The *real* secret to being sexy? Whispering sweet nothings….about money

(Bob Sullivan)
(Bob Sullivan)

“I’m kind of average-looking, but I have a great credit score!”

Looking for love post Valentine’s Day? Maybe you should adjust your online personals ad. According to a new study of adults in relationships, having a partner who is good with money is more important than a lover who’s sexy. That’s just one of the fun surprises in the survey, commissioned by Citigroup’s Citi card.

“Three in 4 Americans in a committed relationship feel a significant other who is good with money is more important than a significant other who is physically attractive,” Citi says.

Apparently, the sexiness of spendthrifts takes a vacation during Valentine’s, however. According to the National Retail Federation’s Valentine’s Day Consumer Spending Survey, the average person celebrating Valentine’s Day will spend $142, up from $134 last year. Men will spend twice as much as women, the survey also found.

On the other hand, even Valentine’s Day spending shrinks as couples age, according to the NRF study, suggesting that experienced couples find inexpensive ways to show their affection. Adults 25 to 34 will spend an average of $213; 35-44 year olds will spend an average of $176, the survey found.

The Citi survey shows being together has been good for couples’ financial lives – 82% said they’d changed their financial habits after getting together. Sixty percent said they are more careful with their discretionary spending, and 50% are more focused on long-term financial planning.

The survey was conducted among adults already in a committed relationship, but it offers good insights for those wishing they had a Valentine this week…or looking to turn something short term into something permanent. Don’t look for Mr. Right Now, or Ms. Right. Look for Mr. and Ms. FICO instead.

The Citi study confirms plenty of other research which shows that money matters, even more than sex, when it comes to making love last. A study conducted by Kansas State University researchers found that fights over money were the best predictor of future divorce — more than disagreements over kids, families or sex. Net worth — rich, middle class, or poor — didn’t matter.

“How couples deal with finances can make or break their relationship,” said Rachel Sussman, author of Breakup Bible. “While sometimes the conversations can be difficult, in order to maintain a healthy financial relationship it is important that couples frequently discuss their finances, remain fiscally transparent and responsible, and continuously consult each other on big purchases.”

That advice might sound like common sense, but it’s not commonly followed. More than one in three adults in the Citi survey said they hadn’t set aside time to talk about money at all in the past year. And nearly one in four admit they have a private account their significant other doesn’t know about, a phenomenon sometimes called “financial infidelity.” Not surprisingly, those who reported secret accounts also tended to have more fights about money.

Meanwhile, young daters rarely talk about money. Just 12% of those under 30 discuss it with a potential partner within the first few weeks of a relationship, according to a survey by Country Financial. That’s despite another Country survey that found two-thirds of singles, and 72% of single women, saying they wouldn’t date or marry someone with significant debt.

“Our research found that while many couples are taking steps to build a stronger financial future together, there is an opportunity to talk more openly about money, and to recognize and reward the effort that your partner is making towards your shared goals,” said Chris Fred, Managing Director of Product Management at Citi.

On the other side of the spectrum, plenty of couples share a lot — perhaps too much — when it comes to money. According to a recent survey by Intel, 32% of adults admitted that they know their significant other’s bank or credit card passwords; Citi’s survey found that 88% of couples have complete access to at least one of their partner’s accounts.

Joint accounts are an excellent family financial planning tool — plenty of experts suggest couples have three accounts, including one used for joint household expenses and one for each partner. Having regular check-ins regarding each other’s credit — meaning pulling your annual free credit reports and your credit scores (you can get your credit scores for free on Credit.com) — can also help you gauge your financial health and set goals.

That separate account, and occasional secrecy, might be important during holidays. After all, what fun is getting “surprise” flowers delivered when the purchase is already listed on a credit card statement?

Answer: It’s always fun to get flowers. But it’s even more fun when you know your partner didn’t overpay for them.

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About Bob Sullivan 1362 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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