The Cost of Love

Have you ever noticed all of the song lyrics about love and money?

  • “No romance without finance…”
  • “My love don't cost a thing…”
  • “Only boys who save their pennies, make my rainy day…”
  • “Can't buy me love…”

Whether you side with Madonna or The Beatles on the issue of love and money, courtship can be costly.

When you imagine your ideal partner, you probably think of general characteristics you find desirable, not the financial implications of starting a new relationship. (So unromantic!). But there are usually a lot of dinners, movie tickets, gifts, and flowers involved in the journey from single to happily committed.

To quantify the cost of love, let's look at the typical expenses associated with dating over a one-year period, along with lower-cost ways to woo your sweetheart.

The cost of meeting somebody new
If you've tapped out your real-life social network, you might consider online dating, and you might get good results. A 2005 University of Bath study found that 94% of people who used Internet dating sites saw their partner again after the first date, and the relationships lasted an average of seven months.

If the thought of paying for an online dating service puts you off, Big Think points to a study showing that the time people give to a match depended on how much the dating site cost. Men who paid $50 spent an average of 49 minutes on the date, while the men who paid nothing for the match spent only 28 minutes on the date. You're also likely to receive less spam from mildly interested potential matches on paid sites.

On average, online dating sites cost $35—$50 per month, averaging $510 per year. A more frugal suggestion? Branch out by joining new groups and organizations. Always wanted to take up trail running? Find a group that meets in your area for 5 a.m. runs. Music lover? See if your city has a young professionals membership to the symphony.

Or, consider online social networking, which is the 21st century way of letting your friends hook you up. Facebook, for example, allows you to check out your friend's friends, and your mutual friend can setup a casual group date.

Dinner and dancing
It's Just Lunch, a dating service for busy professionals, surveyed 3,968 singles nationwide about how much they spend on dates. On average, 51% of men in the U.S. spend more than $100 a month on dates, and 29% spend over $150. In bigger cities, those figures are higher. For example, 82% of men in Los Angeles spend over $150 a month on dates.

Women, on the other hand, spend significantly less on dates. About two-thirds of women spend less than $50 a month. Perhaps it's a sign that the Southern gentleman is still around, but 75% of women in the South spend less than $50 a month on dates.

Going on averages, that's $600—$1200 per year spent on dates. But according to an ING Direct survey, most women aren't expecting a fancy dinner and expensive bottle of wine on the first date. The poll found that on average, men overestimate how much is expected of them.

There are plenty of free and low-cost date ideas that don't involve dining on a McBurger and fries, and we've covered many of them at Get Rich Slowly in the past. Picnics on the beach, comedy club improv shows, visiting the local aquarium, checking out a museum, hiking, and wine tasting are just a few examples of fun and memorable dates that won't break your savings account. Also be sure to sign up for daily coupon sites like Groupon and LivingSocial that offer deals on activities in your city.

Flowers and gifts
Flowers and gifts are still a big part of the relationship equation. According to the University of Bath survey, exchanging gifts was the best way to ensure commitment in the relationship. In addition, online daters who exchanged gifts before meeting in person reported a “more committed and deeper relationship.”

So what does a more committed relationship cost? Business Week estimates that flowers cost the average single $110 per year. Then there are holidays, such as Valentine's Day. (After all, you probably don't want to launch into a tirade about how Valentine's Day is a materialistic Hallmark holiday when you've only been dating someone a few months. Save something for the six-month anniversary.) The average person was estimated to have shelled out $103 on Valentine's Day merchandise in 2010, according to the National Retail Federation's 2010 Valentine's Day Consumer Intentions and ActionsSurvey conducted by BIGresearch.

Assuming the average single spends about that much on birthday gifts and Christmas gifts, as well, we'll estimate total gifts and flowers at $419 per year.

