The economics of dating

Shelly Gigante

By Shelly Gigante
Shelly Gigante specializes in personal finance issues. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications and news websites.
Posted on Feb 10, 2022

Singles seeking a significant other are opening their wallets wide after a two-year hiatus in which the dating game was largely relegated to the virtual realm.

Indeed, online dates and masked meetups temporarily took the place of happy hours and dinners out during the height of the pandemic. But with restrictions on indoor dining, group gatherings (like concerts), and travel now lifting, couples (and hopefuls) are taking courtship to the next level.

A 2021 survey from online dating site Dating.com found that 75 percent of singles planned to spend more than $100 on a meal on their first date and 65 percent of respondents expected to take their first date on an excursion or outdoor adventure that would cost more than $500.1

Some 45 percent of those surveyed had made connections with people in other cities during the pandemic and planned to visit them to meet in person for the first time. Of those who planned to travel, 25 percent expected to spend more than $1,000, 55 percent said they would spend from $500 to $999, and 20 percent planned to spend less than $500. More than 20 percent of those surveyed were planning an international getaway for their first date.

“It’s no surprise that singles are ready to spend this year,” said Maria Sullivan, vice president at Dating.com in a press release. “From museums to exclusive restaurants — and even island excursions —our members are excited about the prospect of impressing on the first date.”

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 a 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 2026, 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, 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. (Related: 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.

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. (Calculator: Setting your financial goals)

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.

Discover more from MassMutual…

5 ways money can wreck your marriage

Getting over money taboos

Need a financial professional? Find one here

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1 Dating.com, “Hey Big Spender! Dating.com Reveals Majority of Singles Are Ready to Put Their Dollars Where the (First) Dates Are,” July 26, 2021.

2 IndustryARC, “Online Dating Services Market – Forecast (2022–2027),” 2020.

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.