How To Talk About Money In A Long Distance Relationship: 24 Questions You Must Ask

Lisa McKay Communication, General advice about LDRs

It’s hard to talk about money, isn’t it? I mean, do you know how much your friends make? Or your parents? What about your partner?

Those of us raised in western cultures, at least, tend to feel uncomfortable talking about money and our approach to money.

When you’re in a long distance relationship, however, it’s wise to learn how to discuss money openly and honestly.

Why? Because money (or more often, a lack of money) can become a major source of resentment and conflict in a relationship.This is especially likely to happen if finances are keeping you apart in the first place, traveling to see each other is expensive, and/or one partner has to spend a lot more money than the other in order to keep the relationship going.

The best way to avoid some false assumptions and misunderstandings is to talk about money and it’s role in your life and relationship. Openness and honesty on this topic can short-circuit a great deal of frustration and conflict.

So today we’re going to talk about some questions that you can use to kick off discussions about money.

Some of these questions require trust built up over time, so they are divided into three categories. We’ll start with questions for those in a new relationship, then look at questions suitable  for those in an exclusive dating relationship, and then those suitable for those approaching marriage or moving in together.

But First… Money Scams And Long Distance Relationships

Before we get started, however, a word about safety. In my book, From Stranger To Lover: 16 Strategies For Building A Great Relationship Long DistanceI put it this way:

“If anyone you’ve only recently met asks you for money, for any reason, it should give you serious pause. This might sound obvious, but it needs to be said. It happens more than you might think, especially in online and long distance dating scenarios.

So, why should you be concerned?

For starters, if someone you’ve only recently met online needs to turn to you for financial help then they (a) aren’t very good at managing their personal finances; and (b) don’t have a good, supportive network of friends and family who can help them out during a crisis. Both of these things should independently make you question whether or not you really want to be in a relationship with this person.

However, the situation may be even more complicated than it appears. If someone you’re dating online asks you for money, it’s entirely possible that the person you think you’re dating doesn’t even exist and that you’re being scammed.

In one common online dating/LDR scam, the scammer pretends to be a businessman with an international construction company, or an aid worker. During the course of developing an intense online relationship, he or she is posted to Africa. They subsequently experience a life-threatening crisis that requires a sudden infusion of money.

You might think you’d be too smart to fall for that, but don’t underestimate how plausible these scenarios can be made to sound when they unfold step by step and when your emotions are involved. A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the online dating scams they studied (including the one I summarized above) “had a conversion rate of more than 50 per cent, which meant that more than half of people targeted on romance websites end up losing money, often to international syndicates.”

I strongly recommend never sending money to anyone you don’t know well. However, if you do send someone money, don’t send it by wire transfer. This is essentially the same as sending cash. It’s difficult to trace and virtually impossible to reverse the transaction.”

So, now we have the “be careful” speech out of the way, let’s look at a couple of tips on talking about money.

3 Tips On How To Talk About Money

Especially for those of us raised in Western cultures, talking about money can be incredibly awkward—even more so in a new relationship. So here are some general tips on talking about money that might help ease any tension:

  1. Ask about these things in a friendly, laid-back way—don’t grill your date. If they’re very uncomfortable, pay attention and ease off. You can always come back to the topic later (although if they’re not willing to discuss anything to do with money after another month or two of dating, take note.)
  2. If you still feel weird asking the questions below, consider reassuring your partner that you’re not trying to scope out the size of their bank account. Explain why you’re asking (i.e., that money is one of the most common sources of conflict in relationships and you’re trying to better understand their general attitude toward money and spending.)
  3. Oh, and be prepared to share your own answers.

Talking About Money In A Brand-New Long Distance Relationship

In any new relationship (including a long distance relationship) it’s probably not appropriate to ask questions that are too detailed or personal about money. You could, however, ask them about how their family handled money when they were growing up, and how they approach money on a date.

Even if your new love interest financial circumstances are quite different from their parents’, understanding how they were raised can really help you understand their attitudes towards money now. These questions can also help you understand your own expectations and attitudes towards money.

