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  5. I ask men if they have a pension plan before I seriously date them. It's not because I care how much money they have.

I ask men if they have a pension plan before I seriously date them. It's not because I care how much money they have.

Nicola Prentis   

I ask men if they have a pension plan before I seriously date them. It's not because I care how much money they have.
  • Nicola Prentis sorted out her finances three years ago and is on track for retirement.
  • She's found that a man's attitude toward pensions, saving, and spending is a good indicator of compatibility.

"Have you got a pension?" isn't the first question I ask a date but it's high on my list if I'm considering an actual relationship.

It's not about how much they earn, and I'm not looking for someone rich. In my opinion, a low-earning saver, like me, is actually much better off financially than a high-earning spender with no safety net. But I have to ask about pensions to really find out where our future is heading as a couple.

Pensions impress me more than a fat wallet

One guy I dated had his own business and earned four times more than me. He kept offering to buy me flights to visit him, sent me expensive flowers, and had a penchant for buying anything in the grocery store labeled "finest."

Big spenders make me uneasy because I don't enjoy extravagance and I'm happier living simply. But my fears were confirmed when I asked him the pension question.

It turned out that, at 50, he had no emergency fund to call on, no pension, and no investments. Even more telling about how the balance of our future relationship would be was when he added, "I don't understand all that stuff but I'm happy for you to manage it for me."

That was my cue to end it. No relationship can work if one person is always the "fun police" and has to do all the labor because the other can't be bothered to learn. I ended it and truly hope he put that flower money toward a pension.

Another guy had a sneaker collection to rival the Nike flagship store. He bought them for comfort and as a reward for working long hours in a high-pressure job. I, too, work a lot, but I'm trying to create a business, so my reward will be that I eventually work less. Also, I only buy sneakers when the old ones fall apart.

Did he have a pension though? I wondered. He didn't. "Who knows how long we have to live?" he shrugged. To me, it's precisely that we don't know how long we'll live that creates the reason to prepare financially for retirement, not to spend everything and work until you die. Clearly, we weren't heading in the same direction at all.

I secured my own finances, so I want a man who's done the same

As a low earner, a single mother, and someone who had their head in the sand for years over financial security, I finally woke up three years ago and sorted out my own future financial security.

I started by making sure I was up to date on the state pension systems in the UK, where I'm from, and Spain, where I live. I invested my savings instead of leaving them in an account earning nothing and opened a private pension plan that I automate small contributions to every month. I've even started a business teaching other people to do exactly what I've done.

Since I started getting interested in personal finance, I've learned that attitudes toward money are one of the most persistent and destructive factors in relationship issues. That's a clear theme when I look back at my past relationships. Disagreements about money caused more than just arguments. They brought a feeling of distance from a partner because their beliefs and behaviors around money were so alien to me.

Past boyfriends' attitudes toward money caused problems

I had a boyfriend once who thought it was smart to put everything on a credit card and pay the minimum balance each month because it increased the amount he had available to spend. The fact he couldn't see why that didn't work out mathematically amplified all the other ways we were incompatible.

In another relationship, we almost split up over an argument that began over a difference of opinion on buying a 2,000 euro piece of art. I thought it was a waste of money — he saw that as an indication of how little our tastes overlapped. We were both "right," and, inevitably, the relationship didn't last.

So when I'm asking if a guy has a pension, what I'm really asking is: "Are you thinking about the future or just about enjoying today?" It's not that there's anything wrong with living in the moment. After all, I get that "you can't take it with you" and "there's no point being the richest person in the cemetery." But, to me, I can enjoy the present more if it's not ruined by worrying about what will happen later if I don't have money.

If our approaches differ on that, I am certain we won't be a good match — financially or romantically.

Got a personal essay about life as a single parent that you want to share? Get in touch with the editor: akarplus@businessinsider.com.


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