My kids are entering the shidduch scene and I want them to be practical in selecting an appropriate life partner. My wife and I are both professionals and have, Baruch Hashem, created a comfortable life for our children. We don’t have generational level wealth, but money decisions don’t keep us up at night. My concern is that our children are accustomed to a certain lifestyle, and they may take it for granted. My questions are: Do you believe that finances should be an important consideration when dating? If so, how do I discuss this with my children so that they will be receptive? – Anonymous, Long Island
As a financial advisor and a retired shadchan, I am passionate about this question. It is also one that should be discussed more openly in the shidduch dating world.
Yes, finances are a very important consideration when dating. In fact, I would rank it among the most important criteria. Stresses around money are one of the leading causes of divorce and not discussing these matters honestly and openly may set a newly married couple up for failure. Let’s discuss some of the key points around this topic.
Why finances are important? As I say frequently to clients and in my writings, “money is a tool and not a scorecard.” One’s mission in life should not be to accumulate as much money as possible. That goal, in and of itself, is not a worthwhile endeavor and is one that will likely lead to misery. However, it’s undeniable that money is instrumental in living the life that you want.
I have friends that live in small apartments, with one car, that never go out to eat, rarely go on vacation, and they couldn’t be happier. On the other hand, I have friends that have multiple houses, luxury cars, go out to brunch every day, and take multiple lavish vacations every year. They are also happy. There is no one correct way to live. Whatever road you choose can be a life filled with Torah, mitzvot, purpose, and meaning. It’s just important to be upfront about the type of lifestyle you are looking for and the role money plays in attaining that lifestyle.
Being practical with attaining the lifestyle you want: It’s important for young adults to understand that choices have consequences. If you enjoy spending Pesach in a resort every year, living in a large home, or buying your entire family new clothes and jewelry every yuntif, then you have a few options: You either need to make a lot of money, marry someone who does, or have parents or in-laws who will cover the cost of your life.
Stated plainly, if neither you nor your spouse has family willing to support you and you both have modestly paying jobs, then achieving the aforementioned lifestyle will be a challenge. It’s important to understand this reality. Similarly, if learning Torah half the day is a goal, then obtaining a high paying career in order to afford certain luxuries will be a challenge. Few high paying career paths, outside of a family business, provide that level of flexibility. Naturally, there are exceptions to every rule, but generally speaking there is no magic formula. The money to cover these expenses needs to come from somewhere and taking out debt to make these payments is a horrific decision.
Making sure you are on the same page about money as the person you are dating: After spending years shidduch dating, I can attest to the fact that no two people have the same path to finding their mates. For some it comes seemingly easily and quickly, while others continue to date countless people over the course of many years before finding a suitable match. Regardless of the path, an essential component to everyone’s shidduch journey should be a frank discussion about personal finance.
These discussions may seem less romantic than sharing your hopes, dreams, and visions of how your future Shabbos table will look, but they are just as important. Remember, life is not a fairytale romance film concocted by Hollywood. At times, life will be challenging and not being on the same page about money will make things a lot tougher.
Here are some questions that should be discussed once the relationship has gotten sufficiently serious (i.e. Not the first few dates, where it may be considered RUDE to bring this up.):
- How much income do you each make?
- Do you have any debt? If so, how much and what is the game plan to pay it off?
- What is the ballpark of your monthly expenses, including housing, food, car payments, debt payments, and discretionary items?
- Can you cover these expenses on your own, will you have ongoing financial support from family members, or does something need to change (i.e. spend less money, different career path, or not a suitable match)?
- Will you have a surplus of monthly cash to save/invest for future goals like a downpayment on a home, retirement, etc.?
There is a whole host of more in-depth questions that can be discussed, but getting into detailed discussion on investments and the intricacies of financial planning may be premature at this point. The aforementioned questions can help assess if you are both on the same page financially or if you need to reconsider the shidduch.
Money can be a blessing and a curse: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that while money can be immensely helpful, it can also be a huge burden. If you are dating someone of means, and family financial support will be provided, this type of assistance often comes with strings attached. I’m sure that all readers can point to instances from their own lives of how money has torn families apart. It’s important for each party to do their own due diligence on the money dynamics involved in the family you are marrying into.
The best situation for a newly married couple is to be financially independent. This will allow you to live the life you want, on your own terms, without being at the mercy of a third party. Financial freedom is the standard that all families should aspire to reach.
How to emphasize these issues to your children: Your last question is about how to share the importance of money within marriage with your children. I don’t hold myself out as being an expert on interfamily communications. As a parent, I acknowledge that we all have challenges in this regard. I will offer a few suggestions.
The first is obvious, which is just to talk to them about the aforementioned points. They may be willing to sit down and have a healthy exchange of ideas. However, kids have minds and (strong) opinions of their own and taking direction from mom and dad is not always well received.
A seemingly less aggressive way of imparting your thoughts is to share this article via email saying, “Thought this was interesting.” Speaking from personal experience, introducing an impartial third party can feel less antagonistic to your kids, and they may be more receptive. Remember, your kids are paying attention even if it doesn’t always seem that way. Casually letting them know what is on your mind may be the best way to get them thinking about this important topic as they embark on the shidduch dating world.
Readers are encouraged to ask their personal financial questions, which may be quoted from and addressed in a future column, by emailing Jonathan@shenkmanwealth.com.