It wasn’t until they were together for four years, married, and had children that Dasha Kennedy realized she was not financially compatible with her husband.
Having worked as an accountant and default counselor, financial activist and contributor to wedding planning website The Knot, aka The Broke Black Girl, had all the right tools to have all the right money conversations with her partner. But she lacked the confidence to speak on her own behalf.
“I felt confident making financial decisions as an individual, but not as a partner in my marriage,” Kennedy says.
But without their financial values aligned, the marriage fell apart. Her divorce left her $25,000 in debt and it took her five years to recover financially.
Now, he’s pushing couples to test their financial compatibility by having money talks early in the relationship, right from the first date.
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Why is it important to have these talks?
A September survey by The Knot found that being secretive about finances or being dishonest about how you spend your money is one of the biggest deal breakers in a relationship.
“When we look at the data, we see that not talking about money or money-related issues is one of the leading causes of divorce,” Kennedy says. “Starting those conversations as soon as possible and trying to get ahead of that curve is very important.”
She says that she and her ex rarely talked about money during the duration of their relationship and always dealt with their finances separately. While Kennedy was preoccupied with long-term financial goals, her ex was generally focused on the present.
For example, he once suggested that they might buy life insurance to make sure they could always provide for their children just in case. But her ex didn’t see the point in preparing for something that “may not happen.”
“If we had started more financial conversations early on, we probably would have decided early on that we weren’t financially compatible to be in a relationship, let alone married.”
After the divorce, Kennedy says her financial responsibilities doubled as her household income halved, on top of the $25,000 debt she now had to pay off. She made it work, but it was difficult: He downsized her apartment, took public transportation instead of buying a car, and traded services she couldn’t afford, like childcare.
How to talk about money while dating.
Kennedy says he’s not necessarily encouraging people to ask a potential partner what their credit score is on the first date. But he can bring up more general topics related to money.
What you want to get insight into is how someone views money rather than their habits, which don’t matter as much to you when you’re still getting to know someone. She suggests asking people about their relationship with money and seeing if they’re open to having conversations about it.
“In many ways, money exists from the beginning,” adds Kennedy. From deciding where you’ll spend your first date, to splitting the check and tipping, finances can creep into your love life without even planning.
Kennedy adds that many financial habits stem from his experience with money as a child, which could be a great talking point, though keep in mind that it can also be a great talking point.
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Once you’re more into a relationship, you can start asking more serious questions.
“In addition to talking about parenting, couples should discuss financial goals, financial planning, accepting each other’s financial differences, different money management practices that are fair, and creating financial boundaries,” Kennedy says.
Some people may be eager to talk about money right away, but others may need a little more time to get involved. One of the most important things you can do, Kennedy says, is to approach the conversation with empathy and an open mind.
“Give your partner time to show up,” she advises. “We all come from different backgrounds, different beliefs, we all have different experiences when it comes to money.”
What are some red flags to watch out for?
You can make it work with different money philosophies, but certain things shouldn’t be tradeable. Kennedy advises that he should be suspicious if his potential partner suddenly needs to borrow money or is constantly hiding important financial details.
These red flags should be especially worrisome if they seem to be trying to live beyond their means.
However, Kennedy adds that it’s also important to consider the current economic climate and how that may have affected people’s financial situations. Living with your parents longer than usual or not having a car and using public transportation instead are not necessarily indicators of financial instability.
In fact, more and more adults ages 18 to 34 are living with their parents amid a rapidly rising cost of living.
But if your financial aspirations and behaviors are completely out of sync, you may have to make the hard call and end the relationship.
“It’s essential to know that some financial goals and habits can be seen as deal breakers, which is fine,” says Kennedy. “You and your partner won’t always agree on everything, but that doesn’t mean you should stick to values that go against your financial morality.”
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This article is for information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.