It’s natural to be on alert for “red flags” as you navigate the world of dating. From overt trust issues to weird relationships with exes, warning signs can come in many forms, but perhaps one of the most important categories is financial.
“Money is one of the biggest sources of conflict in relationships and is one of the most difficult topics to discuss for many,” Rachel Needle, a licensed psychologist and the co-director of Modern Sex Therapy Institutes, told HuffPost. “The topic of money brings up a host of deeper issues and thus is not always about just the money.”
“So, looking for financial red flags early in a dating relationship is important and can possibly save you a lot of angst in the future,” Needle said. “Not all red flags are reasons not to move forward or to end a relationship, but they are things to communicate about and to consider in your decision making.”
Although money red flags can vary from person to person and relationship to relationship, some are more common or concerning.
Below, relationship and money experts break down 10 examples.
They’re not willing to talk openly about finances
“The biggest flag that comes to mind for me is someone not willing to talk openly about their finances, especially if they’re asked, or feeling like the other person is hiding something,” said Nicole Carson, a financial planner at Brunch & Budget.
Take note if the person isn’t open to engaging with your questions about important topics like student debt or credit use. The topic of money inevitably arises as you get close to someone, so there should be some degree of openness. Talk about expectations around paying for dates, the things you feel OK splurging on, and how you save money.
“It is completely appropriate during the dating phase to inquire about a person’s financial status and goals, at an appropriate timeline,” said Liz Higgins, a relational therapist and founder of Millennial Life Counseling. “Meaning, you may not ask about these details on the first date, but after some months of dating and if the relationship seems to be heading in a more serious direction (or you hope it will), at that point it becomes appropriate to inquire a little more about a person’s state of financial health. When this is met with closed-off responses or an unwillingness to dialogue, I would absolutely consider this a red flag.”
They use money to control you
“A true red flag is anyone who tries to use money to manipulate you,” said Damona Hoffman, a dating coach and host of “The Dates & Mates Podcast.” “If a potential partner makes you feel bad about money or holds what they’ve spent on you over your head for any reason, that’s a huge red flag.”
Beware of anyone who tries to guilt you into paying for things or asks to borrow large sums of money, too.
“Is your date asking for expensive gifts or expensive trips?” asked finance coach Tatiana Tsoir. “If they are, maybe they think you’re loaded, and it’s time to have a conversation!”
They make you feel ashamed about your financial situation
“If someone you’re dating makes you feel ashamed or embarrassed about your own financial situation, that’s a red flag,” Carson said. “This topic should be a no-shame zone when it comes to dating.”
Not everyone has the luxury of earning a six-figure salary (or more), so if someone is making you feel inadequate about your paycheck or scant savings, they’re probably not worth your time. A good partner should be understanding and offer encouragement as you set financial goals, even if you don’t always meet them.
They’re overly flashy
“Another red flag is when someone is living a publicly lavish lifestyle and it almost feels like they’re in it to impress,” Tsoir said. “Sometimes it’s true wealth, but more often than not this is just smoke screen.”
Tsoir advised paying attention to how your date talks about and makes money-related decisions.
“Do they offer a more money-savvy option and explain it, or do they just pay for everything to impress you?” she asked. “I would be wary of the ‘impress’ part. It could not only mean they’re reckless with spending, but also they’re most likely not serious about a potential relationship and just want a fling.”
Psychotherapist Noorhayati Said similarly recommended taking note of their lifestyle preferences ― whether they only eat at expensive restaurants or mix it up with a casual slice of pizza, if they only wear trendy designer clothes or also shop for more reasonably priced pieces, and how much they spend on vacations.
“If their job description and salary don’t add up to his lifestyle, it’s not difficult to discover whether they are living beyond their means or paycheck to paycheck,” Said noted.
They don’t tip
“If they are frugal in situations where you believe they should be more generous, pay attention to that,” Hoffman said.
Many people use “the waiter rule” to evaluate potential partners. The idea is simple ― you can tell a lot about someone by the way they treat service workers. And tipping plays a big part in that.
“A client recently told me that she went out on a lavish date with someone but when they rode in a taxi to their next location, she could see on the payment screen that he entered an embarrassingly low tip of less than a dollar for a professional and efficient driver,” Hoffman said. “I confirmed her suspicions that it said something about his character that he would fork out lots of money for someone he was trying to impress, but devalue someone in the service industry who he thought he’d never see again. They didn’t have another date after that.”
There’s no clarity around their career or finance goals
“Many people ask in their early dates, ‘What are your goals?’ or ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’” Carson said. “Those questions are trying to understand if your potential partner has a plan for their future and how you could potentially fit in. Those questions are trying to understand if they have a plan for employment, housing, and views on family dynamics.”
