How to Talk About Money When You’re Dating

By Ellevest Team

Ah, couples and money. Definitely not the first thing anyone wants to chat about on a first date. Or really, at any point during a relationship. Nobody’s always on the same page about money. It’s an emotional subject. Everyone’s taught about it differently. And the topic is still so taboo that people would rather talk about sex or infidelity than how they handle their finances or how much they make. 

But don’t think “money talk” isn’t dating material. Talking about money — early and often — is better for your relationship (and just plain better for women). According to research, more couples who talk about money every week say they’re happy compared to couples who talk about money less. And who doesn’t want to start out a relationship on the happiest terms? 

Still, we get it. It remains an awkward subject. So here are some considered ways to talk about money when you’re dating, no matter what stage your relationship is in, to find out if you and your date are on the same page. (Married or engaged? We have advice just for you.)

How to Talk About Money When You’re Dating

How to talk about money on the very first date

One of the biggest money questions on the first date is often who pays. 

A lot of people agree that the person who did the asking should do the paying. So if you’re asking and that’s your thinking, you might add an aside like “My treat!” to be super clear. You could also phrase your request in a way that shows you’re willing to pay — for example, “I’d like to take you to dinner sometime” rather than “Would you like to get dinner sometime?”

But things aren’t always so straightforward. Some people prefer to split the cost of a date in half, no matter who asked. Some prefer to always pay for the first date, and still others prefer when their date pays. How can you figure out what to expect?

The dated, gendered, heteronormative cultural assumption that men should pay for the first date is … less than helpful. For one thing, it assumes that all couples include exactly one man. And also: It’s not 1950 anymore. That said, it’s nice when someone does something considerate to show they’re interested, and paying for the first date is one way to do that. 

One way you might clear up any assumptions is to ask ahead of time. Maybe a text like this:

Can’t wait for dinner on Friday! Just wondering, do you usually like to split the check or have one of us pick it up and then maybe take turns? I’m happy to do it however. Trying to avoid the check dance, lol.

If you reframe “money talk” as a normal part of date prep — like picking an outfit and planning your route to show up on time — it becomes one more thing to tick off your list (and not this big, scary thing). 

What’s more, if you can normalize talking about money early on and include it in your everyday conversations, it’s less likely to get awkward later.

How to talk about money when you’re getting to know one another better

When your relationship is relatively new, talking about money doesn’t have to be a serious, sit-down conversation. It’s really more about feeling out each other’s financial priorities.

Why should this be a priority? We argue that healthy relationships are built in part on shared values … and money touches a lot of different values you’ll be exploring. Simply put, it’s a revealing part of the getting-to-know-you process. 

While you’re on a date, money talk can sound extremely casual:

  • “Are you saving up for anything fun?” 

  • “Where do you want to travel next?” 

Both are great getting-to-know-you topics. If you find yourself avoiding these questions, or thinking about money-related things (“Costa Rica? That’s on my dream list for retirement!”) but stopping yourself from speaking up — that’s that taboo kicking in. And if you’re not talking about it, they probably won’t want to talk about it, either. 

Just remember, there’s no “right answer” to look for. And it’s not about making judgments. Talking about money when you’re dating someone new-ish is about getting a clearer picture of the person, their values, and their plans to see how compatible it all is with you, your lifestyle, and your goals.

As you get to know each other better and spend more time together, keep fighting that money-talk taboo. Opportunities to talk about money and learn more about how they approach it can come up naturally:

  • How much do you want to spend on the weekend getaway we’re planning? Should we save up for it?

  • Drinks on me tonight. I just finished filing my taxes!

  • My parents always fought about money. Did yours?

  • What do you think about [insert news item about the stock market here — there’s always a news item about the stock market]?

  • I’ve been thinking I want to try building a monthly budget. Do you use one?

  • [Insert nostalgic story about college here.] Aaaand I’ll be paying 7% interest on that story for the next ten years.

If you want to explore further, you might share that you’re trying to build up your emergency fund, or ask for their advice about negotiating a raise, or be honest about how much you’re willing to spend on date nights. For example:

Hey, for our next date, can we [insert inexpensive date idea here]? I have some big things I’m saving for at the moment / I’m trying to knock out my student loans ASAP / I just increased my 401(k) contribution / I’m trying to be intentional about my budget this month, and I know we can still have fun doing something that costs [$X amount] or less.

While financial status doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker, respect definitely should be. If you find your date disrespecting your opinion or your own money journey: red flag. And if you truly can’t respect theirs: same.

How to talk about money when you’re getting serious about each other (and money)

When it seems like things are getting serious, it’s time to go a little deeper. Plus, knock wood, it'll help you spot any other financial red flags early on. (Different attitudes and goals around money can be negotiated as part of a relationship. Lying and stealing … can’t.)

So, where do you even start with a more serious money conversation? Let’s chat about specific topics first. Here’s a breakdown of what you two should share and discuss:

  • What are each of your approaches to spending money? This is a good one to start with, because it’s about the day-to-day stuff, and you’ve probably already seen some of where you’re each coming from. What kinds of things do you think are worth splurging on and saving for? Do you both have a good idea of what you have coming in and what’s going out? Do you track every penny, or are you more of a 50/30/20 rule kind of person? (Or an “it’ll work itself out” person or a “la la la I can’t hear you” person?) It might also be useful to talk about how your parents approached money because that usually affects how you approach it, too.

  • How do you each feel about your finances at the moment? Who has debt? And if so, are you working on paying it off? Some people manage to avoid debt their whole lives, but most don’t, and paying it off has a big impact on how much of your income is left for saving and spending. Discuss what kinds of debt you each have — student loans, car loans, credit cards, etc — and what their balance and interest rates are. Do they have an emergency fund, just in case? It might be good to ask about their credit score, too — and if it’s not so great, whether they’re working on fixing it.

  • What are your short-term money plans? Here’s where you can get a feel for where you’re headed together over the next year or so. Do they have plans to get that debt paid off ASAP? To build an emergency fund? To change jobs any time soon? Are you both currently saving for retirement?

  • What are your dreams for the future? Are you working on it? This is the fun part. Do you want to buy a home in a few years? What do you dream about when you dream about retirement (if you do)? Putting those things out on the table now will help you each understand why the other person may be making today’s financial choices — and gives you the opportunity to maybe even sync up your plans, once you’re ready.

Laying your financial life bare can get emotional — and feelings of embarrassment, shame, anger, and / or vulnerability can bubble up. So above all else, aim to approach any kind of more serious money talk from a place off open-mindedness, love, and respect. You also want to be clear that you’re not prying — you’re not just asking about their financial life, you’re sharing info about yours, too. 

You could open the conversation with something like this:

I’m really happy with you. And I’ve been thinking: You know how they say that the #1 reason couples fight is money? I don’t want that to be us! Sometime soon, I want to tell you about where I stand financially and how I think about my money, and I’d really like to hear those things from you, too. What do you think?

Give them space to take it in and respond. Maybe things get a little tense or emotional, and that’s OK. If they shut off or shut it down, pause. Then try to wrap it up:

I know money isn’t the easiest topic to talk about. How about we give it some time, and maybe we try again in the next few weeks?

If you’re met with a hard “no” or next week never comes, red flag. And we really hope that’s not the case! Because if you can build a relationship on trust and openness around money, you will both be better off — and you’ll be better off together, too. 

We’re rooting for the two of you.

Want to talk about money with a pro first? Book a complimentary call with a financial planner on Ellevest’s all-women team to get clear on your best next step when it comes to your financial goals.


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