8 Common Financial Red Flags in Relationships

April 27, 2022

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After successfully saving $100,000 at age 25, I quit my corporate job in marketing to fight for your financial rights. I’ve helped over three million badass women make more, spend less, and feel financially confident.


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8 Common Financial Red Flags in Relationships

You know your partner’s Enneagram, Big 5, birth chart, and coffee order, and you’re perfect for each other in every way. You both watch Netflix with the subtitles on, have to have the fan running while you sleep, and even agree that running a 5k on Thanksgiving is criminal – we love that for you.

But, have you taken the time to determine if you and your partner are financially compatible? 

Two women hugging - financial compatibility

Financial compatibility is imperative for the overall success and longevity of your relationship. After all, according to the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts, money problems are the third leading contributor to divorce after general incompatibility and infidelity – yikes. 

So how do you know if you are truly financially compatible with your partner? Well, this can vary by couple based on your respective financial situation and goals. But there are a few financial red flags that we should all be aware of as they usually mean trouble – big trouble.

Now, we know better than anybody that it’s totally okay to not have everything figured out finance-wise; after all, if everyone had a perfect relationship with money, we would be out of business. We are by no means suggesting that you kick your partner to the curb for having student loans or paying a bill late.

Financial red flags are ongoing money-related concerns that are either currently causing problems in the relationship or have the potential to do so in the future.

While these red flags are not always relationship deal-breakers, if they are not addressed, it is likely that they will create significant relationship and financial strain.

The sooner you can identify any financial red flags in your relationship, the sooner you can work to address and resolve them. So today we are diving into some of the most common financial red flags and what you can do if you see financial red flags in your relationship.

Common Financial Red Flags

1.Your partner refuses to talk about money

Listen, we get it. Talking about money is hard, especially with a romantic partner. Laying out your spending habits, debt, credit score, and financial goals may feel awkward and vulnerable, particularly if you aren’t exactly where you want to be financially.

And you aren’t alone in feeling this way. In fact, a recent survey found that people would rather talk about mental illness, drug addiction, politics, race, sex, and religion than talk about money. Crazy, right?

But there is a big difference between experiencing discomfort when it comes to talking about money and outright refusing to engage in the conversation. A partner who refuses to talk about money could be doing so for a number of reasons, and all of them leave room for concern.

From trying to hide a bad financial situation to simply not taking your relationship seriously enough to openly discuss finances, a partner who actively avoids financial conversations is not acting with the health and longevity of your relationship in mind.

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2. Your partner is secretive about spending habits

While we all like to romanticize the idea of our partner surprising us with an unexpected gift or vacation, the reality of secretive spending is usually far less romantic.

Secretive spending becomes a serious concern when you share a joint account with your partner or are working together to reach a certain financial goal. If their secretive spending derails your progress towards that goal or doesn’t align with the financial values you established together, then the secretive spending becomes deceptive and damaging, and ultimately raises the question, “why did you feel the need to hide this from me?”

So whether you discovered a crumpled receipt in the trashcan or noticed some unexplained charges on a shared credit card, secretive spending needs to be addressed ASAP.

3. Your partner is overly controlling of your finances

The National Network to End Domestic Violence reports that financial abuse occurs in 99% of domestic violence cases, and it often is characterized by excessive control over a partner’s finances.

Whether access to your own money is limited, you are forbidden from working, important financial information is withheld from you, or you are harshly criticized for the ways that you manage your money, a partner that exerts excessive control of your finances is attempting to use money as a source of power and leverage within the relationship.

This is a very slippery slope, as the more control your partner has over your finances, the more difficult it becomes to remove yourself from the damaging situation.

Parents playing with kids - common financial red flags

4. Your partner is not future-oriented

A partner who is not future-oriented will not manage their finances in a way that is preparing for your future together, such as maintaining a budget, planning for retirement, or saving for milestones such as buying a home or putting your kids through college.

While developing future-oriented personal finance skills often takes time and can be heavily dependent on your personal money situation, a partner who makes no effort to financially prepare for the future may lack financial discipline, defined long-term goals, or a clear vision of your future together. 

5. Your partner does not use credit cards responsibly

Racking up credit card debt, falling behind on payments, and frequently opening new credit cards not only causes immense amounts of financial strain, but often results in a damaged credit score which may limit your future opportunities, such as getting approved for a car loan or mortgage.