Frugal options might include buying flowers at the grocery store, where you can get seasonal bouquets for $5—$10. As for gifts, plan ahead so you have time to be more creative. Your significant other will appreciate something thoughtful, like baking his favorite kind of birthday cake or making her a romantic dinner at home, more than picking up the obligatory (and overpriced) dozen roses, chocolates, and stuffed teddy bear from the Valentine's Day aisle (these homemade gift ideas are for Christmas, but can really be used all year-round).

So what's the grand total for one year of dating, from matchmaking to flowers? $1,529—$2,129, depending on your gender, it would seem. But then, as New Wave rock quartet The Knack sings, “you can't put a price on love.”

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Derek
Derek
9 years ago

I live in South Florida where the girls don’t come cheap. They all want a guy that can take them to the city for an expensive meal and pricey drinks. I know my friend has said he spends about $150 on each date he’s on.

Fortunately, I married a sweet girl from the Mid-West, and it was a little less costly. Half the time, I would attempt to take my dates to Burger King….it’s a wonder that I got one of them to say, “I do”!! 🙂

AC
AC
9 years ago

The title of this blog struck a much different chord with me than what was presented in the actual content of the article. To me, there is a HUGE cost to love when you fall in love with the wrong person who does no value money and wealth the way you do. I am beyond the flowers and dating scene and I am comfortable now where my partner and I are at financially, notwithstanding the few steps along the way that were painful to my emotions and my pocketbook.

retirebyforty
retirebyforty
9 years ago

$1,500 to $2,000 seems a little low. When I first started working, I went out as often as I could and picked up the tab every time. Here is a flower story. When the Mrs. (before we were married) came back from Peace Corps. and flew up to visit, I got a dozen of nice long stem red roses to greet her at the terminal. That was in the good old days when you can meet people when they get off the plane. The roses kept setting off the metal detector and I was wanded while standing spread eagle holding… Read more »

Pamela
Pamela
9 years ago

The gifts my husband has loved the most over our marriage (21 years and counting) didn’t cost much of anything. Last year I gave him the “12 Dates of Christmas” where each month I planned another date. Each one was a surprise and I tried to arrange things we just never got around to doing otherwise. It was a blast. A few years before that, I gave him a 365 things I love about you calendar. Not only did he love it, but his office mates kept on coming over to see what was coming up next. Note to self–next… Read more »

Kristen@TheFrugalGirl
9 years ago

Since I’m a born frugal girl, my now-husband didn’t spend a bunch of money on our relationship and neither did I. We did lots of real-life stuff together…grocery shopping, errand-running, eating dinner at home with my family (I cooked), and such. Not only were these types of activities inexpensive, they also were very helpful in allowing us to really get to know each other (honestly, how hard is it to get along with someone when you’re eating out or watching a movie? Very easy to put on your best face in situations like those.). We also spent lots of time… Read more »

DreamChaser57
DreamChaser57
9 years ago

Courtship can be terribly expensive; it’s a time of fiscal and emotional exuberance. However, I think of it as only a phase. Thankfully, DH and I dated long distance for a while, so we could not go out every weekend. Still – I shudder to think of the money he shelled out. While I was swept off my feet and felt cherished and honored during the courtship phase -once we took our relationship to the next level (first co-habitation and then marriage) – I went about the business of building our net worth. That type of lifestyle during the courtship… Read more »

Crystal@BFS
9 years ago

My husband and I aren’t usually big spenders, but while we were dating, we apparently wanted to buy each other off. We went to countless movies and dinners and bought each other gifts every other day it seems. Yep, courtship is expensive…

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
9 years ago

@ Derek — I’ve had the opposite problem! I’ve dated guys who are put off when I’m not wowed by their cars, electronics and other material things. In fact, big spending is a turn off to my money savvy ideals.

I love the ideas in the article and in the comments for frugal dates and meaningful gift ideas that don’t cost a lot. I wish some of the guys in my area were reading it!

Everyday Tips
Everyday Tips
9 years ago

I met my husband in college and neither one of us had much money. Therefore, courtship didn’t cost much at all. On monthly anniversaries, he got me a single flower. We would pack a lunch and eat down by the river.