  1. Did your family have enough money while you were growing up?
  2. Did you ever think about the cost of food, clothing, or toys when you were a child, or did you take money for granted?
  3. Did money feel tight or scarce while you were growing up? Did you feel guilty spending too much?
  4. Did your parents tend to buy top quality items or hunt for bargains?
  5. Who earned the money in your family?
  6. Who made most of the decisions about spending money in your family?
  7. Did your parents argue or worry about money while you were growing up?
  8. Were you given an allowance as a child? How much was it?
  9. Did you work to earn extra money while you were growing up?
  10. What did you spend your own money on when you were a teenager?
  11. How do people treat and talk about money in your family now? Does your family loan or give others money easily? Are your parents or siblings reckless, generous, careful, or downright stingy with their money?

Next, you might want to ask them about how they generally approach money on a date. For example, does your partner believe that the person who makes the most money should pay for everything/most things? Should the man pay for everything? Should couples split the bill? Should they trade dates?

If you’re in a long distance relationship, you might not be going out to dinner and a movie on a regular basis, but discussing this issue can give you a good indication of your partner’s attitude about less conventional expenses.

How To Talk About Money In A Serious Long Distance Relationship

After you’ve moved past the “new love” stage, there are important money questions you’ll need to discuss with your steady partner as you continue to build up trust in each other.

Long distance relationships that last longer than a couple of months tend to be serious—it’s just not worth enduring the distance unless you think there might be real possibilities for you as a serious couple down the line.

So here are some money-related topics you might want to talk about if you are committed to each other despite the distance. You might find it to be productive to email these questions and agree to send your own answers, or to dedicate a webcam chat (or a couple) to talking about these topics.

Be straightforward with your partner, and ask them to be open with you, as well.

Reassure them that there are not necessarily any “right” or “wrong” answers. You simply want to get to know them better and figure out where your attitudes and approaches to money are similar, and where they are different.

1.    What is your approach to travel?

Are you looking for maximum comfort, or the cheapest flight around? Are you willing to take multiple flights to save money or do you always fly direct? What about hotels—what sort of accommodation do you generally book?

2.    Who pays for dates?

We listed some questions on this topic in the previous post, but if you haven’t already discussed this issue, now’s the time to do it. Who pays for dates, and under what conditions? (E.g., Should the person who makes the most money pay for everything/most things? Should the man pay for everything? Should couples split the bill? Should they trade dates?)

3.    Who will pay for what on your visits to each other?

Do you think that the host should pay for everything? Are there any cultural components to this? Does your culture have specific guest/host practices that are different from the dating/money dynamic explored above?

4.    Do you have any debt?

Are you paying off student loans or credit cards? Do you have a mortgage or outstanding car payments? What is your approach to debt? (E.g., Are you trying to get rid of it as quickly as possible? Making regular payments? Hiding from loan sharks?)

5.    What is your attitude toward saving and spending?

Are you saving? If not, is it something you are thinking about for the future? Do you live paycheck to paycheck? What are some big purchases you’ve made recently? (These questions are really about understanding your partner’s life right now. You don’t need to be positive you want to grow old and retire together in order to talk about whether they prefer to spend or save.)

6.    What are your career goals?

Do you hope to do something different one day? Would you like to volunteer or take a low-paying job in another field at some point? Does money factor into your career decisions, or do you want to do something you love no matter what?

7.    What happens if only one of you can afford to visit the other?

Let’s say partner #1 is an investment banker in New York City and #2 is a kindergarten teacher in Oklahoma. Should the banker always fly to Oklahoma if the teacher can’t afford to travel to New York? Should the banker pay for the teacher to come to New York?

What if the teacher is a man raised in an environment where men pay for everything and the banker is a woman? In other words, how do you feel about accepting money from or giving money to the other person in order to see each other if that’s what the circumstances require? (Again, remember to be on your guard for scams and never send money to someone you don’t know very well.)

8.    What happens if neither one of you can afford to travel?

Do you keep the relationship going if you have to forgo all visits? When do you start looking for jobs in the same place? How long are you willing to go without seeing each other? You won’t necessarily know the answers to these questions, but you have to be able to talk openly about them.

C’mon, do I we really have to talk about this stuff when we’ve only been together 5 months?

A word about this stage of being in a “serious” but not completely committed relationship…

Some of these conversations won’t be fun, romantic, or even all that comfortable. But take heart, one of the biggest advantages to being in a long distance relationship is that it helps you develop excellent communication skills. This is just one more area you get to practice in!

