How to Bring up Finances on a Date Without Killing the Mood

Because being on the same page financially as your partner is sexy

Katherine Singh
(Photo: iStock)

Investment options and long-term savings are typically not seen as sexy—until now.

A study released in late July by HSBC found that many Canadian millennials, classified by Pew Research Centre as people between the ages of 23 and 38, are attracted to partners based on their home-buying aspirations. Of the 1,077 surveyed, 12.7% said that property goals and homeownership topped their list of what they look for in a partner. This was compared to 2.8% of respondents who said appearance was a high priority. Because looks don’t last forever, but an investment property will.

And, millennials are starting to make financial compatibility a priority, by tackling the formerly taboo topic of money head on, discussing finances earlier in new relationships. The fourth annual Love and Money survey, conducted by TD Bank and released in July, found that 27% of the respondents who met their partners online, discussed money before meeting their match in person. And an April survey by Bankrate.com found that one-third of American millennials surveyed said they’d be comfortable talking about money-related topics on the first date.

It appears that when it comes to love, millennials have—in the seminal words of Sam Smith—”Money on [their] mind.”

And it kind of makes sense.

“Millennials are getting older,” millennial money expert Jessica Moorhouse says. “So I feel like we’re getting a little bit more specific in what we’re looking for in a partner; we’re looking for something a little bit more serious than some Tinder date.” It’s for this reason that Moorhouse says she wasn’t really surprised by the results of HSBC’s survey. “I think that’s why we’re like: ‘OK what’s actually important to me? Well, I want to make sure we’re going to be compatible, but also that we have the same kind of life and financial goals in common,'” she says.

And it isn’t *just* because of age, but also the age that we’re in, both socially and economically. “I do feel that in general, millennials are way more open, or starting to become more open, to talking about finances,” Moorhouse says.  While talking about money (especially for women) is still is kind of taboo, Moorhouse says that acceptance and conversations around other formerly “taboo” topics like mental health have allowed a positive shift in how we think about these subjects. And the fact remains that millennials have to think about money when it comes partnership, because the cost of living is expensive AF. According to 2019 data from Zoocasa, only the people whose income is in the 10% can afford to buy a house in Toronto. In Vancouver, homeownership is only in-budget for the top 2.5%.

“If [homeownership’s] a big dream of ours, we want to make sure we find a partner that’s also on the same page; because it’s unlikely we’ll be able to afford a home on our own, it’ll be something that we have to do in a partnership,” Moorhouse says. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Whether you’re on the first date, the third date or have already passed the “I love you” mark, Moorhouse breaks down all the do’s and don’t’s for bringing up those dollar bills—without killing the mood.

First of all, don’t do it on the first date

Talk about really laying it *all* on the table. “I think it’s not really necessary to talk about finances if you don’t think the relationship is a serious one,” Moorhouse says. “If you’re like, ‘Oh it’s just a summer fling or I’m dating around,’ then there’s no point in talking about finances if you don’t see a future with that person.”

So when’s the time to pull the trigger? “If you’re dating for few months,  you’ve have had serious talks [or] you’re thinking about moving in together, [and] if you do think it’s on the path where you’re thinking ‘we are probably going to have a life together,'” Moorhouse says, “Then that does makes sense to start talking about finances.”

Don’t talk specific numbers

While it’s totally cool to talk about where you plan to invest, Moorhouse would deter couples or would-be couples from talking about specific numbers—as in exact salary—right away. Because that can, justifiably, be a touchy subject. “I think it’s always best to not start talking about numbers, because people can feel a lot of different feelings about their numbers,” Moorhouse says. “A lot of people feel how much they earn or how much they have or how much debt they have is a reflection on them as a person.”And, she says, usually it isn’t a great assessment of who you—or your partner is. “Everyone’s broke in their twenties and as you get older you actually start to get better and better,” she says. “I used to be really ashamed about my financial situation in my twenties because it looked like everyone had more than me; but actually, it’s just a lot of people were fronting or looking like they had more money. But really we’re all kind of doing the same thing.”

The key, Moorhouse says, it not to focus on how much money you or your partner has now because that can change. “What’s key is focusing on those financial goals,” she says. “[Asking] ‘are we on the same page with how we think about money? How we want to spend money? What are our short and long term goals with money? Do you want start saving money to travel?  Do you want to eventually buy a home? I certainly do.’  Those types of conversations are easier to talk about then the numbers,” she says. “And slowly you can talk more about specifics.”

Ladies, we have to talk about the patriarchy

Part of the reason that speaking about numbers can get uncomfortable is that women are still payed significantly less than their male counterparts—including their partners. “We’ve come a long way in the past 100 years, but we have so much further to go and we still don’t have pay equality,” Moorhouse says of the pay disparity between heterosexual couples. And this can have an affect on your dating life; and can play into some important conversations from the get-go. Even when it comes to seemingly mundane things like splitting the bill for dinner, “He may be making $20,000 more than you, even if you have the same job,” Moorhouse points out.

While it might be *super* awks, this necessitates some seriously important conversations about the fact that a 50/50 bill split isn’t actually equal.”What makes more sense is probably a 60/40 split, where I pay 40% of the bill and you pay 60%, depending on what our salaries are,” Moorhouse says.

Because you know what’s even *less* sexy than talking about RRSPs and TFSAs over Ethiopian food? Pay inequality.

And the notion of protecting yourself as a woman financially extends all the way until you’re off the dating apps and firmly in marital *bliss*. “I think it’s just the old school way of thinking, but a lot of people think that to be a joint couple you have to join all your expenses,” Moorhouse says. But, this can become messy if for some reason a couple breaks up or divorces. “Usually it’s the woman that is going to have the financial hardship because they probably are paid less,” Moorehouse says. “So I feel like as women we need to protect ourselves and our finances first and foremost.” That means having some separate bank accounts (something Moorehouse does in her relationship of 13 years). “Especially for women, we need to protect ourselves, because no one else will.”

So ladies:

And protect it, too!

Ok, but can’t this be a barrier for some?

Listen, dating is hard enough without having to think about the dollars and cents. And the fact is that being so open about finances with a potential partner can be a barrier for some when it comes to finding the one, especially for individuals who have student debt, precarious employment or come from a lower socioeconomic background. But the key, Moorhouse reiterates, is to focus on financial goals.

“It’s a tricky situation, especially if you’re in the beginning of your career,” she says. “I think the key thing isn’t so much how much you have now, it’s how much progress you’re making on a consistent basis. So even if you only have only $1,000 in the bank and you’re thinking, ‘I know people my age are earning more;’ it’s not about where you start, it’s about hopefully where you’re going to end up.” That means starting small. Consistently putting say $100 into savings or making small investments to create habits early, advises Moorhouse.

“Even in a relationship, I feel people shouldn’t judge each other for their finances now, because it very well may be that they don’t have the financial literacy and they could be doing more, they just don’t know how to…Where they’re at right now shouldn’t be a red slate for thinking, ‘Well they don’t have any money right now, so I’m just going to ditch them,'” Moorhouse says.”The key thing is making sure that you and your partner are on the same page: Do they have the motivation to learn how to get money, manage their money properly and improve themselves financially? That should be what you’re looking for. Not how much do they have their bank account right now.”

Related:

Let’s Stop Shaming Khloé—and All Women—for Spending Money
Why Do We Care So Much About How Women Spend Their $$$?
3 Millennial Money Pros Answer Your Most Taxing Tax Questions

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