I think a lot depends on who you date. Some people are very high maintenance and expect to be treated a certain way. You can spend a ton of money on someone like that. It is your choice.

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

So glad I’m beyond this stage, but really interesting and entertaining article!

p.s. I hate flowers.

cc
cc
9 years ago

i’ve had frugal courtships and extravagant courtships. i won’t say that the frugal one was intrinsically better- going to the Caribbean is a lot more fun than going to olive garden- but in the end it’s the personality that counts. i’d rather be broke with my sweetheart than rich with some jerk.

ShorterMama
ShorterMama
9 years ago

Soooooooo glad my husband and I met leading an FPU group. Our budgets were basically out there in the open and we were both wanting to be “gazelle intense.” Part of our courtship including packing some breakfast and lunch options for him. He also had this cookbook called Cheap Fast Good. He’d cook me things from there (some of them were nasty, but some were really good) 🙂 One of our regular dates was Rita’s water ice – we went on walks all the time and walked to Rita’s grabbed some water ice and continued our walk. Behind the scenes… Read more »

kelsey
kelsey
9 years ago

I’d be careful of those statistics. They seem like they’re provided by organizations that have a vested interest in people spending more money on dating, flowers, valentines day, etc.

Giskard
Giskard
9 years ago

Dating is/should be as expensive as you want it to be. I dated this girl who wanted drinks/apps with every dinner, not only did it make me gain weight but who wants to be with some who must have such things. In my long term relationship I always give a single flower for valentines, why create the expectation that 12 is standard? Lastly, I think a lot of men forget that for women it’s less About the food than the atomosphere. So pick nice looking place with average food and they will like it more than an average looking place… Read more »

Rob Bennett
Rob Bennett
9 years ago

So what’s the grand total for one year of dating, from matchmaking to flowers? $1,529—$2,129, depending on your gender, it would seem.

I spent an amount in that range in one weekend one or two times in my Glory Days.

But it turned out to be a good investment because I found The Right One.

But in a further Alfred Hitchcock twist, The Right One turned out to be the one who didn’t care about how much I spent on her.

Love is confusing.

Rob

JonasAberg
JonasAberg
9 years ago

Anyone who requires you to spend 100-150$ or more on a date is not worth it.

My philosophy is the coffee date, 5 bucks. If that isn’t good enough for a first date then she obviously isn’t there for me but for my wallet.

HollyP
HollyP
9 years ago

I was always a cheap date, being frugal. However, in line with comment #2, I found a great deal of value in an engagement ring. To me, an engagement ring paid for with cash is tangible proof that the guy has the ability to manage his finances. My first husband gave me no ring, and turned out to be horrible with money. Never could save a dime. My current husband is my financial match, and had money saved for an engagement ring. I didn’t insist on a diamond the size of an ice cube, but after my first marriage there… Read more »

Rachel211
Rachel211
9 years ago

Cost of Match.com for 3 months a few years ago: $90

Getting brave enough to actually go on a first date with one of the guys: $60 (he paid for dinner)

Being married to that guy for 5 years this spring: totally worth the $90 investment 😉

Allyson
Allyson
9 years ago

I completely agree with Jonas (#16). In my younger days, I was wined and dined by somebody who took me out to fancy places every night and loved to present himself as the big spender. When I moved in with him later, I found out that he had trouble paying his rent because of his bar tab. My credit was ruined for years due to our subsequent eviction. The size of a man’s restaurant bill does not equal the size of his bank account. Millionaire Next Door, anyone?

