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Updated on Monday, February 8, 2021
Relationships are tricky enough without adding money to the mix. For young and older couples alike, talking (or not talking) about debt, or about ways to spend or save, can cause tension.
To understand how this impacts younger couples, MagnifyMoney surveyed nearly 1,000 Gen Zers and millennials who are married, engaged or in a relationship. According to our findings, nearly three-fourths said they’d been mad at their partner because of a financial decision they made, while 15% hadn’t yet discussed debt with their partner. Here’s what else we found.
- Key findings
- Surprise purchases and frivolous spending top list of financial decisions that anger millennial and Gen Z couples
- 3 in 10 millennial and Gen Z couples cite different views on money as hardest financial challenge in relationship
- Nearly 6 in 10 millennial and Gen Z couples are saving for a house, while just about half are saving for a baby
- 15% of millennial and Gen Z couples don’t talk debt, including 7% who have chosen so intentionally
- Nearly 1 in 4 married millennials and Gen Zers keep separate bank accounts
- 74% of partnered millennials and Gen Zers have been mad at their partner for a financial decision they made. The top two argument drivers: The partner made a big purchase without telling them about it (31%) or spent a lot of money on something the respondent considers to be frivolous (30%).
- When asked the hardest part of their relationship money-wise, 30% said each partner was raised with a different view on money. The other most common answers were one partner earning a lot more than the other (19%) and one partner being a saver and the other a spender (17%).
- Gen Z and millennial couples are saving for the future. In fact, 57% are saving for a home and 46% are saving for a baby. Plus, 38% of those who are in a relationship but not engaged are saving for a wedding.
- Nearly 1 in 7 (15%) Gen Z and millennial couples haven’t discussed debt. That jumps to nearly a third (32%) for those who don’t live together. Even 8% of married couples have never talked about debt.
- Nearly a quarter (24%) of married Gen Z and millennials still keep separate bank accounts. An additional 19% have a joint account in addition to their separate accounts. This could be one reason why more than a third (36%) of young couples say they use a service like Venmo or Cash App to pay their partner at least once a week.
Surprise purchases and frivolous spending top list of financial decisions that anger millennial and Gen Z couples
Nearly 3 in 4 millennial and Gen Z couples — which includes married and engaged couples and those in relationships — have been mad at their partner for a financial decision they made:
Those who earned between $50,000 and $74,999 were the most likely (84%) to have been mad at their partner for a financial decision. Conversely, just 16% of that income group said they never felt that way, compared with a range of 22% to 35% in the other brackets.
Among those who said they’d been mad at their partner for a financial decision, the most common circumstances were either that their partner made a big purchase without telling them or the partner spent a lot of money on something they consider frivolous:
Interestingly, older millennials (ages 33 to 40) were most likely to report hiding debt as the financial decision that made them mad at their partner (11%), versus 6% of younger millennials (25 to 32) and 8% of Gen Zers (18 to 24).
We also asked whether a partner had been mad at the survey respondent for a financial decision they made, and 67% said yes. However, there was a variation among gender, as 78% of men said they had made their partner mad at them for a financial decision, versus 58% of women.
As for the reasons why a partner had been mad at a respondent’s financial decision, the top two argument drivers were the same as when the respondent was the one who was mad:
- Not telling the partner about a big purchase (29%)
- Spending a lot of money on something the other person considers frivolous (27%)
3 in 10 millennial and Gen Z couples cite different views on money as hardest financial challenge in relationship
Money can be a source of relationship challenges, and there can be a lot of reasons for that:
For many, the most difficult part of dealing with finances while being a couple came down to being raised with different views on money.
A point of contention could be frivolous spending, said Lauren Perez, a MagnifyMoney deposits writer. With video games, for example, one partner might not agree with the other’s spending decisions because they feel the money could be spent elsewhere.
She also cited the gender pay gap as a potential reason, in which men can make significantly more than women. Among all respondents, 19% said one partner outearning the other was the hardest difficulty.
