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Dating for money has become more complex Add to ...

Andrea Barclay was thrilled when a handsome, dark-haired man named Michael sat down across from her at a speed-dating event. Until, that is, he asked about her retirement savings.

"I thought he was kidding," said the 30-year-old teacher from Orange County, Calif. "He said he was an investment banker and then he asked me if I had a Roth IRA account."

After establishing that his potential love connection did not have the U.S. equivalent of an RRSP, Michael told Ms. Barclay she should contribute $10 from each paycheque.

"I was kind of like, 'Gosh, I should really be doing that,' " she recalled. "But the other half of me was thinking, 'This is not going well.' "

According to some experts, establishing economic compatibility is as important as knowing whether you are both dog people. Michael may actually have been demonstrating a knack for financial speed dating.

Lois Vitt, co-author of the new book You and Your Money: A No-Stress Guide to Becoming Financially Fi t, says financial cards should be laid on the table during date No. 1.

"You should start asking questions and comparing notes, and if there's any tendency on the other person's part to clam up you've got a problem," she said.

Starting this conversation is not easy in a culture where money is the last taboo, she says. But Ms. Vitt believes romantic relationships are 80 per cent business, and says that if you can't talk about money "you have a terrible relationship."

So should women ask their date for a credit check after seeing a movie, or casually inquire about career goals over ice cream?

Ms. Vitt says there are tactful ways to handle monetary issues without seeming crazy or financially obsessed.

"You can say 'My god, did you have to borrow to go to school, isn't that terribly expensive?' " she said. "It's no more difficult to talk about than politics or values or religion."

Gail Vaz-Oxlade, host of the TV show Til Debt Do Us Part, thinks people are unlikely to discuss their savings over sushi.

"Who wants to have a conversation about how much they make with a person you haven't even slept with yet?" she said.

But Ms. Vaz-Oxlade does know plenty of couples who have put off the conversation for far too long, often staying mum about money decades into a marriage, and addressing the issue only when debt becomes overwhelming. She says couples should disclose their economic situations as soon as money starts to play into the relationship, like when an apartment is rented, a mortgage considered or a pregnancy planned.

And if you suddenly discover your wife has $30,000 in student loans from the mid-'70s, so what?

"If you get to the point where you like someone and they have a huge debt problem, you deal with it then," Ms. Vaz-Oxlade said. "That will not be the only surprise you have in your life with that person."

Guy Grenier, a professor at the University of Western Ontario and author of The Ten Conversations You Must Have Before You Get Married, said many couples seek marriage counselling as a result of financial secrecy.

"It's mind-bogglingly stupid not to talk about money," Dr. Grenier said. "I think it is disingenuous. It would be like someone who had no faith dating someone whose faith was very important to them, and they're hiding that."

But Meredith Hopper, an event co-ordinator for the speed-dating service Fast Life, said financial topics are not recommended for flirting.

"It does give the impression that you're checking for wallet padding," she said.

Dates are only eight minutes long at Fast Life events, which include specific nights for "Tall Men" and "University-Educated" singles, but Ms. Hopper said this seems to be ample time for people to inquire about cars, careers and other crucial topics.

"Some people come in with a checklist of things they want answered," she said. As for asking about money, "I really don't think it would be the best strategy for a first impression."

Ms. Barclay said that during her speed-dating experience Michael was the only man she actually liked.

"He was the only guy I actually put down that I wanted to see again, but he didn't put me," she said. "At least I got the advice."

Price check

So you've taken the Cosmo quiz to see if you're "a hot match in bed," now it's time to establish whether he is financially daring or economically anorexic. In their new book, You and Your Money: A No-Stress Guide to Becoming Financially Fit, authors Lois Vitt and Karen Murrell provide a 20-point multiple-choice quiz they say romantic partners should answer before things get serious. A sample:

My decision about which vehicle to drive comes down to this main issue:

a) My family members are on board with my decision, and the vehicle will serve all our needs as a family.

b) I want a vehicle that is dependable and gets me where I'm going with the least amount of trouble.

c) I'll weigh the costs and benefits of each vehicle and pick the one that meets my budget.

d) I make enough to be able to afford the vehicle I love to drive even if the gas mileage is not great.

When I think about changing jobs, my main concern is:

a) Whether the new job would pay enough to cover the costs of my lifestyle.

b) A place to work helping other people - with colleagues I enjoy.

c) The total financial package: pay, health care and retirement benefits.

d) Having opportunities for personal challenge and fulfilment in my work.

In deciding whether to save, spend or invest a sudden cash windfall, I would:

a) Consider taking a trip around the world and enjoy myself thoroughly.

b) Investigate a variety of investment possibilities, weighing the long-term return offered by each.

c) Use it to fund a need, wish or desire of a family member.

d) Buy a new house with all the amenities and comforts I've always wanted.

When I go shopping for holiday gifts for the family, I: a) Tend to go overboard a little, because I like having something special for everyone and a few extra gifts for unexpected guests as well.

b) Value peace of mind after the holidays so I try to stay within my budget.

c) Seem always to budget too little because my decorating and other options are more extravagant than I anticipate.

d) Consider my cash flow for the coming months, set a firm budget, and usually stick to it pretty closely.

Siri Agrell


For love or money: Lois Vitt, co-author of the book You and Your Money: A No-Stress Guide to Becoming Financially Fit takes your questions at 1 p.m. EDT.

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Follow on Twitter: @SiriAgrell


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