Kathryn
Kathryn
9 years ago

I met my guy online through a free dating website, and we’ve been dating for about a year and a half now. That’s just to point out an exception. Our first date was literally a walk in the park, complete with a stop for snow cones (cost $6). Second date was a ride in my convertible, free arts festival ($5 parking, my treat), a shared cinnamon roll and two lemonades (cost about $15). Third date we got wild. Split a plate at a chinese place, roller skating, and a couple beers at my favorite local bar to hear a friend’s… Read more »

Rachel
Rachel
9 years ago

Who are these people giving flowers? And are any of them under 35? I know zero people who have given flowers to their significant other or dates except my dad. To my demographic, giving flowers would seem like something out of an older movie. Also, what do you do with them? If a man shows up on a date with flowers, do you carry them into the restaurant and let them get in the way? Do you leave them in the car to wilt? Maybe we’re just odd. Come to think of it, I don’t know anybody who would be… Read more »

Allyson
Allyson
9 years ago

I completely agree with #2 and #16. When I was young and naive, I was wined and dined by an older guy who took pride in showing off his cash, and presenting himself as a big spender. We later moved in together, and were subsequently evicted. His bar tabs and nightly gourmet restaurant meals somehow prevented him from paying the rent. My credit was ruined for years. Remember how at the end of the Material Girl video she went for the guy in the rusty old truck that brought her daisies? There may be an inverse correlation between a man’s… Read more »

Luke
Luke
9 years ago

First ‘date’ with my now fiancee?

A 25p/38c cup of coffee from a vending machine at university where we were supposed to be working on a project, but were mostly flirting 🙂

Not that she has cheap tastes, but we’ve always paid for things 50/50 and it helps that we earn almost exactly the same wage!

Allyson
Allyson
9 years ago

(sorry for the two comments. My computer froze up on me and didn’t think the first one posted)

BrentABQ
BrentABQ
9 years ago

I’m not a huge spender, but I do spend a lot more while dating than not. There just isn’t a point to going to the movies or out to dinner alone. My GF is a bigger spender than I, but I keep it reigned in, and she attempts to balance the money we spend together. My dollars don’t mean near as much to me as seeing a smile on her, so its probably 80% of what she would prefer rather than 50%. Her finances dictate how often we go out and what types of things we do. Sometimes we trade… Read more »

Stephanie
Stephanie
9 years ago

OK this article really ticked me off. First, it is 2011 – costs of dating can be split between both people. One of the reasons that I am with my boyfriend is that he never argued with me about splitting the bill for any of our dates. I really detest this idea that I need a big strong man to pay my way, and most men that I went out with insisted on paying. Did it not occur to April to suggest splitting the bill so that the burden of paying is not only on one person’s wallet? Second, my… Read more »

Brandon
Brandon
9 years ago

I’m interested in the idea that men spend more money on dates than women. That seems to count only the money spent during the date. I wonder what the numbers would like if we counted what was spent *preparing* for the date.

Adam
Adam
9 years ago

Something about this article rubbed me the wrong way too. #26 Stephanie comes up with some points but I don’t think I’d put it that way. Dating is expesnive, even when you split the bill (I’m gay so it’s usually 50/50 unless someone feels like they want to treat that night in which case it’s reciprocated the next date). It’s expensive because instead of staying home and reading while eating lental soup made frugally in a crock pot, you’re out eating in a restaurant and drinking cocktails (*gasp* I live in Toronto- we go for drinks!! I’m sure frugal people… Read more »

AL
AL
9 years ago

Maybe it’s just me, but I LOVE flowers. I think they are beautiful, and I love having them around my apartment to brighten things up. Now, that being said, I certainly never EXPECT flowers. I’ve been with my boyfriend for a year and a half now, and every once in a while he surprises me with flowers (when I was accepted to grad school, when we decided to go someplace fancy for a “date night,” etc.) It’s a sweet and thoughtful gesture that makes me smile. Would I love him just as much without the flowers? Absolutely. Do I still… Read more »

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
9 years ago

How representative do you think stats from “a dating service for busy professionals” really are? What’s the average salary of the busy professionals that are It’s Just Lunch users? This is a bit like BMW surveying their customers to come up with the average US salary.

partgypsy
partgypsy
9 years ago

I’m sure that $100 average figure is faulty. It’s probably averaging 20 guys who buy a card or less for Valentine’s with 1 guy whose buying some big ticket item. I’d love to see the distribution chart (or where they got that figure from).

