In this post I talk about incorporating personal finance values into your dating life.
So now that personal finance has become one of my central values, it is something I have begun to weigh as an important aspect of many, if not all of my decisions. Also recently, I have begun to venture back into the dating scene after a long time away. After hearing about a dating app called Bumble from my younger sister, I decided to make an account. I have had profiles on dating websites before, and during my time living in Hawaii, I had profiles on Match and eHarmony, which resulted in a couple of dates, but I didn’t meet anyone who was a good fit for me. Nonetheless, I decided it was time to give the online dating thing another chance, so I created my bumble account, and got to work setting up my profile. The way this app works is that you see several pictures and sometimes a small bio on someone, and based on that you either swipe right: “Yes, I’m interested”, or left: “No thank you”. For the most part, you essentially make this decision based on appearance alone. As I have been wading through profiles, and swiping left or right, I have been thinking about this: we swipe past people based on their appearance, clothing choices, things they have written in their bio, or any number of other things, but evaluating someone’s values (personal finance or otherwise) is not so easy. This is true whether those values are religious, social, financial, or other.
Paying down my student debt is my central focus currently, and since the beginning of this journey, I have been making a lot of choices that seem drastic to most people. I moved back in with my parents, I have been cutting down expenses, turning down a lot of social gatherings (often even important ones like weddings if travel is involved), and planning my social life and activities around the question “How much will it cost?” For this reason, I realize that anyone I choose to date is going to have to be okay with (and preferably excited about) this type of behavior. In fact, they will need to get on board in a big way, because even if it takes years to pay off my loans, this journey doesn’t just stop when I finally pay off my debt. In a previous post, I shared an episode from Farnoosh Torabi’s So Money podcast about a man who paid off over 100 thousand dollars of debt in 2 years, and one of the interesting things he said in that interview was about how the journey doesn’t stop when you finish paying off your debt. He points out that at that point, you have reached zero, which means now you finally get to start working your way up; saving for retirement and any other goals you might have that were previously thwarted by having to service your debt. As for me, you had better believe that when I one day manage to pay off my loans, I am going to want to start building something for my future. If I want to accomplish all these things, anyone I decide to share my life with, or even part of my life with is going to have to be on board. So how do I find, recognize, and choose that person? It seems like it might be easier to find a partner whose other values (religious, political) are aligned with yours than to find someone with similar financial values. For example, there are various dating sites tailored to certain religious or lifestyle values (ex: ChristianMingle, Date a Farmer, etc), but not so much for financial values. The only websites that exist for incorporating finances into your dating life are not what I am looking for…
In fact, these websites would likely yield people with just the opposite characteristics of what I am looking for. As anyone who has read The Millionaire Next Door knows, the people who have the appearance of wealth are usually exactly the people who are secretly struggling with debt and financial hardship. Or otherwise, if they were living a luxe lifestyle and had the financial profile to back it up, I wouldn’t be able to keep up, and this would put a strain on the relationship, on my finances, or both. So this is decidedly not what I am looking for. What I am looking for is someone frugal, with healthy financial values. If I found that person, my reaction would probably be something like this:
So the question is this: how do you find those people, and how do you recognize them when you see them?
Full disclosure, I don’t have the answers to these questions yet, but I will share my preliminary thoughts on the issue.
- Listen, don’t speak.
- I always have a hard time with this one. It can be tempting when you first meet someone to want to tell them all about yourself, and establish who you are through the statements you make generally, and about yourself. When we meet someone we are attracted to, it is common to want to impress them or build a positive picture of yourself through the things you do or say. The problem with doing this too much is that you can spend so much time thinking about how you portray yourself that you forget to ask yourself these crucial questions: What type of person is this person in front of me? Are they the type of person I want to spend time with? Do their values align with mine?
- I have been practicing this as I get older: not speaking as much in these first encounters as I once did, and actively focusing on listening to understand who the person in front of me is, and whether they are the type of person I want to spend my time with.
- Ask questions.
- This goes hand in hand with number one. Listening is important, and asking questions can help to steer the conversation toward topics of interest. You can also ask follow-up questions to gain clarification. Now, I may just have had some not-so-great experiences, but I find if you tell prospective suitors (directly or indirectly) what you are interested in, they will pretend to be whatever that is for as long as they can / until they are found out. For this reason, I prefer to ask broad questions that just generally bring up the subject, as opposed to asking something more directive like “Would you consider yourself to be frugal?” From my experience (and possibly a history of choosing the wrong people), there is too much direction in that question.
- Watch for tendency to “positive-ize” / ignore red flags.
- Ignoring red flags. Unfortunately, most of us have been guilty of this one at some stage. I know I have. So if you’re looking for that frugal prince charming and you find yourself making rationalizations like “Well he only has __________ credit card debt.” or “Well he’s not paying it off because he’s in between jobs right now.”, RUN! Haha just kidding, but dating this person might not be conducive to your goals.
- I think it is important to note here the obvious: I still have credit card debt. I have paid off one of my 2 credit cards and am well on the way to paying off the second one. So how can I judge other people for the same? How can I be such a hypocrite? The thing is, I’m not saying I want to judge anyone for having credit card debt, but if they have it, and they’re not interested in getting rid of it, it’s likely that they are a potentially dangerous/unhealthy person for me. It’s like I’m in recovery for using drugs, except my drug is debt. If I want to get and stay “clean and sober” from consumer debt, then it’s going to be very important that I choose to involve myself with someone who exemplifies that kind of lifestyle. Imagine I was a recovering alcoholic; if I wanted to stay sober, and I started dating someone who drank alcohol frequently as a way of life, what do you think would happen to my own recovery?
- It might seem like this is a drastic comparison, but the people you surround yourself with become your world, so surround yourself with people who are exemplifying your ideal life.
- Notice: what are they wearing / driving / buying / where are they eating out / what kinds of vacations are they taking?
- Take the time to notice a potential dates spending habits. Obviously it’s hard to draw conclusions when you don’t know the specifics of someone’s financial situation, but it’s probably safe to say that if they are working a mid-level government job and living a totally luxe lifestyle, there may be a problem. There are always exceptions to this idea, like people who are very good at travel hacking, scoring deals at the thrift shop or online, etc. Generally though, regardless of their financial situation, if they are high spenders, and you are trying to save/pay down debt, you are likely going to have a hard time keeping up. This could put strain on your finances, the relationship, or both.
- Remember that if the relationship is successful, this is the teammate you have chosen to work toward your goals with.
- Like I said above, my financial journey isn’t going to end when I finally finish paying off my debts. In fact, that will really just be a new beginning in the same journey toward financial wellness. If I choose to date someone, there is a chance that the relationship will be successful and that I will want to spend more of my life with them. If that happens, the person I choose could eventually become my partner in working to accomplish my goals. If I’m going to have to actively work on a team with someone, I want to make sure from day one that they are someone with similar values and goals. What got me thinking about this was a recent podcast by Jessica Moorhouse about working together and managing your finances as a couple. Even the healthiest relationships can be challenging at times, so why make it even harder by choosing someone with a conflicting value system, financial or otherwise?
So these are my preliminary thoughts on this topic, and I’m sure there will be more to come as I continue to think about it. Can you think of any ideas I haven’t thought of? I’d be happy to hear them.
As always, thank you for reading.