How well do you know the financial habits of the person you're dating in Singapore?
Nothing kills romance like talking about money. But when things go from casual to serious, your financial compatibility can mean the success or failure of your relationship.
In a long-term relationship, you and your partner will make many big and small decisions together. Often, these decisions will require you to take stock of your finances. You'll save your future self from a lot of conflict and heartache by tackling money issues early on.
First, Know What You Want in a Partner
In the book Seven Pearls of Financial Wisdom: A Woman's Guide to Enjoying Wealth and Power, authors Carol Pepper and Camilla Webster say that you need to know what kind of marriage or family life you want to determine the financial attributes your ideal partner should have.
After all, it won't work to convince a freelancing nomad to become the main breadwinner, nor will you be happy with a partner in debt because of a gambling or shopping problem.
There's nothing wrong with being critical about these matters even before the "M" word is said out loud. In order to be happy, your partner's goals, dreams, and money habits need to be compatible with yours. And it's important to know these early in the dating stage. By the time you get emotionally attached, you'll likely be in denial about these key differences even when they start causing conflict.
Assuming that you are both after a serious long-term relationship, the next step is to discuss important financial topics. Find a way to start conversations about the following:
1. The Family's Money History
There's some masochistic fun in knowing about your date's exes, but the history that truly matters is how your date's family manages money. Despite the availability of financial literacy programmes, young adults' actual financial behaviours and attitudes towards money are heavily influenced by their upbringing.
For example, if his parents gave him everything he wanted, he may not be able to delay gratification or know how to plan for financial goals. Or if his parents were frugal to the point of deprivation, he may subconsciously rebel against his upbringing by overspending.
Knowing what shaped your date's money attitudes can help you see where your differences lie, and if you can live with these differences.
How to Start the Conversation
Instead of asking questions about the family's past financial situation, bring up generic questions about childhood. For instance, you can ask about how he spent his summer breaks, what places their family travelled to, or the toys he played with growing up.
The answers can provide some insight on his parents' financial behaviours, and the values learned from the family of origin. These have a major influence on your date's money personality.
While personalities and habits aren't always set in stone, keep in mind that some of these deeply-ingrained attitudes have emotional roots and can be difficult to break. Should you decide to pursue the relationship, it's helpful to know what you're getting yourself into.
2. The Debt Situation
Having debts is not necessarily a red flag, but it's important to find out whether your partner's debt is a good or bad one, and how well he is managing the repayments.
While you are not legally liable for your spouse's outstanding debts in Singapore, money spent paying off bad debts is money that could have gone somewhere else. And the more serious your relationship gets, the more your unpaid loans become the other person's problems, especially when there is no plan to pay it back.
How to Start the Conversation
During the early dating stages, watch out for spending habits that may lead to bad debt. For example, does his lifestyle seem too extravagant for his income? Does he use his credit card while complaining about never having any money? Making these observations will give you a good sense about your date's debts without asking invasive questions.
If you are at the point of making a long-term commitment such as moving in together or marriage, you deserve to know and share hard numbers about outstanding debts or credit card balances. If your partner has debt, ask what the debt repayment plan is and clarify if the debt will be a sole or joint responsibility.
These questions are a bit heavy, but important. After all, not everyone can be like the woman who tolerates her husband's S$250,000 gambling debt.
3. Long Term Goals and Obligations
When you love someone, you want to know what hopes and plans that person has. Does he want to take two years off to travel the world? Is he excited about buying a flat? Will he need to support his school-age siblings or his ageing parents?
Money is tied to life goals, and knowing your partner's dreams and financial obligations helps you determine if this is the future you want for yourself.
How to Start the Conversation
Ask your date about what gets him excited about the future, whether that's next year or five years from now. You also need to be confident about sharing your own dreams and goals.
What you'll find is that some of your goals will overlap, some will not, and some goals or obligations will affect the other in certain ways. A major goal your partner doesn't share will not only be difficult to achieve; it can cause problems in the future. On the other hand, working and saving towards a shared goal encourages support and strengthens your relationship.
If it doesn't seem like you have shared goals, you might need more time to deepen your relationship. Not having compatible goals indicates that you're on divergent paths, so know when to be flexible and know when to quit.
Money isn't the most romantic of topics, but it's better to discuss them now than fight about it later. Having these conversations early on will help you see if he's long-term partner material or not. The sooner you know, the faster you can commit or move on to a better match.