Valentine's Day. Chances are you think of it more in terms of hearts and flowers than dollars and cents, but if you don't take care of financial matters, your love life could be the victim.
First of all, forget your romantic notions that money doesn't matter when love is in the air. When was the last time you and your special someone made it through Valentine's Day without using a credit card -- for chocolates, an intimate dinner, a spa getaway, or maybe even some racy additions to your private wardrobe? Money might not matter more than love, but it can certainly help create the right atmosphere -- or destroy that atmosphere when things go wrong financially.
As much as you might try to keep finance and flirtation separate, bad credit and other money problems have a way of coming up at the worst times. This might simply pour a little cold water on a hot evening, or it could spell the end of a long-term relationship. Here are six examples of how bad credit can ruin your love life:
- "Sir, your credit card has been declined." The fancier the setting, the more embarrassing this is. So, if you are not careful with your use of credit, your spectacular Valentine production could end up a spectacular Valentine fail. People who are good with money know that a credit card is the best deal around if you avoid interest charges by paying off your balance every month. Otherwise, with average interest rates at around 13 percent (and perhaps twice as high for people with iffy credit), a credit card can be a particularly expensive way to borrow money. If you cannot avoid pushing your credit to the limit, at least budget carefully so you don't blow through it.
- "Can we split the check?" This is cute in high school, but grown-ups don't expect to end a romantic dinner by figuring out who had the more expensive entree or the extra glass of wine. It is acceptable for either party to pick up the check, and in an ongoing relationship both should be willing to do so at times. Rule of thumb: if you can't afford to treat, choose a cheaper place.
- Concealing debt 'til after you're married. The two examples above are embarrassing situations, but the next four can cause serious problems in a long-term relationship. Concealing debt until after
- You're married is a big mistake -- if you think the debt reflects badly on you, wait until you see how hiding it goes over once you are found out. A hidden debt burden can impact any joint credit application and may result in a less attractive offer or even an outright denial. In other words, the truth is going to come out eventually, so you're better off treating it as a past mistake and come clean. Attempting to hide it just makes you appear irresponsible and immature.
- "I swear I paid that bill." Money runs short in many households, and this can be a source of tension between couples. However, nothing turns that tension into open anger faster than lying about outstanding bills, because this may result in your spouse being surprised and embarrassed when services are denied or debt collectors start calling.
- "Let's ask your parents for the money." If either of you has wealthy parents, don't refuse their generosity, but don't ever take it for granted. In particular, expecting your in-laws to help foot the bills can cause them to view you with suspicion, and eventually that feeling will trickle down to your spouse.
- Having to give up your dream house. Financial setbacks happen, but the most avoidable ones involve people who have overreached. In particular, young professional couples might overspend on a house to amaze their friends and boost their self-esteem, but just remember that no one is impressed by a foreclosure sign. Do some careful budgeting before you buy a home, and avoid gimmicky mortgages that can become more expensive. In deciding how much you can afford, remember that it is better to feed your savings account than feed your ego.
It's not about the money. It's about you.
None of the above should imply that you cannot have a rewarding love life without money. The key is not how much you can afford, but how well you manage what you have. A couple with modest financial means can be perfectly happy as long as both understand and are content with their financial limits. On the other hand, people who put themselves in situations where there are unpleasant financial surprises will come to be seen as unreliable. So, if one of those situations screws up your relationship, don't kid yourself that it didn't work out because of money. Ultimately, the problem wasn't the money. It was you.