A potential red flag is if they have no clarity around their career and financial goals, as this makes it difficult to understand if you’re compatible in this realm.
“Asking them how they like to spend their free time, their passions and goals in life will tell you a lot about how they spend their money and what they want to accomplish,” Said explained. “This will clue you in on what’s important to them. How we spend shows what we value. Ultimately, it’s not about how much money they make, but gaining clarity on their relationship to money.”
If they can’t provide any insight into their needs and goals, you won’t know if you have shared values and can make important decisions together.
They have debt problems
Having debt is not itself a red flag, but the way someone handles it might be.
On a recent episode of Hoffman’s podcast, money expert Nicole Lapin broke down the notion of “good” and “bad” types of debt.
“Someone having a mortgage on a property or student loans isn’t the same as credit card debt,” Hoffman explained. “When you marry someone, they assume your debt and vice versa, so you have to be aware of their financial situation if things get serious. I wouldn’t call it a red flag for early dating, but definitely something to discuss before the relationship progresses.”
Consider the type of debt, whether they have a plan to pay it off and how effectively they can stick with it.
“A red flag is if they are borrowing money to make ends meet,” Carson said. “This could mean that they are overextended on their credit or don’t manage their money well. It would be important to understand if this a short-term cash flow issue or a signal to a larger issue.”
They lie about money
“A healthy relationship is built in part on shared values with money touching a lot of these values,” Said noted. “Lying about your finances can and will ultimately strain your relationship and cause you to lose trust in your partner.”
The urge to hide or ignore money problems is understandable, but it’s crucial for partners to be honest about finances. Secrets and lies will only drive you apart and potentially lead to even worse financial issues.
“The money discussion can bring up a lot of feelings, inadequacy, resentment, and feelings about dependence,” Said explained. “Fears of judgment or embarrassment can also come up, especially if your money situation is less than ideal. It’s important to treat these feelings as valid, and something that you can acknowledge and process as a couple.”
You can’t get on the same page
“Even just having different ideas of how to spend money can be challenging in a relationship,” Needle said. Some couples may have different financial priorities, for example, with one partner prioritizing saving for vacations and big-ticket items, while the other prefers spending more on a casual night out.
“It is important to be on the same page about what you want to spend money on and what your financial priorities are,” Needle added. “Communicating about money and finding a middle ground you are both comfortable with will help lower anxiety and distress in a relationship.”
The first step to determining if you can find financial compatibility is to look inward and understand your own goals and priorities.
“Start with self-awareness,” Tsoir said. “How are you at managing money? Are you aware of how you spend money? Do you buy on impulse? Do you have huge credit card debt you now have to pay for? How can you stop yourself from doing that in the future, and how do you create a plan to pay this off and start fresh? Are you willing to take responsibility for your own finances?”
Then, consider what you’re looking for from a partner in the financial arena. Think about needs and nonnegotiables, as well as wants and areas for compromise.
“Does this mean you want full transparency from a partner and open books and shared bank accounts?” Higgins asked. “Or, do you simply want to be able to dialogue about your prospective financial states and work toward identified shared financial goals as a couple? There is no wrong or right way. The key is to walk into this part of a serious relationship with clarity about what you want, and the ability to stand in that truth while you tune in to what the other shares is their hope or preference.”
You don’t have to see eye to eye on everything, but being able to reach a compromise is crucial. Carson recommends setting up “money dates” to see if you can get on the same page and lay the groundwork for bigger financial conversations later.
“This is meeting with your significant other for at least 15 minutes a month, or as often as you both agree on, to discuss your finances,” Carson said. “This is generally to ask some general questions such as: What did we spend this month? Did it align with our budget? Did it align with our shared goals? If not, is there anything we should change or do differently? These money dates keep lines of communication open about money, couples goals, and what they value.”
“Take note if the person is inflexible about how the financials during dating will be handled,” Higgins said. “For example, they might operate on extremes versus more flexible boundaries around who will pay for things, or not asking about your preferences around that. They may not ask at all. They may be firm on paying for everything, or never offering to pay for anything.”
As relationships have become more reciprocal in recent years, Higgins believes a major red flag would be a lack of openness to consider or discuss a partner’s needs and wants. A lack of willingness to learn and grow in the personal finance realm is a big issue.
“Can you determine if your date has made poor financial decisions in the past?” Tsoir said. “Look for verbal cues, like dark humor about a decision made in the past, inquire so that you see if they’ve learned their lessons and know better ― or not.”