Dear Carrie: I'm 30 years old and have been dating a terrific girl for almost a year. I think she's the one, and we get along great with just one snag: money. We're both new in our careers, but I make a lot more than she does. As a result, I've been paying for everything we do together: dinners out, weekend trips, etc. I love treating her, but I'm worried because I know I need to be saving for my emergency fund, retirement, etc. Any suggestions for how I can turn this around without upsetting my girlfriend? --A Reader
Dear Reader: With the roles and rules of dating in constant flux these days, it's unfortunate that finances can become a stumbling block. But the truth is that the financial arrangement you fall into at the beginning of a relationship can cause problems down the road. I imagine when you started dating it felt quite natural for you to pick up the tab. But no matter how generous you're inclined to be, you also have a responsibility to yourself not to jeopardize your future by overspending.
Had you only been dating for a few months, I'd likely advise you to simply gently reign in your spending. But if you're really in this for the long term, it's important to come up with an arrangement that works for both of you. The only way I know to do that is to talk it out.
Money is such a loaded issue that it's often hard to start the conversation. But money differences are one of the primary causes of discord between a couple. So if you're working to build a strong relationship, you're wise to tackle this now.
START BY BEING HONEST ABOUT YOUR CONCERNS
Understanding each other's spending habits is an important first step. So simply tell your girlfriend you're concerned about your budget and how much you're spending on entertainment. There's no need to feel defensive, just be straightforward. In fairness to her, she may not have a clue that you might be overspending. Once she realizes your concern, chances are she'll be more than willing to either chip in or help figure out lower-cost ways to have fun together. If she's not, I'd say that's a red flag.
If you've never discussed your individual budgets and your financial priorities, this can open the door. You might want to share information about your current salaries, what they cover, where they fall short, and what you each need to do to make ends meet. And while you're talking about how to handle expenses, you might also discuss your attitudes about credit cards. There's nothing that can derail a budget faster than getting in over your head with debt. Be frank about not wanting to run up a balance -- and then help each other make sure neither of you do.
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