The classic hit song by music icon Tina Turner asks, “What’s love got to do with it?” However, when it comes to avoiding unhealthy relationships and establishing standards for healthy ones of honor, esteem and respect, it may be more important to ask: What does my money have to do with it?
A casual survey of any television court shows, such as Judge Judy and Judge Faith, will provide plenty of examples of people who believe that love justifies making loans, paying bills, taking on contractual obligations and doing any number of things they can’t actually afford, only to be shocked that love is not a defense for stupidity and financial recklessness. (Let’s not even get started on the chickens that come home to roost in a divorce due to poor financial judgement during the marriage.) In the absence of the self-loving, healthy decision-making standard we champion in the Grown Zone, we make some of our most damaging money moves because we mistakenly think love makes it okay to throw smart financial decision-making out of the window—a notion heartily endorsed by many, if not most, of the people we know.
Well, regardless of what you’ve learned from your family, friends, church, movies, TV and other sources of misinformation, healthy love neither asks nor requires you to throw caution—and your money—to the wind. So let’s talk about the money moves you should never make for love.
Do not bust your budget to bankroll a lifestyle for the object of your desire. Becoming the go-to funding source for a love interest anytime they make a demand or request is an open invitation to exploitation and resentment, which will be bad for your finances as well as the relationship. Do not blow your budget to buy expensive dinners and lavish gifts or otherwise pursue a lifestyle you cannot afford in order to get or keep a person’s affection. Keep this in mind: Most relationships last less than 6 months. When the “love” is gone, your bills will linger on.
Never cosign. If the object of your desire has bad credit, or you don’t know their credit history, do not give them access to your credit. A poor credit history may not make a person unworthy of your love. But it does mean that they present a credit risk that most financial institutions would not take, which means you can’t afford to either. Do not co-sign on credit cards, car loans, apartment leases or make other joint financial commitments just because you are in love. When you cosign, there is a three out of four chance that you, not the primary borrower, will end up repaying the loan.
When it comes to romance, be a lover—NEVER a lender. Repeated requests to borrow money are rarely good for a relationship, especially in the first year. If you feel you must, never lend without a written agreement laying out repayment terms signed by both you and your would-be boo. Otherwise, you have no way to prove the money you gave was a loan, not a gift, and you have virtually no way to get it back. (If they become angry or resentful of you or otherwise resistant to signing such an agreement, hold on to your money and end the relationship.) Consider any monies shared outside of such an agreement to be gifts or part of the shared expenses of your relationship, with no expectation of repayment. If you can’t afford to make such gifts, do not do it in the name of love (see point No. 1).
Never give your PIN, bank account numbers, ATM passwords or other personal financial information to a love interest. That kind of access should be reserved for the ultimate financial commitment in a relationship—marriage. Most identity theft, fraud and other financial crimes are perpetrated by acquaintances—people able to gain access to your information because they spend time with you, especially in your home. Being in love is no excuse for failing to keep yourself—and your finances—protected. Keep all sensitive financial documents, including checkbooks and bank statements, locked away out of sight in a safe place. There is no reason a love interest should have your social security number and other sensitive information, so guard it at all times. Never surrender it voluntarily—and consider it a major red flag if they ever ask or press you to share your personal financial information, especially before you really get to know them.
Never assume that you can love anyone into changing their financial habits. Repeat after me: Your love does not give you the power to change, fix or control another person—PERIOD. The object of your affection may seem perfect for you—the person of your dreams. Except for the way they handle money. No matter how strong your feelings are for one another, your love will not cure a person of shopping addiction, or make them stop abusing credit cards and pay their bills on time. A person who is not financially responsible will not miraculously become trustworthy and fiscally prudent because you fell in love. Nor can you force, shame, seduce or bribe them to adopt your financial values, priorities and goals. You may be able to work together to agree on how you’ll manage money and common financial goals, and seek help to deal with money issues, but people will only change their financial habits for themselves, not to please you or keep a relationship going.
Never make financial commitments without knowing and sharing financial histories. Romance equals intimacy, and for many, that includes our finances—commingling funds and making joint financial commitments such as co-signing on an apartment lease. However, getting involved with anyone who lies or is secretive about their financial health and habits is an open invitation to conflict and disaster, no matter how strong your feelings for each other. If you don’t know each other well enough to share credit reports, you don’t know each other well enough to make joint financial commitments, such as a joint credit card or bank account. Look at it this way: commingling your finances without knowing each other’s financial histories is like having unprotected sex without knowing each other’s HIV status. And the consequences can be just as devastating. Just don’t do it.
Never assume financial responsibility for an adult dependent. Is your new sweetheart looking for a true partner—or a source of interest-free funding, with no repayment required? Does he or she expect you to pay their bills, finance their lifestyle, be a ready source of cash and provide access to your credit cards as proof of your love? From a financial standpoint, they may really be looking for a parent, sponsor or savior, not a romantic partner or a relationship between equals. Are you prepared to be responsible for an adult dependent? Who handled their expenses before you came along? Be wary of getting emotionally involved with a person unwilling, disinterested or not yet capable of providing for himself or herself. For the sake of your finances, resist the temptation to financially support adult dependents in return for their affections. (Those of you who think you can buy love, affection, fidelity, respect and/or loyalty, see previous point 5.)
Never forget the No. 1 Rule of love and money: Protect yourself at all times. That’s right, the most important rule applies to romance and finance just as it does in boxing. Do not let your natural desire to give and receive affection cause you to drop your guard and neglect your responsibility to protect your finances, as well as your body, home and heart. Maintaining your budget is your responsibility. And only you can say “No” to people who want to spend your money for you. That does not change because you feel love for them. If you don’t have an agenda for your money, your finances will fall prey to the agendas of others.
Here’s a great rule of thumb for making decisions that could put your financial health at risk in the Grown Zone: Would you make the same financial decision if you were not sexually/romantically/emotionally interested or involved with this person? Would the person expect you to, or even feel they had the right to ask? If the answer is no, don’t do it. “I was in love” is a sad, sorry excuse for bad financial decision-making.
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