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When Can You Ask The Person You’re Dating: “How Much Money Do You Make?”

Photographed by Refinery29.
Talking about money benefits all of us — and we need to do it more. Join the conversation with Worth More, our 2024 guide to better finances, from navigating savings, debt, and relationships to negotiating pay raises and, above all, investing in yourself.
Asking someone how much money they make will never not be awkward — especially when it comes to someone you’re newly dating. Although we’re slowly entering an era of radical salary transparency, loud budgeting, and other vocal trends that give way for us to share more about money, prying into someone’s personal financial situation can still feel… Weird. But our money personalities say a lot about us, and they can be crucial to know before diving head first into a committed relationship. So, how early is too early to ask about a potential partner’s money?
The banking app Chime recently surveyed 2,000 Americans who were either engaged or married and found that on average, couples typically discussed finances six and a half to eight months into their relationship. And while you’re likely not asking what someone’s credit score is or how much they owe in student loans on the first date or even the second, most experts agree that there’s actually no such thing as “too early” to bring money into the conversation.
In the dating world, conversations surrounding money come up far earlier than you’d think — even before the check comes. “Money is involved in every single aspect of dating, from the very first date when we’re deciding where we’re going to go and how much money we’re going to spend,” Traci Williams, PsyD, clinical psychologist and certified financial therapist, tells Refinery29. According to Match’s 2022 Singles in America survey, 96% of singles say that an important trait in a partner is having similar attitudes about debt and spending, so sussing out whether or not you’re a money match is kind of a big deal. You can learn a lot about how someone feels about money through subtle cues, like what they say about their job, how they talk about certain aspects of their childhood, if they’re open to getting a few appetizers versus going straight to the entree.
Starting any conversation about an intimate and vulnerable topic, like money, is always better led by curiosity rather than coldness or criticism. You should leave super direct questions such as, how much money do you make?, how much is in your savings?, how much debt do you have?, out of your arsenal, according to Rachel DeAlto, chief dating expert at Match. “All of those things are valid conversations in terms of when you actually start to merge finances, if you are going to get to that point,” she says. “But you don’t necessarily have to be so abrasive with that conversation. I think you can have it happen very organically and still get all the information you need.” And while salary transparency is extremely valuable in the workplace and in your own industry, asking that question in the early stages of dating could kill the mood.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself if you don’t dig deep into finances early on, though. “When people are dating, the focus in the very beginning should be on getting to know that person and determining for yourself, do I have a connection with this person? Do I like this person? Do I enjoy spending time with this person?” says Dr Williams. “Getting down to the nitty gritty details about things that are sensitive, like talking about money, should take time because you run the risk of judging someone based on their financial situation without ever giving them an opportunity to show to you who they actually are.” Also, not everyone grew up talking about money the same way whether it was for personal or cultural reasons, so remember to give your new partner grace in this area.
As soon as you see that there’s a probability that a relationship can be long term, you can start bringing up money topics more often — and doing that earlier rather than later can be beneficial for your partnership in the long run. “There is research out there that shows that couples who talk about money are happier than those who don’t,” Abby Davisson, co-author of Money and Love: An Intelligent Roadmap for Life’s Biggest Decisions and founder of the Money and Love Institute tells Refinery29. “Pushing through that discomfort — and of course there’s a ton of initial discomfort — is worth it in the long run. It’s kind of like a muscle.”
Once you start building that muscle, you’ll continue to strengthen it over time as your relationship with money evolves in tandem with your romantic relationship. In the beginning the conversations will be about financial goals and budgets and lifestyle spending, but as your relationship gets more serious, you may start talking about insurance, buying a house or car, and even joining your accounts. “Money is a very sensitive topic to some and it can be very triggering,” says Marissa Nelson, LMFT, relationship and intimacy expert for BLK, a dating and lifestyle app for the Black community. “If you don’t have the emotional foundation for that … it’s a nuanced conversation that can be difficult in some scenarios to manage without the scaffolding.”
It’s a long road, gaining emotional trust with someone you’re newly dating. Early on, you can ask your partner about the relationship they had with money in their childhood, how they cope with financial stress, and what they like to spend money on before trying to poke around their pension situation or loan repayment plans. To ease into these topics, talk about yourself and your feelings first to break the ice. “By going first, you’re then giving the other person an opening to share something about their financial situation,” Davisson. “If you’re the one who is suggesting you have this conversation, it’s helpful if you start to provide examples and some breadcrumbs for that person to follow.”
If you find yourself dissatisfied with your date’s responses, take some time to look within to investigate what’s bugging you about it first. “Just because someone may not make a lot of money or as much money as you does not mean that they do not have quality values to bring to the table,” Dr Williams says. And remember, finances change over time — just because someone you’re dating is in a certain predicament now doesn’t mean they will be in the future. Salaries rise and fall, people get laid off, and an endless number of circumstances can alter your partner’s financial situation at any point in your relationship. 
It could potentially be a red flag if the person you’re dating is consistently pushing back or doesn’t want to have any conversations about money at all. “That’s definitely something to pay attention to, particularly before you become even more serious, like moving in together or getting engaged,” Dr Williams says. “If they’re pushing back, what usually can be helpful is asking about the push back versus trying to push [them] harder.” It may be worth it to ask the person about why these conversations are making them uncomfortable, and it’s possible you could learn more valuable information about them in the process. Again, a way to offer an olive branch of sorts is to open up first — if you’re asking a specific question, start by coming at it from your own personal feelings and experiences rather than putting your partner on the spot.
Money is a tricky topic, and it’s a hurdle we’ll have to face with whoever we pick as our partners — and the sooner, the better.