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Childhood affects finances in relationships

The topic of money — especially the specifics of his father’s great wealth — generally left him feeling uneasy.

“I was deeply uncomfortable with all of this for the longest time,” Ballmer told the hosts of the Cash Cuties podcast.

And so Ballmer struggled making friends growing up, as he never knew if people were more attracted to his wealth than him. Romantic relationships, surprisingly, came easier for him.

Dating apps are relatively anonymous, only requiring a first name and some pictures, which allowed Ballmer to date without the baggage of his last name.

Eventually, after the second or third date and he’d had a chance to get a feel for the person and sense that they weren’t materialistic, Ballmer would spill the beans about his family and their wealth.

Even when you don’t come from great wealth, having these money talks early on in a relationship is important. And it’s important to remember your formative childhood experiences with money often determine your attitude toward it in adulthood.

For instance, a University of Pittsburgh researcher discovered that teens often have behavioral and mental health issues when their parents struggle with money. If you’re someone who grew up in a financially unstable home, then you may still get stressed out around money because of how you grew up around it. It may even trigger old teenage behaviors and mental health issues. Your partner may not understand why you get moody when the monthly credit card bill comes.

This is why Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, a wealth psychology expert, told CNBC that couples need to take each other through their own “money island,” explaining how they think about money, what they learned about it as a kid and what makes sense to them.

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Splitting the bills

Ballmer has been dating the same woman for almost two years and lives with her in a two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco. They split everything evenly and haven’t merged their finances yet.

“If I were dating someone who proposed proportional spending, I would feel a little miffed and feel that perhaps they saw part of the deal with dating me as a benefit to their lifestyle,” he told Business Insider.

But many couples don’t want to split their bills 50/50. A 2023 survey from Thriving Center of Psychology discovered that half of cohabitating couples don’t split their mortgage or rent equally.

However, just 37% of the Thriving survey respondents say their relationship is “financially unequal.” That’s because there’s often a difference in these situations between aiming for a division of expenses that’s equal and one that’s fair.

Regardless of what anyone else might think, you and your partner need to figure out a division you can both be happy with. Bread Financial discovered in a recent survey that 41% of people wish they shared a more similar financial mindset with their partner.

Differences in financial attitudes can lead to issues down the line, like “financial infidelity,” where one person in the relationship chooses to hide purchases or debts from their partner. Financial infidelity is so common that almost half of respondents in the Bread Financial survey admitted to it. This kind of lying may seem harmless, but it can lead to breakups or even identity theft issues in extreme cases.


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Sabina Wex is a writer and podcast producer in Toronto. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, Fast Company, CBC and more.

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