Yeah, I know. It’s unromantic—even heartless—to consider your partner’s financial situation a dealbreaker. Right? Well … maybe.
I’ve been in a relationship with someone who was bad with money. I’m a frugal person, and like a lot of people, I fell for my opposite.
I loved how he never worried about the things that kept me up at night. And I liked how generous he was with me and others—when I couldn’t be that generous with myself.
Then I found out that his financial situation couldn’t support his spending habits.
It didn't break us up immediately—but it gave me pause. And when we did break up up a few months later, it was a factor. Here are some warning signs I wish I’d looked out for more carefully.
Your boyfriend has a lot more debt than you
It’s tough to get through life with no debt—especially if you have a college degree. And things like unexpected medical expenses or job loss can tank your finances unexpectedly.
So you have to look at the whole picture. Is there also a car loan for an overly-fancy car, a business loan for that app idea he never got off the ground, and major credit card debt? How much of this debt seems unavoidable—as opposed to the result of bad decisions?
Here are some things to think about.
Maybe you should bail if: he’s not paying it off
If he isn’t even paying enough to keep the interest from piling on, this is a bad sign. Even worse is if he’s living and spending like he’s debt-free.
Maybe you can work with this if: he’s got a plan and he’s sticking to it
If your boyfriend has a strict plan and timeline for paying off the debt, and is sticking religiously to that plan, it’s a positive sign.
See also: Paying Off Student Loans
Your girlfriend spends like crazy
Trust me on this—being the money police in your relationship is not fun.
This is the situation savers often find themselves in when partnered with a person who spends. And it’s a relationship killer. One study stated that feeling like your partner is bad with money raises your divorce chances 45%.
Maybe you should bail if: she spends a lot more than she makes
And she won’t stop, no matter how many talks you have. Bonus points (that is, negative bonus points) if she hides her purchases from you.
Maybe you can work with this if: she’s spending within her means
If she has a big paycheck to go with her big spending habit, things may be okay.
See also: Quiz: Are You in Denial About Your Debt?
Your priorities around money are really different
Maybe you want to get out of debt as fast as possible—but your significant other wants to pay off his loans slowly and enjoy life now. Neither outlook is necessarily wrong, but differences like this can cause friction over time.
Maybe you should bail if: one of you is always nagging
People hate nagging as much as they hate to be nagged. Whether you’re giving or receiving, the resentment will build up—and if nobody gives, it’s a bad sign.
Maybe you can work with this if: you both compromise
If you’re both willing to listen to each other and meet in the middle when necessary, your partnership may go the distance—despite major differences.
She lies about her money
It’s not unusual for significant others to avoid disclosing certain facts about their financial history, especially at first. But if your girlfriend out-and-out lied—about her salary, job, spending, or debt—that is a big red flag.
Maybe you should bail if: well, maybe you should just bail
It’s really difficult to justify this one. Trust is an integral part of every relationship, and a lie can completely change your idea of who you thought your partner was. Tread carefully if your significant other is lying to you.
Maybe you can work with this if: it’s a (very early) lie of omission
If your partner waited to bring up her $20,000 student loan until a few months in, that’s a little different than lying about her income until well after the wedding. Trust your instincts.
He’s always got his hand out
Sure, paying for each other is part of dating—but if your boyfriend lives off his parents, is always asking friends to spot drinks, and never pays you back even though he says he will, these are not good signs.
Maybe you should bail if: he’s not actually broke
Sometimes people act this way when they see themselves as entitled to having other people foot the bill for them. If your boyfriend gets resentful when you bring this up, it could represent an underlying victim mentality.
Bonus (negative) points if he actually makes more than you do.
Maybe you can work with this if: there’s a good reason
If your boyfriend is in a temporarily bad situation—he lost his job and he’s looking for another, or he’s putting all his money toward paying off debt—things may be okay.
But you’re not obligated to financially support him. Have an honest talk and set boundaries, and pay careful attention to his response and how he treats you.
Everyone’s financial dealbreakers are different—but it’s not heartless to consider these things when you’re looking at getting married or engaged, or even cohabitating. Know the situation going in, and you won’t wind up tying your lifeboat to a sinking ship.
See more articles about relationships and money in Your Financial Future.