Should your Valentine be rich or just able to pay his or her bills on time?

Most people say they want partners who are financially responsible

You may be wishing for an independent, wealthy partner, but a high earner may be the wrong financial trait to look for in your Valentine.  

Partners should know each other’s individual financial responsibilities and set goals as a couple. Picture: 123RF/SIRIRAK KAEWGORN
Partners should know each other’s individual financial responsibilities and set goals as a couple. Picture: 123RF/SIRIRAK KAEWGORN

If you haven’t yet found your Valentine, you may be wishing that tomorrow he reveals himself as a wealthy man who will solve all your financial woes and treat you to things you can’t afford. Or that she is an independent earner who can help pay the bills at home.  

But a high earner may be the wrong financial trait to look for in your partner in romance.  

US-based personal finance website Motley Fool polled more than 1,000 people in relationships last year to find out what their heart’s desired most when it came to their partner's financial abilities. 

The survey results revealed that couples ranked their partner’s ability to set financial goals and get ahead higher than the size of their pay cheque.

A high salary was third last on a list of 14 financial traits and the least appealing was being a generous spender. 

Three traits that came out on top were:

  • Ability to set financial goals – men said this was the top thing they wished for in women;
  • Employed full time – women said this was what they most wanted from men; 
  • Follows a budget – both men and women ranked this among the top three things they wish for in a partner.

After this American couples ranked being financially independent as the next most important trait, followed by being able to pay bills on time and having a savings account. 

Locally, financial advisers say financial responsibility and honesty are the most important things.

You should know if your partner has family who need to be supported financially, children from a previous marriage and whether the family expect lobola if you marry.
Karabo Ramookho, marketing manager at Old Mutual Personal Finance

Gugu Sidaki, independent financial adviser with Wealth Creed, says if you go by social media and conversations at social events, you’d think that everyone in South Africa wants a wealthy partner. 

However, when you engage couples, you soon realise that being financially responsible - paying bills agreed to on time, following a budget and saving towards common goals – are actually top priorities, she says. Having a partner who disregards the family budget and one who doesn’t stick to the plans agreed to, causes a lot of strain in a relationship, she says.

Sidaki says she would expect women in South Africa, like those in the US, to be concerned about their partner being employed full time, especially given the current economy, job scarcity and the difficulties women face with finding suitable partners in general. 

She says SA women often express this concern. 

Karabo Ramookho, marketing manager at Old Mutual Personal Finance, says while it may be good to know if your love interest can set financial goals, talking about that may scare him or her off.

She believes the number one trait you should look for is openness and honesty about financial matters. This is way more important than finding someone who earns a high salary and when your partner is honest you will know whether there is room for you to set goals.  

Ramookho says you need to understand your partner’s lifestyle so that you can begin to have conversations about the things he or she does and the financial implications of those activities. You should know if he or she has family who need to be supported financially, children from a previous marriage and whether the family expect lobola if you marry.

She suggests you find out when your Valentine buys clothes, if he or she pay cash or does so on credit. If the person has a car or house, is it financed and if so what does it cost? If he or she is religious, does he or she tithe or have other religious financial commitments?

If you know about your Valentine’s lifestyle, when your relationship reaches the stage where you plan to live together, you will know each other’s individual responsibilities and be able to set goals as a couple beyond those responsibilities.

Mduduzi Luthuli, independent financial planner at Luthuli Capital, says the biggest mistake South Africans make is committing to a serious relationship without a clear understanding of their partner’s financial position. 

“You don’t want to have just a vague understanding — you need to talk numbers.”

He suggests you both talk about loans you have taken out in the past, your family’s behaviour with money while you were growing up and credit cards you’ve opened in the past.

“Then, talk about how you deal with money now. How much do you make? What does your budget look like? Do you have any outstanding debt you’re actively paying,” Luthuli says.

Financial compatibility does not mean finding a partner with the same financial standing as you, but rather the same attitudes towards and habits surrounding money.
Mduduzi Luthuli, independent financial planner at Luthuli Capital

Finally, talk about your financial goals, like what you want to do when you retire, things you want to save up for, and anything else you see yourself doing financially in the future. 

These conversations may be difficult to have on a first date, but further down the road when you’re talking about living together, you need to talk about money. 

Too many people have a conversation about financial compatibility way too late despite the fact that it will play a huge role in the success of your relationship, Luthuli says. 

Financial compatibility does not mean finding a partner with the same financial standing as you, but rather the same attitudes towards and habits surrounding money, he says.

Goals like buying a house, having kids or retiring early all require a considerable amount of financial planning, and if you don’t share the same values when it comes to money, it’s going to cause problems, Luthuli says. 

Sidaki says many of the people she interacts with don’t necessarily articulate financial freedom as important to them in a partner. But they know that they want to be more responsible with their money and they want the same in a partner – which means following a budget, making your payments on time and saving.  

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