Singles seeking a significant other are pumping the breaks on dating in the face of rising inflation — yet another blow to their love lives after the Covid-19 pandemic temporarily relegated the dating game to the virtual realm.
A 2022 survey from online dating site Dating.com found that 52 percent of respondents reported that they are content with holding back on scheduling a date to save money on clothes, gas, public transportation, dinner and drinks, outings, and more due to the impact of rising inflation and economic uncertainty. Some 58 percent also said they prefer to get to know potential partners better before spending excessive amounts of money on dinner and dates to “avoid wasting their time and dollars if it doesn’t work out.”
The survey further found that 67 percent of singles said they had cut back on their typical romantic night out for simpler, cheaper options. Eighty-three percent were looking to spend less than $50 on a first or second date, a drastic decline from their response in 2021 when 75 percent said they planned to spend more than $100 on a meal with their date. 1
"The increase in prices of food, gas, clothing and many other products and services has left singles rethinking their usual dating habits and patterns as they make an effort to save money," said Maria Sullivan, vice president of Dating.com. "We're seeing that inflation has also led to many couples choosing to move in together within an accelerated timeline to help cut living costs in the short term. In some cases, this happens before couples are truly ready to take this next step in their relationship."
The cost of dating
Dating has never been cheap, for new or existing couples.
The average American spends roughly $168 per month — or $121,000 during the course of their lifetime — on dating, according to the most recent survey provided by OnePoll to MassMutual. Married couples spend even more keeping the spark alive, averaging $186 per month, the survey found.
For many, that includes the cost of subscription online dating services, a market forecast to reach $10.4 billion by 2027, according to IndustryARC.2
Often, those trying to woo a potential partner spend beyond their means to impress. But that’s a slippery slope, said Jennifer Mann, vice president of Lenox Advisors in Chicago, Illinois.
“I think a lot of people do overspend on their dates,” she said. “Let’s face it. Most of us like to be spoiled. But that doesn’t mean that we need to be. If you have the money for fancy dinners and extravagant dates and that’s what you enjoy, go for it. However, if you don’t, then save those things for special occasions.”
Don’t let finances deter you from dating
Because of the expense involved, especially during periods of inflation, some singles who wish to be in a relationship choose to put romance on hold.
A 2020 online poll of 1,000 Americans by MassMutual revealed that nearly one-third (29 percent) of singles said their financial situation had deterred them from dating or getting serious in a relationship. Young adults (41 percent of millennials) were most likely to indicate that their finances kept them from dating seriously.
Your financial status, however, should not be a deterrent to asking someone out, said Dan Drabinski, a financial professional with Bluecrest Financial Alliances in Dallas, Texas.
“Having a family and raising children in today’s society is expensive,” he said. “We hear about the cost of private schooling and the inflating cost of college and it can be intimidating to think about entering into a serious relationship. There is certainly an element of stability which must be in place before embarking on a life-long decision, such as starting a family, but that should not detract from seeking happiness and finding a partner."
Drabinski added that many of the most successful married couples started off with few resources and built their financial future together over time. (Learn more: The financial pyramid)
“For example, in cases where one person supported their partner during a medical residency or while they obtained an advanced degree, we have often seen a bond form which makes that couple stronger over the course of their marriage,” he said.
Keep your spending in check
The secret to finding happiness with a mate is honesty.
Indeed, dating need not — and should not — break the bank.
“Dating can be very expensive, but there are a lot of ways to keep costs under control,” said Mann. “Just be creative. You can do picnics on the beach. Create a scavenger hunt. Download a free walking tour of a nearby city. Get museum passes at the local library. You can cook together. Take a virtual dance class. If you check out the local park districts, many have great, affordable events — free outdoor movies, concerts, festivals.”
Anyone tempted to treat their sweetie to lavish gifts that stretch their budget should consider the goal, especially if they hope to cultivate a meaningful relationship. (Related: Budget essentials)
“It is very easy to get over your head in terms of your spending, when in reality the person you are trying to impress is likely more interested in stability and honesty than an expensive experience, which cannot be consistently replicated,” said Drabinski. “Focus on the experience, rather than the cost.”
An expensive meal early on, he said, can actually be detrimental to the relationship as it can create unnecessary stress and unrealistic expectations. Instead, focus on a restaurant or experience where you have personal ties or a personal connection.
Talk money – but time it appropriately
No one would suggest that money is an appropriate topic on your first date, but it is important to discuss your spending and saving philosophy early on. That invites a discussion of financial goals and career aspirations so that you can determine whether your vision for the future aligns. (Learn more: Money questions to ask before the proposal)
Indeed, honesty is essential in every facet of your relationship, including your finances. If you can’t afford that trip to Vegas or a Broadway show right now, say so, and provide context.
- Are you making double payments toward your credit card to become debt-free faster?
- Are you paying off your student loan?
- Are you saving for your first home?
- Have you learned your lesson with borrowed money and now prefer to plan and save for life’s little extras in advance?
“Honesty and trust are truly the bedrock of a strong relationship,” said Drabinski. “Sharing your goals and being vulnerable about your financial fears can be healthy for a young relationship. But we also must be careful not to overshare.”
It’s fair game early in your relationship to be open about your career and long-term goals, he said. But bringing up your salary or a future inheritance should wait until you have established a more serious commitment.
“Communicating about finances should increase in correlation with the maturity of the relationship,” said Drabinski. (Learn more: Financial intimacy and cohabitation)
If you’re looking for love, you’re not alone. Singles at every age are spending big bucks —in some cases more than they have — to meet a potential mate.
As you plan your next date, however, just remember that it doesn’t take a Michelin-rated restaurant to form a connection. Use some creativity, be honest about your budget (as appropriate), and keep the focus on having fun.
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This article was originally published in February 2020. It has been updated.