How dating gets expensive—and what you can do about it

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Don’t you feel like dating sucks sometimes? You have to have a pool of potential dates, because everyone does, and find the time for each of them. You need to be prepared to be ghosted or stood up, and you’re supposed to play the game of avoiding “catching feelings.”

As if that wasn’t enough, dating can also get really expensive. Now that we’re all getting vaccinated (and I sure hope you are!), we’re going to switch from the pandemic-style virtual and socially-distanced dating back to going out and spending money.

If you feel like giving up on the whole concept, I feel you. Let’s figure this one out together. I might not be able to tell you how to avoid being ghosted or the key to getting more Hinge matches, but I can help you fit dating into your budget.

Why is dating so expensive?

This might not be a popular opinion, but pandemic dating hasn’t been that bad—at least, it’s been easier on our wallets. Video dates have become a thing, and they’re free. Instead of going to the movies, we’ve done “Netflix parties,” bingeing shows together without having to meet physically. When we finally decided it was worth it to see each other in person, we still often avoided restaurants and bars.

All of this has been great on our budget. Now, however, I expect dating to come back to what it was before the pandemic.

This means going shopping for new outfits. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been wearing pajamas 90 percent of the time in the past 12 months and now require a whole new wardrobe. This can also mean shopping for makeup. And possibly perfume. Should we throw some manicures in there too? That can easily become a regular expense.

The dates themselves are an expense, too, since they often involve going out to eat or getting drinks. They might even include a movie, concert tickets, day trips or other activities. Unfortunately, fun experiences often cost money. And if you’re like many of us on apps “dating around” with multiple people, these expenses can add up quickly.

Before the pandemic, a single person in the U.S. spent around $168 on dating every month. If it continues like this, you could save over $2,000 in a year staying happily single.

I’m just kidding. You don’t have to do that. Here’s how you can bring dating costs down.

How to budget for dating

While there’s no sure way to protect your heart from ghosting and other horrors of modern dating, you can protect your budget.

Come up with free or cheap date ideas

Everything in life is an investment, my friend, and so is dating. The first few dates are risk assets. They may pay off beautifully or turn out to be lost time and money. You may be tempted to splurge to impress your date and show them a good time, but I’d recommend holding off on that at least until the asset in question becomes less volatile, and you start seeing some real potential—whatever that means for you.

Until that happens, have a few cheap date ideas in your arsenal. Have a picnic at a park. Check out some art galleries. Go hiking (just not on the first couple of dates—need I tell you it doesn’t sound safe to wander in the wilderness with a stranger?).

Besides, unless you can regularly spend money on expensive dates without much impact on your budget, why would you create an impression that you can? Nobody likes false expectations.

Split the bill

I heard that on the first date, the person who does the asking should also do the paying. Afterward, you can take turns paying or split the check.

I suppose this makes sense, but what if you’re proactive in your dating life? What if you’re a king or queen of first dates?

I’ve had 14 first dates in the pandemic, and I’m a lazy dater. Imagine if I were the one doing the asking and all of those dates were offline—I’d have to pick up the tab. I’d have spent $300-$400 without much return on my investment. My budget would call me and tell me to stay single.

Of course, there’s a great chance the other person will offer to split the bill, but they still may expect you to pick up the tab. If you then drop an unexpected expense in their lap, they might not be happy.

To avoid the high cost of first dates, set the right expectation from the get-go. Don’t overexplain anything and stay casual. For example, if you’re doing a dinner and a movie, you can say something along the lines of, “I’ll pay for the dinner, you pay for the movie?” If that’s a big deal for the other person, well—maybe it wasn’t meant to be to begin with. That’s tough, but so is dating, am I right?

Have the right credit card with you

I once read advice that it’s best to use cash on a date to avoid overspending. If you have a problem with credit card overspending, that’s fair. If, however, you know how to avoid credit card mistakes and are comfortable using credit cards, there’s no reason not to get rewards on your dates.

Taking your date to a concert? Pay with the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card and get 3 percent back. Getting fancy snacks for a picnic? The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express earns 6 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1 percent). Bring the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and all those dinner dates will bring you closer to a trip paid with points—no matter if those dates are first or last (or both).

Plus, you never know when your pretty credit card can help the conversation flow. I recently went on a date and offered to split the bill, handing the guy my American Express® Gold Card. He told me he’d cover it, thankfully, but his eyes went wide, and he said, “Wait, your Amex is… pink?” I explained that it was rose gold, not pink, which led to a few cute jokes that made this credit card nerd’s heart happy.

It’s a match!

Since we’re talking about credit cards—I guess this is just what happens whenever I have a conversation­—I invite you to check out CardMatch. I promise it’s more rewarding than a dating app because you get matched with credit card offers tailored to your credit profile for free and without impacting your credit score. You get your perfect match, no need to pay for their dinner.

As a final word, I’d like to encourage you not to give up on dating yet, at least not because of its financial aspect. There are many ways to have an amazing time with a person without making your budget cry. Plus, the right person for you will accept your current financial situation, whatever it is.

Written by
Ana Staples
Credit Cards Reporter and Young Credit Analyst
Ana Staples is a reporter for Bankrate and an expert on all things credit basics and personal finance for the younger generation.