Suba
Suba
9 years ago

I met my husband in grad school. Our dates included planning a romantic meal, grocery shopping together(!), cooking, borrow a DVD from the school library and watch/eat. So the $2000 price tag scares me. But if someone spent that much on me, that would have scared me even more 🙂

BTW, the title is a little misleading. I was thinking this post is about what to do if you end up falling in love with the wrong person. I mean you really love him/her, but he/she is a spendthrift… what to do about it sort of thing…

partgypsy
partgypsy
9 years ago

OK trying to find a reference to the $103 spending on Valentines find this: The NRF 2010 Valentine’s Day Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, conducted for NRF by BIGresearch, was designed to gauge consumer behavior and shopping trends related to Valentine’s Day. The poll of 9,578 consumers was conducted from January 5-13, 2010. The consumer poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.0 percent. They asked people how much they PLANNED to spend, not how much they actually spent. I would more interested in knowing how many million $ of chocolates, flowers, jewelry were purchased during the… Read more »

Jazzy
Jazzy
9 years ago

I take offense to the fact that guys assume females are gold diggers who want all these material things for dates. It’s not a woman’s fault that men can’t be original and think of things to do, and then blame women because they go broke on dates. And to the one who commented on his date *always* wanting drinks and appetizers during a meal. Well that’s what happens when you eat!

April
April
9 years ago

Hey guys, Love the discussions about frugal attracting frugal–very good points! @Stephanie–Yes, costs of dating can be split, but the stats I found show that on average, they aren’t being split. I’m going off the those numbers to suggest ways to reduce costs for the average single–and on average, the man still pays more. Second, the V-Day remark was tongue-in-cheek. The point is that you can celebrate the day less expensively (I have a post about this coming up soon). If neither of you have an interest in it, that’s great! Not all couples will agree, and there’s no harm… Read more »

Leah
Leah
9 years ago

I met my boyfriend OkCupid.com, which is one of the big free sites. I had friends doing match at the time, and I found that 1) most of the guys they saw on match were the same as ones I saw on OKC and 2) all my dates seemed to go about as well as theirs. And I had the benefit of not having to pay for a site. Of course, individual mileage may vary, but I always recommend people start with the free site and see if there’s anyone interesting on there. My boyfriend and I have been together… Read more »

Stephanie
Stephanie
9 years ago

@April (#35) – I understand that it is traditional for men to pay. The tradition comes from when women were not allowed to work, and so is outdated. I was commenting on the fact that you did not suggest splitting the check as a simple way to balance the cost. As for your V-day comment, I got that the ‘save something…’ part was tongue in cheek, but felt that your commentary was that in a new relationship, you absolutely HAVE to give gifts for this very commercialized day. I like GRS because it bucks the financial status quo, being anti-consumerism… Read more »

Johanna S.
Johanna S.
9 years ago

Agreeing with Suba (#32) — I thought this post would be about dealing with money while in a serious relationship, not dating. Either way, $100 – $150 PER DATE? $110 on flowers? Geez Louise! In my relationships, we always split the bill (I’d pay for the dinner, they’d pay for the movie, or vice versa, or some similar arrangement), I never got nor asked for jewelry, flowers, gifts, etc. Occasional silly gifts would come around when we moved in together, but we both did it (“Saw this, thought you’d like it!”). When we ate out at a nice place ($50+),… Read more »

chacha1
chacha1
9 years ago

My DH and I spent thousands of dollars during our courtship. Theatre tickets, travel, fine dining, flowers, gifts … It probably cost us a couple years of retirement. Do I care? HELL NO. We were 35 and 41 by the time we got married (first marriage for both of us) and we knew *this was it.* We both had a lot of years of not spending much of anything on dates. Spending more is more fun. 🙂 Gifts (paying for dinner is a gift, too)signal commitment because they signal that a person is willing to take a financial risk –… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago

