath, and make sure that these conversations are being had. When expectations meet reality, everyone is going to be better off!
The 4 Financial Questions to ask Your Significant Other – The Wrap Up
Remember, booboos, these questions are not designed to be used on the first date. You’ll probably just end up scaring off the person across the table from you. Instead, stick to the typical, “Where you from/tell me about your family/what do you do/how good are you in bed…” and you’ll be fine. But once you’ve been around each other for a few months and you feel comfortable “going there” ask your S.O. :
- 1 marshmallow or 2 – Try to get a feel for how much they’re willing to sacrifice immediate pleasure for benefits later on down the road.
- What’s your # - This will let you get an idea as to what they imagine their lifestyle to be throughout their life.
- Risky Business – Make sure you at least understand each other’s risk tolerance. Doing so will make it easier for her to understand why you bought a Saturn Dealership… Jeez, when was the last time anyone saw a Saturn…
- Non-negotiables – If meaning being a millionaire by 30 means not having kids, and you’ve got yourself a fertile myrtle ( or a potent… some name that rhymes with “potent”), then be sure to have that conversation, sooner rather than later.
Alright, now let’s hear from you! Do you have any stories about not asking these questions soon enough? Or maybe too soon? Ever been in a relationship where the person isn’t on the same page as you? If you’ve found a keeper, what are some of the benefits you’ve noticed?
As I’ll always wish you:
Keep trying to crack the code,
Paul Andrews writes for thecodetoriches.com, a personal finance site that makes the world of finance as entertaining as possible. Known for his contrarian and no-bullshit attitudes, Paul doesn't sugar-coat finance. He simply uses logic, expletives, and an obscene amount of humor to make his points. Head on over to Thecodetoriches.com to check out more from Paul!