If you’re holding out for a rich Valentine who will solve all your financial woes, or just an independent earner who can help pay the bills, you may be looking for the wrong financial trait in your partner in romance. 

Respondents to a survey by US-based personal finance website The Motley Fool placed a high salary third last on a list of 14 financial traits and the least appealing was being a generous spender. 

In the poll among more than 1,000 people in relationships to find out what their heart’s desire most in their partner’s financial abilities, they ranked setting financial goals and getting ahead higher than the size of their pay cheque.

The 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.

Being financially independent was listed 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.

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 SA 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.

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 it may scare them off.

She believes the number one trait you should look for is openness and honesty about money matters. When your partner is honest you will know whether there is room for you to set common financial goals, she says.  

Mduduzi Luthuli, independent financial planner at Luthuli Capital, says too many people have a conversation about financial compatibility way too late though it will play a huge role in the success of your relationship. 

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 children 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. 

Ramookho suggests you learn to understand your partner’s lifestyle so that you can begin to talk about the things they do and the financial implications of those activities. You must also know among other things if they have family whom they support financially and if they pay cash or on credit when they buy clothes, for instance.

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

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.

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 if you are on some of your first dates, but further down the road when you’re talking about living together, you need to talk about money, Luthuli says. 

Sidaki says many of the people she interacts with don’t necessarily articulate that 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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