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Good money plan makes for good relationships | Smart Change: Personal Finance

Your daughter and her boyfriend are officially a couple and their relationship seems to be heading in the right direction.

But there’s one growing concern. They have completely different styles for handling money.

His idea of a date night revolves around spending money on expensive dinners, concert tickets and sporting events, which all seem to balloon his credit card balance. Meanwhile, your daughter is a penny pincher who lives a more frugal lifestyle geared more toward walks in the park, free outdoor concerts and leftovers.

Opposites attract, right? But could these warning signals of financial incompatibility?

It may be time for the couple to have a heart-to-heart about money, and the sooner the better.

Talking about money on a date is hardly romantic. And while you don’t want to ask hardball questions on your first date, there are some ways to break the ice as you move into a relationship.

Susan Beacham and Michael Beacham, the authors of the “Official Money Guide for Couples,” recommend having money talks as soon as it’s clear that a couple is serious about a life together.

Here are some ways for couples to get the ball rolling:

— Start slowly and with easy topics.

For example, if you’re planning dinner out or a movie, ask your date if there are any coupons or special two-for-one deals to take advantage of. The response could be telling.

I like the advice from personal finance guru Dave Ramsey, who said the level of the relationship should equal the level of the money talk.

— Talk values, not just numbers.

Ask about each other’s biggest financial dream, said Sonya Britt-Lutter, an associate professor of personal financial planning at Kansas State University. It could be a short-term or long-term goal, she added, such as paying off student loans in 10 years, going to grad school or traveling.

Another approach: Ask about each other’s earliest memory about money, or what each person learned from their parents about spending and saving.

“The biggest problem I see is couples who don’t really understand what each partner values and why,” said Britt-Lutter, who has researched couples’ money issues extensively. “Having a conversation about family upbringing and one’s earliest money memories is imperative in really understanding what is valued.”

— Talk about earning money, not just spending.

Here’s where you can delve into maxing out your employer’s 401(k) plan or taking advantage of employee stock purchase plans. 

— Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Don’t make it a big deal if your new boyfriend spends a little more than you think he should on new running shoes, for instance, or a night out with his friends.

Finally agree to disagree and be understanding, but don’t expect problems to resolve themselves automatically.

Remember, arguments over money are one of the leading causes of breakups and divorce, according to a 2013 Kansas State University study of 4,500 couples, which was directed by Britt-Lutter.