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The economics of dating

Shelly  Gigante

Posted on January 22, 2024

Shelly Gigante specializes in personal finance issues. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications and news websites.
Cost of dating
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This article will ...

Explore why many singles have cut their dating budget in half.

Discuss the dangers of overspending on potential partners to impress.

Offer suggestions on how to date without breaking the bank.

 
   

Singles seeking a significant other are pumping the breaks on pricey dates in the face of higher inflation.

A 2023 survey found that seven in 10 Americans are choosing less expensive activities for dates these days, like hiking, instead of traveling or going out to eat.1

Singles also said they would be open to hosting a first date at home (55 percent) or going on a virtual date (44 percent). Despite the rising cost of food, gas, and other living expenses, however, 41 percent of men surveyed said they would not be open to splitting the check due to rising inflation.

Research from online dating app Plenty of Fish found a similar trend. “Rising prices are affecting all aspects of our lives — including dating,” the company wrote in a recent press release. “Nearly half (48 percent) of single millennials and Gen-Z have suggested going on a less expensive, budget-friendly date.”2

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.3

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 recent 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. (Related: Financial intimacy and cohabitation: Talking money with your partner)

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.

For example:

  • 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.

Conclusion

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.

Since 1851, MassMutual has been focused on helping people secure their financial future and protect the ones they love. That mission is why we have over 7,500 financial professionals to assist you on your journey through insurance, investing, retirement planning, estate management, and more. You can find a MassMutual professional with this tool or you can let us know you’d like to talk to one and we’ll have one of our financial professionals can contact you.

Discover more from MassMutual…

5 ways money can wreck your marriage

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Need a financial professional? Find one here

This article was originally published in February 2020. It has been updated.

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The Harris Poll, “Singles in America Survey, “January 2023.

2 Match Group Company and Plenty of Fish, “Singles Identify 2023’s Top Dating Trends,” Oct. 4, 2022.

3 IndustryARC, “Online Dating Services Market size is valued at around US$10,378 million in 2027,” Nov. 24, 2022.

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The information provided is not written or intended as specific tax or legal advice. MassMutual and its subsidiaries, employees, and representatives are not authorized to give tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to seek advice from your own tax or legal counsel.Opinions expressed by those interviewed are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of MassMutual.