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On Financial Compatibility: Should You Marry Someone Poorer Than You?

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In the 21st-century dating scene, there are few terms more common than financial compatibility. If you are someone who is currently dating or even married, you must have considered this. The thought of either marrying someone richer or poorer than you must have crossed your mind. I mean, it’s difficult enough dating someone who is not in the same social class as you but marrying them? That’s a different ball game entirely.

So what exactly is financial compatibility? How do you know if you’re financially compatible with someone? What determines financial compatibility? Looking at it from a financial perspective, how does the person you marry affect your personal finance? Let’s take a look. 

What is financial compatibility?

Perhaps one of the most satisfying definitions of financial compatibility you’ll find online is from WealthUp. They describe financial compatibility between partners as ‘understanding and respecting each other’s behaviours, values, and habits in regards to money.’

When people hear the term financial compatibility, some think first about cash. How rich is this person? Are they richer than me? I earn 500k a month and they earn 150k. Is that not going to be a problem? Would we be able to live my dream life with me? While these are valid questions, they sometimes distract from what financial compatibility should actually be about: shared financial values. 

Financial compatibility between two people is about their values and how they both see and interact with money. This includes but is not limited to how they earn, how they save and invest, how they grow wealth and how they manage money. 

Current income

The next question that comes to mind is about money. As mentioned earlier, compatibility is not just about how much a person earns. There are many reasons for this but one of them is how fluid income/salary can be. That you are earning more than someone today does not mean you will be earning more than them two years from now.

A good example can be how the tech industry in Nigeria has made it possible for people to learn a skill within a year and get a high-paying job after. And because these skills are mostly in-demand, people who hold these skills are usually able to negotiate for a salary increase on a regular basis or switch to other companies that may pay more. Within two years, a person who is dedicated to their work and is in a competitive field can double or even triple their income.

So does this mean you should not consider the income/salary of the person you want to date/marry? Not quite. You should actually consider it but you should be aware that the fact that a person is earning as much as you are does not guarantee compatibility. What if they go broke? Like actually bankrupt? What if they lose their source of income? These are the issues. So while it may be important to assess the income/salary of a potential partner, there is more to financial compatibility than that. 

How do you determine financial compatibility?

According to Sonya Britt, a professor of family studies at Kansas State University, ‘arguments about money are by far the top predictor of divorce. It’s not children, sex, in-laws or anything else. It’s money – for both men and women.’ 

So if income is not everything, then what is? What determines financial compatibility?

There are a number of factors that can tell whether you and your partner are compatible or not. At the core of these factors is one thing: values. Do you and your partner have the same financial values? Do you see money the same way?

  1. How they view debt: how do they perceive debt? Contrary to what you may think, many people cannot live a debt-free life. They hop from one creditor to another, paying off this debt and that debt. If you’re someone trying to have a healthy financial life, getting in bed with someone like this may have a negative effect not just on your finances but also on your image. If your partner views debt as ‘normal’, then you both may not be compatible after all. 
  2. How they address money issues: what does your partner think when there is a financial challenge? Do they activate flight mode, run away from the situation, always afraid of any money topic? Or do they attack the situation and stay proactive? It is important that you discuss this and know if your approach to money issues aligns with theirs. 
  3. How they grew up: while it may not be so straightforward, how we grow up with money affect how we interact with money even when we become adults. Growing up in a poor family or a rich family can shape how one sees money, either an ever-scarce object, as a means to an end, or as an end in itself. Rich people and poor people see money differently. To one, it is something they have and use to get what they want. To the other, it is something they’ve never had and would use everything they have to get it. For the latter, it is like an endless pursuit, an unachievable goal.
  4. How they view financial responsibility: when you’re dating or married to someone, a time may come when you both have to share financial responsibilities, especially if children are involved. In this case, what does compatibility mean? Does it mean sharing the responsibilities 50/50 regardless of who earns more? Or a more traditional approach where the male/husband pays the bills? Or a modernist approach where bills are shared based on income? How compatible are your standards in this regard?
  5. How they earn: ‘how much’ is important. ‘How’ is also important. Is there a line they would not cross to make money? Are they always chasing ‘quick cash’ and ‘urgent 2k’? Or are they actually working towards building a sustainable financial life while taking charge of their personal finance? Do they engage in Ponzi schemes and other get-rich-quick schemes? What do they think of internet fraud? These are the issues. 

In conclusion, compatibility over chemistry?

That is the big question. However, one does not have to give for the other. Financial compatibility is about thinking long-term. Beyond all the love and attraction, is this someone I can build my dream financial future with? Compatibility is more about financial values than cash at hand. People can lose their sources of income and people can earn more with time so while ‘how much do they have’ is important, there are other equally, if not more, important factors to consider. That is how to determine financial compatibility. 

If you’ve figured love out already and you’re building a sustainable future with your partner, then open a Money Duo account on Cowrywise. This product was built specifically with you and your partner in mind. Stay saving together now. Start here.

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