63% of men in millennial and Gen Z couples make more money than their partner, which can cause relationship tensions
Building off what we just discussed, more than 6 in 10 (63%) men in these millennial and Gen Z couples make more money than their partner, compared with 26% of women.
Older millennials were also more likely to report earning more than their partner (55%), as well as married people (52%) and those earning $100,000 or more a year (66%).
These kinds of earnings differences can cause tension, especially when one partner makes significantly more than the other. In fact, 51% of those in relationships or marriages where one person outearns the other said there has been tension because of it — and men were more likely to say so than women.
Notably, those earning less than $25,000 a year were the least likely to report tension coming from an income difference (40%), while 61% of those earning $100,000 or more said they had experienced this.
Nearly 6 in 10 millennial and Gen Z couples are saving for a house, while just about half are saving for a baby
When it comes to saving for a home, baby or wedding, more millennial and Gen Z couples were saving to buy a house (57%):
Younger millennials (60%) are more likely than their older counterparts (56%) to say they’re saving for a house.
Meanwhile, 46% of millennial and Gen Z couples are saving for a baby, but that percentage jumps to 55% for those who are married. And 69% of those earning $100,000 or more also said they were — largest among the income brackets.
Lastly, we asked those who were dating (but not engaged) whether they were saving for a wedding. In total, 38% said they were. Breaking it down further, 67% of those earning $100,000 or more were doing so, versus 26% of those earning less than $25,000.
15% of millennial and Gen Z couples don’t talk debt, including 7% who have chosen so intentionally
Talking about debt with a partner is the norm, with only 7% saying they never had — and that they had no plans to do so. However, it is more common among Gen Z couples (10%).
And while about two-thirds (65%) said both partners know all about each others’ debts, 20% noted they haven’t gotten into specifics on how much each person owes. Let’s look at this among those who are married, living together and not living together:
Our expert on why ‘prenups can be a worthwhile conversation before getting married’
While most married respondents said they didn’t get a prenup — a legal agreement that outlines how assets and debts are handled in the event of divorce or death — about a third did. That figure jumps to 52% for households that earn more than $100,000 a year.
That could signal a change in the perception of this financial tool, which has often been thought of negatively as it kicks in post-divorce. This may be facilitated by the prevalence of talking about finances with a partner in general.
That could help explain why the prenup trend seems to be gaining more traction. Among those who were engaged, for example, more than half said they were at least considering getting one:
- 23% said they were getting one
- 32% said they hadn’t decided yet
- 45% said they weren’t getting one
If you and your partner are considering a prenup, it’s important to make sure you specify what it’ll cover. That should include both parties’ assets, including those gained individually before the relationship and any joint assets, like a house, Perez said. And it should also cover any inheritances and trusts, as well as any businesses you may own.
Nearly 1 in 4 married millennials and Gen Zers keep separate bank accounts
While 57% of married couples have joint accounts, 65% of those living together unmarried keep separate accounts.
Among those who have separate accounts and live together, however, the vast majority split the bills in some form:
- 39% of married millennials and Gen Zers split their bills 50/50
- 27% split proportionally based on income
- 23% split, but not proportionally
Still, 53% of these couples also said they’ve fought over who’s paying for what.
If you’re going to get a joint account, it may help to establish its purpose and how each person will contribute to it, Perez said. For example, each person could contribute half their income to the account, which will cover the couple’s rent, utility bills and groceries. Or, perhaps, the person with a higher income will contribute more.
That said, it isn’t always necessary to get joint bank accounts, as it can be easier to track spending by keeping things separate. The most important thing, Perez said, is to understand what your financial and bank account needs are as a couple.
MagnifyMoney commissioned Qualtrics to field an online survey of 1,523 Americans ages 18 to 40, conducted Jan. 22-26, 2021. Of the total sample size, 953 respondents were married, engaged or in a relationship. The survey was administered using a non-probability-based sample, and quotas were used to ensure the sample base represented the overall population. All responses were reviewed by researchers for quality control.
We defined generations as the following ages in 2021:
- Generation Z: 18 to 24
- Younger millennial: 25 to 32
- Older millennial: 33 to 40