The other piece of good news is that it may actually be easier for you to have these conversations than for couples living in the same place because you can do it dispassionately over email. Getting into the habit of talking about finances without awkwardness or embarrassment will do wonders for your relationship in the long run.

Below, we’ll talk about essential questions to go over before you marry or make a lifelong commitment to your long distance partner. What do you need to ask before your relationship becomes permanent?

How To Talk About Money In A Long Distance Relationship Before You Move In Or Get Married

So far in this post we’ve:

  • Covered important questions to go over with a long distance lover to avoid conflicts about money as you get to know each other and as the relationship becomes more serious.
  • Mentioned how important it is not to send money to someone you do not know well in order to avoid falling for online scams.
  • Talked about how it can be difficult and awkward to discuss money, but it’s essential for building trust and understanding your partner.

Now it’s time for the questions to ask if it’s starting to look like your relationship will be permanent.

You should know the answers to these questions before you get engaged or make serious plans to be together in the future. And, remember, whenever you talk about money, make sure both parties are well-rested and the internet/phone connection is good–and don’t rush it. These won’t necessarily be easy conversations, but they are important.

So, for starters, if you haven’t done it already, make sure you’ve also talked about our questions for people in a committed long distance relationship (above). It’s especially important to know about your partner’s debts, saving and spending habits, and career goals before you decide to get married.

Then, you can ask:

1.  How much money do you make?

This one isn’t necessarily fun to talk about, and you probably don’t need to bring it up when the relationship is too new. But if you are using words like forevermarriage and future, you need to be able to talk frankly about numbers.

2.  Do you help to support anyone else, such as elderly parents or a child?

Is this a long-term arrangement or temporary assistance? Are there cultural obligations involved? Would you expect your spouse to help with these contributions? (I have seen marriages end over this issue; make sure you know what the expectations are when it comes to giving money to family members.)

3.  How do you feel about income imbalances?

What happens if one party makes significantly more money than the other? What if those roles flip? Will one partner stop working if you have children? For how long? Have you ever been unemployed, and how did you handle it? Chances are fairly good that one or both of you will be unemployed at some point. It will help if you know what to expect from previous periods of unemployment, so talk about it now.

4.  How do you handle giving to charity and supporting causes?

Do you set up regular payments to your causes of choice? Do you donate sporadically as opportunities arise? Do you and your partner need to agree on the causes you support financially? If one partner does not want to give to charity, is that an issue for the other?

5.  How do you handle household expenses?

Do you set a monthly budget for rent, food, and living expenses? What is it? How will you divide household expenses when you get married or move in together? Will you combine your bank accounts and/or set up a joint account?

Presumably, you’ll already be talking about where to live, jobs, kids, etc. In what circumstances do you think it’s worth paying more for your household? (E.g., living closer to work, having a bigger home/yard, owning vs. renting.) Do you want to buy high quality items for your home or hunt for bargains? What about groceries? Who is responsible for shopping?

Why talk about this, again?

There are not necessarily right or wrong answers to these questions, but if you are preparing to marry someone you need to look at whether any of your answers are incompatible with theirs. Take time to figure out where you’ll need to compromise and what steps you’ll need to take when it comes to money.

You can’t predict what will happen over the course of a marriage. You may face financial hardship or unexpected bounty. (Mike and I can certainly attest to this. We’ve been married almost ten years now. During that time we’ve both left jobs, we’ve moved countries three times, we’ve experienced cancer and other medical emergencies, and we made a decision to buy our first house before one of us had even seen it!!)

The important thing for you to do right now is to build up excellent communication habits so you can deal with the difficult topic of money no matter what life throws your way. When distance is in the mix, it’s all the more important to make sure you can talk about these things both when you’re together and when you’re apart.

So there you have it. We’ve offered some questions you can use to talk about money at the three main stages of a long distance relationship: a new romance, a committed relationship, and a relationship headed for marriage.

What did we miss?

Do you have any other questions that are important for long distance couples to discuss? Do you have any advice for making these conversations easier? Do you have any warnings or success stories you’d like to share with other long distance couples? Leave a comment below.

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