While there’s no single rulebook for maintaining a “normal” relationship, it’s handy to know a few rules of thumb — especially when it comes to money etiquette with those you love (or hope to one day). Sure, the bond you and your main squeeze share is unique, but your financial challenges probably aren’t, whether the mountain of credit card debt you never mentioned or more everyday decisions, like who pays for drinks.
Despite how universal these problems are, people still have a hard time talking about finances with their partners, particularly if they are young. In fact, millennial couples seem to fight about money more than previous generations, according to a recent report from consumer research firm the Center for the New Middle Class. About 1 in 5 millennial couples with a prime credit rating said they argue about money very or fairly often, the report found, versus only 7% of Generation X couples and 3% of baby boomers.
To find the root of that discord, Mic took a look at the biggest opportunities where disagreements about money tend to surface, from the first date to the day you move in, based on several recent consumer surveys.
Here’s what the data suggests about how the typical or average person manages financial decisions in relationships.
Who should pay on the first date?
Perspectives on first date protocol vary widely. You probably know that it can come across as tacky to, say, share your salary before you know each other’s last names, but there’s still the somewhat divisive matter of who should pay the check. And while sentiment seems to be shifting to more egalitarian arrangements, there’s a case against going dutch.
After all, a large proportion of Americans (roughly 44%) say picking up the tab on date number one is more likely to result in a second outing, according to a survey from the payments app Circle Pay.
Then again, according to a sample of 54,000 profiles on the dating site OKCupid, millennial women say they’d split the bill about 35% of the time, a percentage that falls for older age groups and rises among women who self-identify as feminists.
Are you the type of person who chafes at the idea of splitting the bill? There’s always the old fallback rule of thumb that the person who asked for the date pays. But if you’re likely to be the one on the hook — and both want to save money and avoid coming across as a cheapskate — don’t be afraid to choose a more affordable venue or activity.
Survey results have your back: Four in 10 people say irresponsible spending is more of a turn off than bad breath, according to data from WalletHub, and just as many respondents said it could trigger a breakup.
Should you share your salary and debt information with your partner?
Even once you’re going steady, it might still feel natural to leave your partner in the dark about your finances. Indeed, 19% of American adults keep their salaries a secret, regardless of their relationship status, according to recent survey data from the online bank Aspiration.
Alas, letting your money problems go unspoken can sometimes break couples up, as a survey from Goldman Sachs-owned consumer finance company Marcus found: Nearly a quarter of Americans said they’d consider ending a relationship if they found out their partner had credit card debt, and 76% of respondents said the degree of their partner’s indebtedness was important.
Financial secrets seem to be common across other surveys, as well. An estimated 12 million Americans keep a secret credit card or bank account they don’t tell their partner about, according to a 2017 report from CreditCards.com. But dishonesty could have consequences: Among those aged 18 to 29, less than a quarter were OK with surreptitious purchases of $500 or more.
So when’s the right time to put your financial cards on the table? Aspiration found that 41% of respondents said the best time to start talking about your finances is when you move in together.
But that’s probably on the late side, considering that half of respondents said you should split your expenses based on percentage of income, while 45% think couples should split expenses equally.
What money questions should you ask before getting married?
While a lower percentage of people are married today compared to 50 years ago, according to data from Pew Research Center, the relationship between marriage and money is getting stronger. That’s because the more educated you are, the more likely you are to be married, according to the Pew analysis.
Yet no matter how well matched you might feel with your partner in terms of education and income, there are key questions that shouldn’t go unasked before marriage. Those include whether you want children (and how many), where you want to live, whether you’d be comfortable combining finances (and debts) and how much you think is a reasonable amount to spend on a couch.
Don’t be shy. For what it’s worth, the data suggests money troubles aren’t any more likely to lead to arguments than other personal problems, according to the Center for the New Middle Class report. Plus, the vast majority of couples seem to trust their spouses to handle financial matters, with 9 in 10 people saying their partner is better at managing cash than they are.
In other words, money is likely something that comes up among couples who are already fighting.
To make sure money doesn’t throw a wrench into your relationship in the first place, consider having conversations proactively, before they become an actual problem. Chances are, for example, that bae will have an easier time coming to terms with your less-than-stellar credit score over a casual dinner than they will after you two have just been turned down for a mortgage.
If things are getting serious, pick a night when you and your partner are both in a good mood to put your money cards on the table. As long as no one has to miss their favorite show, the conversation can be a happy one.
It’s also good to take baby steps.
Couples who combine their finances generally tend to start with one big split expense — like an apartment or a vacation — then gradually migrate their finances into accounts that their partner can access as well.
Finally, if you’re still having trouble bringing these topics up after splitting rent checks, it might be a good idea to enlist a third party who can act as a referee — whether that’s a relationship therapist or a financial planner.
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