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Financial red flags in dating: how to spot the warning signs

In honour of Valentine’s Day, we’re exploring how to handle difficult conversations with your date 

Invest In You financial red flags© Getty
Barbara George
Freelance Journalist
February 14, 2024
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We’ve all heard of 'red flags' in dating, but sadly we often don't spot the warning signs until it’s too late. For instance, if they've cheated in all their recent relationships, they can't control their emotions or they're the first to criticise something.

When it comes to dating and money, however, there are several financial 'red flags' you definitely shouldn't be overlooking. Problems with money often go hand-in-hand with embarrassment, so your partner is unlikely to bring up any issues themselves. While we're not suggesting you bombard them with questions about their credit score on a first date, the risk of being too polite is ending up taking on their financial struggles from the outset of a relationship.

From lack of work to dealing with a mountain of debt, check out the warning signs below and how to - sensitively - approach the topic...

Common red flags 

A survey by Hargreaves Lansdown found that 17% of women said if their date didn't expect to work, it would be really off-putting. That works out at about one in six. And interestingly, it’s similar for both men and women. 

Debt is a big issue with 15% of people branding it a 'red flag' while 7% said being bad with money generally was a no-go. 5% thought the other person not offering to pay on the date would be a red flag, but this doubled for people in the age group 25 to 34 because us millenials and Gen Zs want to be looked after. Only 3% of women said if their partner whipped out a voucher on a first date that would be a dealbreaker. Men were actually more horrified by this idea and would be twice as likely to run for the hills.

Here are some easy questions to ask your date if you want to approach the topic of finances...

A woman is lying down on a bed and using a smart phone at night.© Getty/recep-bg
Meeting your match is even harder when you take finances into consideration

Are you a spender or a saver?

Their answer will tell you everything you need to know, without being too intrusive.

What are your dreams and aspirations? 

If they say travelling, you can ask the question, "How long have you been saving for your travels?"

Sarah Coles, Head of Personal Finance at Hargreaves Lansdown, advises: "Ask gentle introductory questions. What you're really looking for is open answers." You want someone to be completely open and transparent when they are talking to you about these things. 

Close-up of credit cards and bill on table in rustic restaurant© Getty/Tim Kitchen
Make sure your date is completely open and transparent when discussing money

Dealing with debt

Sarah says if your date is being "cagey or guarded", then there's no alternative to just coming out with a more direct question. "Try saying, 'A lot of people that I've met have got loads of problems with debt at the moment. How much debt are you in?' rather than necessarily asking, 'Do you have debt?'. The idea is making sure they realise this is perfectly normal and they are not alone," she suggests.

It’s always a good idea to draw on your own experiences as well, according to Sarah. You could open up by saying, "I've spent too much money before payday. Is that something that you do too?" It’s a good idea to be vulnerable about your own flaws to get someone to open up as well - no one is perfect!

Try not to react

If someone says to you for example that they are in £40,000 worth of credit card debt, it’ll be hard for your immediate reaction not to be an OMG moment. Chances are they already know it's not good and it took them a lot of courage to open up to you about it. Try not to react immediately, even though it will be difficult in the moment. 

Couple sharing dessert and coffee on a day date© Getty/Janina Steinmetz
Being "cagey or guarded" about the topic of money is a major red flag

Sarah says: "There are ways of getting into a relationship with someone who has financial difficulties without them becoming yours. You have to take steps to protect yourself, but it's not impossible. It doesn't have to be insurmountable."

DATING 101: Why I chose companionship over chemistry in my 50s - and you should too 

These questions might not necessarily come up on Date 1. Keep your wits about you and remember - being open and honest is always the best rule when it comes to dating.

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