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4 Tips for Dating on a Budget

By C.J. Prince

  • PUBLISHED January 28
  • |

Money can’t buy love or happiness, but it can buy plenty of expensive nights out. If you’re dating regularly, those outings can add up quickly, taking a bite out of your savings and/or throwing your budget off kilter. 

According to a survey by one online dating service, the average unmarried American spent $1,596 on dating in 2016, and in many cities the tab was much higher. Yet forging a connection with someone special doesn’t have to ruin your budget. These suggestions will help keep you on track.


Aim to Connect, Not Impress
Your initial impulse may be to show off your fine taste with a four-course dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant. But unless you plan to keep up the wining and dining for the length of your relationship, overspending on your date now could set a difficult precedent. It might also make things awkward if your date wants to “go Dutch” or buy the next meal. 

Instead, consider showing off your interests—and the real you—by planning dates around activities you love or new experiences you might both enjoy that don’t come with a hefty price tag. If you like surfing, maybe your date would be interested in getting a lesson from you. If your favorite author happens to be reading at your local, invite your date along.


Find Cheap or Free Solutions
No one should have to choose between dating and paying rent or bills. Fortunately, with the wide variety of free activities available in just about every locale, you don’t have to. Wander through downtown stores or local crafts fairs or take advantage of free nights at museums. Pack a picnic and head to the park or soak up even more nature with a hike or bike ride on a nearby trail. Roller-skating, board games and author readings are all frugal but fun options. 

When you feel more comfortable together, show off your cooking skills with a homemade dinner for two, complete with candles and music, and finish with a movie marathon on the small screen. With a little creativity, you’ll soon have a list of go-to inexpensive activities.


Make Time to Talk about Money
While you may not be ready to tie the knot, it’s worth noting that a recent survey of married couples found money to be the No. 1 source of marital strife. If you’re seeing someone regularly and want the relationship to last, you can sidestep a lot of future conflict by having conversations about finances now. 

You or your partner may be coming into the relationship with considerable debt, you might earn vastly different salaries, or you might simply have opposite spending and saving habits. Rather than waiting for these types of issues to come up in the heat of the moment—say, when you clash about how much to spend on your first weekend getaway—make a point to discuss. 

Take time to learn more about the things that can influence your views and feelings about money, such as your backgrounds—e.g., did money seem to grow on trees or was extra cash always scarce?—and current financial responsibilities like student loan debt, alimony or child support from a first marriage, or caretaking for an elderly parent. The more you can understand about each other now, the easier the road will be later on.


Create a Dating Budget Together
If your relationship is more established, figure out how much per week or month you can each afford to spend on nights out or leisurely Saturday afternoons. You may want to pool your money and then decide together how to use it. Exchange your wish lists of restaurants and shows or concerts you’d like to attend. 

Once you’ve established a “dating budget,” have a regular check-in to look at how you did and whether you need to make adjustments. Open, honest dialogue about your near-term plans will help you understand each other’s money habits, which is essential for a successful relationship over the long run.

C.J. Prince is a freelance writer who covers finance, business strategy and leadership. Her work has been published in Working Mother, Entrepreneur and New Jersey Monthly, as well as many financial websites and magazines.

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