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Is it taboo to talk about money while dating? Not any more, say most youths in survey

SINGAPORE — Describing himself as a “thrifty” man, 25-year-old copywriter Julian Wong found himself quickly losing interest in a girl he got to know on a dating platform when she defended her spending habits by saying she was “still young and can work”.

Is it taboo to talk about money while dating? Not any more, say most youths in survey
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  • Dating application Coffee Meets Bagel and investment platform Syfe conducted a survey to find out Singaporeans' attitudes towards dating and money
  • The results show that 44 per cent of respondents feels that it's appropriate to talk about their salary before becoming a couple
  • It also found that 60 per cent of women prefer their partner earns more than them, while 70 per cent of men said they do not care how much their partner makes
  • Experts who spoke to TODAY explained why attitudes toward money in relationships have shifted
  • They also gave advice on how couples can broach the topic of money

SINGAPORE — Describing himself as a “thrifty” man, 25-year-old copywriter Julian Wong found himself quickly losing interest in a girl he got to know on a dating platform when she defended her spending habits by saying she was “still young and can work”.

“For me, knowing my partner’s spending habits is important because one day (when we get married), it will be our shared money,” he said.

Mr Wong is not alone in his attitude towards money. According to a survey by dating application Coffee Meets Bagel and investment platform Syfe, 93 per cent of Singaporeans find good money management to be an attractive quality in a potential partner.

The survey, which involved 1,363 respondents in June 2022, looked at people’s attitudes towards money, such as bill etiquette and expectations around career and earnings, when it comes to a potential long-term partner.

Some key findings are:

When to talk about money

  • Two in three believe it’s a turnoff to bring up the topic of money on the first date
  • However, there is a generational divide — 58 per cent of those above 35 believe money talk is taboo on the first date, versus 40 per cent of those below 35
  • One in three of all respondents would share how much they earn within five dates
  • 44 per cent feel it’s appropriate to ask someone how much they earn before becoming a couple

Who should pay for the first date?

  • Only two in five of both men and women believe that men should always pay
  • 30 per cent believe the bill should be split
  • 51 per cent of women would be offended if they offered to pay and the other person did not offer to split the bill
  • 24 per cent of men would be offended by the same situation

Salary expectations

  • The majority of women, or 60 per cent, prefer that their partner makes more money than them
  • But most men, or 70 per cent, do not care how much their partner makes

Ms Grace Cheng, Syfe’s director of investment research, said both companies conducted the joint survey as “there are some parallels between finding a long-term partner and investing for the long term”.

For instance, she said, people have limited resources, such as time and energy for dating and investing. Like investing, dating is about finding “what works for you, learning about yourself and your values while finding a match for the long term”, she added.

INCREASING IMPORTANCE TO TALK ABOUT MONEY WITH YOUR PARTNER

Experts and counsellors told TODAY that discussing money matters is important for couples to ensure they are on the same page and are compatible with each other.

Ms Cheng said: “Given that we carry a set of beliefs and behaviours into our relationships, as would our partner, it is important to be able to find some common ground and build understanding.”

Co-founder of Coffee Meets Bagel Dawoon Kang pointed out that couples who share similar values associated with family coordination, such as attitudes towards gender roles and money, have higher marital satisfaction.

“This is the primary reason Coffee Meets Bagel allows daters to select important values on their profile, like family, financial security and career,” she said.

Ms Kang added that there have been changes in attitudes towards money, largely due to greater gender equality.

“Women’s views on money, or anything else for that matter, may not have been considered as important, or, women may not have had a firm attitude towards money that deviated from their husbands,” she said of relationships in the past three decades.

“So alignment in attitude towards money may not have been considered as critical to marital satisfaction back then as it is today.”

MORE WOMEN EXPECT MEN TO EARN MORE THAN THEM

The survey found that while 60 per cent of women expected their male counterparts to earn more than them, 70 per cent of men did not mind if their partners earned more.

One of such men is 26-year-old systems engineer Kailer Gan, who added that with more female representation in high-ranking positions, having a partner who earns more should not affect one’s ego.

“It’s also practical because as a couple, we can afford more. My esteem does not come from earned income and being better than my girlfriend, though if she lifts heavier weights than me, then maybe my ego will be bruised.”

National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser said: “Singapore is still more of a patriarchal society than not.  The male spouse is still expected to be the main breadwinner.”

Such norms is also the reason women tend to take up more domestic responsibilities in the household, which can cause conflict between couples when they have differing views on their expected role.

However, Associate Prof Tan added: “Traditional practices do have some staying power, but they can also decline, if only gradually.”

For example, when it comes to paying for dates, there is an increasing trend of going dutch and men are not expected to always foot the bill – only two in five respondents in the survey felt that the man should pay for the first date.

Ms Vinodhini Kalaikannan, a 32-year-old service delivery manager who is currently single, believes that regardless of who earns more, a relationship requires mutual respect from both.

“Money beliefs can be pretty deep-rooted, and misalignment of such expectations could be really detrimental to a relationship,” she said.

“I feel that a healthy relationship is one where both parties view themselves as a team… In a situation where the woman is earning more, both parties must be willing to accept this situation without disregarding the other crucial aspects of this partnership.”

YOUTHS TALK ABOUT MONEY MATTERS EARLY

While talking about money on the first date is still taboo for two-thirds of all respondents, less than half (40 per cent) of those aged 35 and under feel so.

Mr Gan said: “It's best to talk about money the closer you are to marriageable age (in your late 20s and early 30s) so you know you’re on the same page before the relationship gets serious,” 

He added that he had talked to his girlfriend of about a year about their investment risk appetite, spending habits and savings before they became a couple.

“The conversation wasn’t too serious, but it was brought up as we got to know each other better… because if a couple faces financial difficulties, racks up debt or doesn’t save, it’s setting the marriage up for failure.”

One reason why the younger generation are more willing to talk about money matters early on and use it as a deal breaker is because of technology, said Associate Professor Norman Li from Singapore Management University.

“Technology has sped up our access to information and has increased the number of choices people have in everything, including dating. As a result, people don’t feel like they need to patiently wait for answers to important questions.”

HOW DO YOU BRING UP THE DOLLARS IN CONVERSATION?

So how can the topic of money be brought up with your date, or potential partner? Experts said it’s about keeping the conversation authentic and casual.

Coffee Meets Bagel co-founder Ms Kang said it’s important to not rush into the conversation. “There’s no need to find out every single belief around money that your date has from day one… you will become more informed naturally as you spend time together.”

She added that being vulnerable and open when starting the conversation is important so that your partner is willing to do the same.

When talking about expenditure, one tip she has is to not be judgemental, as it will make your partner defensive and unwilling to speak up, and to share your feelings so they can understand your point of view better.

Ms Cheng from Syfe said: “Personally, I like to think of wealth more holistically, going beyond topics like salary and cash in a bank account, but rather our attitudes towards wealth building and how we see wealth helping us to lead a more fulfilling life.”

Some things she suggests couples in serious relationships should discuss are how they save and invest, how they spend and how much they are willing to share with each other.

For Mr Wong, who had lost interest in his date after learning about her spending habits, he has found himself a girlfriend with a similar attitude to him.

“I realised from young that my parents will clash because my dad is the kind of person that wouldn’t order a drink when having a meal outside to save that extra dollar, while my mother is more willing to spend,” he said.

“So I’m lucky that my girlfriend understands… on our third date she told me we shouldn’t spend so much and now we have a strict budget on our dates.”

Related topics

dating online dating money finances

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