“It’s just lunch” caters to yuppies– of course it’s going to be pricey in that demographic. My wife and I met in grad school over subsidized $1 beers and our first date was a $10 concert. We had a blast. She says that when she figured out she really liked me is when we were in a coffee shop studying and I pulled my books out and I had a foldable book stand and was taking notes in my pda with a keyboard. Something about how seriously I took it, she says. Yes, courtship is a ritual dance, a display… Read more »

JonasAberg
JonasAberg
9 years ago

“…Someone who isn’t willing to risk more than $5 on a coffee “date” — or someone who thinks “what a disgusting waste of money!” when they get a bouquet — is maybe not inclined toward a relationship *with a particular person.* In short, a judgement about that person’s suitability as a romantic partner has already been made…” So the lesson is “if she doesn’t spend money on me she isn’t thinking about a serious relationship”..? I think that is BS. Fact is, I have no idea whether I want a relationship with the person or not when I ask her… Read more »

jim
jim
9 years ago

“Business Week estimates that flowers cost the average single $110 per year.” But the Businesweek article says : “The average American spends $25 a year on flowers and can spend up to $85 on Valentine’s Day roses.” $25 average is total. The $85 on Valentines day roses is an example. It says “can spend up to $85”. “up to” is a key phrase there. Thats not an average figure. The average is not the sum of those two figures. Valentines day roses are part of our national average spending. It also says “the average male will spend twice as much… Read more »

Rebecca
Rebecca
9 years ago

If you don’t want to spend that kind of money, don’t. If you don’t want to date someone who demands big-ticket dates, date someone else. If you don’t want to sign up for a dating website that charges you hundreds of dollars a year, sign up for a different one (OkCupid is one of my favorite things in the world). If you spend two grand a year on dating, it’s because you chose to, not because that’s How It’s Done.

Amanda
Amanda
9 years ago

We were open about money when we were dating but I don’t think DH knew how much debt he had; therefore, neither did I! I’d say $10,000 after he bought me a ring on credit, which I didn’t know about. Also, I didn’t even want as big a ring as I got. He said he knew that and that’s why he got it without me knowing. He wanted me to have something nice and not be frugal so much. His mom is something else though. We (at his insistence) trade a gift on our anniversary on a certain budget (my… Read more »

elisabeth
elisabeth
9 years ago

Before we got married, Valentine’s Day was a big deal for my sweetie and me, since we didn’t really have an “anniversary” to celebrate, but liked the idea of having a time to focus on how happy/lucky we felt. So, we’d do it up right, even getting a hotel room for the night.
But now that we’re married and have an anniversary to splurge on, we celebrate Valentine’s Day differently — with a joint donation to a local food charity. That feels great, too!

bobj
bobj
9 years ago
This article should be titled ” The high cost of loving”.
Pirate Jo
Pirate Jo
9 years ago

Pamela, Post #4, thanks for making me smile today!

krantcents
krantcents
9 years ago

Your post makes me very happy that I am married and have been for 42 years. Although the onlne services seem easier, I think I like pursuing interests that would allow me to meet like minded individuals. If the woman is impressed with spending a lot of money, she won’t be interested me. For the record, I am very successful financially! If she wanted to be with someone who makes her feel special, I could be a candidate. I am glad I am not available!

Mike
Mike
9 years ago

This is so lame. I’d probably need to get a another part time job just for date money. Finding a thrifty woman is like finding a needle in a stack of needles.

imelda
imelda
9 years ago

Great article. I suspect the costs of dating are even higher for most people — but then, I’m from NYC. I’m pretty frugal, but my brother spends a ridiculous amount of money on his girlfriend. Just want to say that I agree with stephanie #26, although with a bit less vehemence. I definitely think it’s time for women to pay as much as men — generally, whoever earns more should pay more. That’s just fair. I guess it used to make sense for men to pay, when women were living with their parents or surviving on typists’ salaries, but come… Read more »

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