6. Your partner is overly frugal with their own money but is frivolous with yours

Has your partner repeatedly “left their wallet at home” after being the one who picked the restaurant? Have they promised to go in on a large purchase with you only to never pay for their half? Are they only willing to get coffee or go to the movies if it is on your dime?

While a partner who is excessively frugal with their own money may do so under the guise of financial responsibility, this is completely negated when they proceed to treat your money with frivolity. This is often representative of a deeply held belief that your time, work, and money are less valuable than their own, which carries serious financial and relational implications.

7. Your partner repeatedly borrows money from friends and family

Hey, we get it, things happen. It is not uncommon to have to borrow money from a friend or family member at one point or another. 

But borrowing money becomes a major concern when it becomes a repeated behavior without any effort to break the pattern. Not only does borrowing money quickly become a burden to friends and family, but it also shows that your partner is unable to manage their money well and may lack respect for other people’s generosity and financial boundaries.

8. Your partner’s financial values do not align with your own

We talk a lot about establishing your financial values in our book, Financial Feminist: Overcome the Patriarchy’s Bullsh*t to Master Your Money and Build a Life You Love. Your financial values will help you create a budget that suits your lifestyle and helps you reach your financial goals. Additionally, your financial values help determine where your money goes, and how much of it should be spent/saved/invested/etc.

While sharing all of the same financial values with your partner may not be imperative in the early stages of a relationship, as you look to build a future together, these financial values will be absolutely essential in maintaining a healthy relationship with your finances and each other.

A partner who does not share your financial values may not share the same vision for your financial future together, which will inevitably lead to areas of concern, frustration, and potential heartbreak down the road.

How to react to financial red flags in your relationship

Here’s the good news: while some are deal-breakers, not all financial red flags are inherently a relationship death sentence. In fact, it can be an opportunity for you and your partner to work together to address and resolve the concern, ultimately growing closer and more financially healthy in the process.

But with that being said, resolving a financial red flag requires intentional time and effort on the behalf of both parties, and without the willingness of your partner, a financial red flag could lead to the downfall of your relationship.

couple lying in bed - how to talk to a partner about money

First, determine if the red flag in your relationship can be resolved

Does your conversation-avoidant partner need the conversational tools to confidently engage in a dialogue about money? Do you and your partner need to be more intentional about setting shared financial values? Does your partner need the resources to pay off their debt and repair their relationship with credit cards?*

If you believe that the financial red flag in your relationship can be resolved, decide whether you would like to pursue that resolution. While this is much easier said than done, try to be as honest as possible with yourself during this analysis, and remind yourself that you deserve someone who prioritizes your overall well-being – financial well-being included.

*Do you or a loved one want to defeat your debt the sustainable and realistic way? Our brand new course will help you tackle your debt and repair your relationship with credit, all while making space for the things that you love.

Next, approach your partner with the concerns

If you decide to seek a resolution, initiate a transparent conversation with your partner in which you lay out your concerns, why you feel these concerns, and how you would like to resolve them.

The way your partner responds to this conversation will be very telling of their mindset and your chances at resolution: if they describe a sincere willingness to work through the issues together and apologize for their involvement in the damaging behavior, it is a good sign that they are open to change for the betterment of the relationship. However, if they respond with denial or dismissal of your concerns, this may be a sign that it’s time to walk away from the relationship.

Consider involving a professional

We sound like a broken record at this point but, talking about money is HARD, and even the most willing, loving partners won’t navigate every financial conversation perfectly – especially at the beginning.

It could be worth seeing a professional counselor who will be able to mediate your financial conversations and give you the tools and strategies you need to improve your financial communication. A counselor may also be able to help you and your partner put certain systems into place that will help minimize the risk that these red flags ever rise again.

Know when to walk away

In a society that so often encourages women to stay in less-than-ideal situations in exchange for financial security, walking away from a relationship due to irreconcilable financial issues is extremely valid and feminist AF.

You deserve to be in a relationship that aligns with your values and goals for the future, prioritizes your overall well-being, and is built on mutual respect – finances being such a significant part of that.

While walking away may be incredibly difficult, it is a way to protect yourself and your future while giving yourself the respect that you deserve.

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