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Don’t Let Dating Drain Your Wallet!

It’s an age-old conundrum: How do can you make a good impression on a date and not spend a lot?

Still in college? Then a night out at “Quarter Draw Thursdays” might be all it takes. The rest of us don’t have it so easy. There’s no way around it, a typical post-college “dinner and drinks” date can really set you back. If you’re smart, however, you can have great dates for fewer dollars. Here’s how:

Go cheap on first dates…really cheap

Your desire to make a great first impression on a first dates can tempt you to pull out all the stops. Think twice. If this date’s a flop, you never know just how many first dates you’ll be going on, and following your urge to splurge could get expensive pretty fast.

Don’t pay if you don’t have to, obviously!

Post-1959, there may be as many arguments for how to divide the check on a first date as there are romantic restaurants to choose amongst.

The rule of thumb (or one we like, anyway) is that whomever asked for the date foots the bill.

That means you can wait around for somebody to ask you out or go looking for other ways to save. (Which would be wise, because first dates don’t have to break the bank). For example, you could forgo the tired dinner and a movie routine for a home-cooked meal (though this works best if you’re already friendly with your date; not so much for Match.com first meetings).

Or, meet for lunch instead. At many restaurants the tab will cost half as much as dinner (plus the date will be quicker so you can make a fast break if things get awkward).

Lastly, don’t be afraid to bust out a coupon, even on the first date. Call me a financial freak, but I’d have gone gaga had a guy used a coupon on a first date! (Put it this way: If you’re the kind that likes coupons but your date is horrified that you would use a coupon on a date, how far is that really going to go?)

Beware of “love spending”

If the first date goes well, there are bound to be several more to come. You may have pulled off the first date under budget, but that may not always be the case — especially if you fall hard.

The good news is that you’ve already laid the groundwork for an inexpensive courtship with a reasonably-priced first date. (Had you blown $200 on your first dinner, your new love might have higher expectations than your wallet can handle).

Once you start seeing each other more and move into a relationship, your monthly dating expenses might start to creep up past your initial threshold. When you’re in this “honeymoon stage”, it’s easy to go out to eat or do other costly things several times per weekend or even several times per day.

In your love-induced haze, try to remember that dating isn’t about money, it’s about getting to know each other. So try to skip the added expenses and focus simply on being with the other person during those first few weeks or months.

Be respectful of your date’s finances

It’s fine if you’re reading this thinking “I’m in a good financial situation; I don’t have to worry about how much I spend on dates.” Just don’t forget that might not be the case for your new boyfriend or girlfriend.

Dating brings together two sets of finances. It’s very possible that your new other half may have debt or a low income and can’t supplement your dates quite like you can. And you never know: Your next date may become a long-term partner or even a spouse, and you don’t want them to finance your budding relationship on their 30 percent APR credit card!

Related: How to have better “money talks” with your partner

In other words, encouraging luxury dates with someone who can’t afford it might backfire on you in the future when you inherit their debt!

Don’t forget to have fun

It is possible to date and not spend a lot. Just don’t stress so much about money that you forget to have fun.

Most of all, don’t worry that your date might think less of you if you can’t afford a five-star restaurant. If that person is more concerned with your money than you, that person probably doesn’t deserve to go out with you in the first place.

In the end, after finances and jobs, stress and errands, dating is meant to be fun. Don’t fret too much over the financial aspect of it and just remember to enjoy the ride.

What do you think? Just for fun, who do you think should pay for the first date? Should you agree on it before hand? 

Published or updated on January 27, 2010

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About Amber Gilstrap

Amber is a twenty-something CPA from Kansas City, Missouri who loves writing, working out, and---of course---finding fresh ideas for saving money. Follow her on twitter @amberinks.


We invite readers to respond with questions or comments. Comments may be held for moderation and will be published according to our comment policy. Comments are the opinions of their authors; they do not represent the views or opinions of Money Under 30.

  1. Dattu says:

    you Ryan and Helen for allowing me to be a part of your jounery from boyfriend and girlfriend to fiancee and fiancee and nowa0 to man and wife. I’ve loved every minute of it and wish you

  2. Shannon says:

    If you want there to be a second date–don’t use a coupon–or at the very least, don’t let her see you use it. Either (1) have better foresight in choosing a less expensive place or (2) save up your money to eat at the place.

    Using a “free app” coupon that you won in a game of poker is one thing, but don’t you dare lay down a buy one, get one half-off entree coupon.

    CHEESY…and I don’t mean that in a good way, as in cheesy fries.

    Save your coupon for the second date or eating with friends. If the first one is that great, it won’t expire before you have another chance to use it.

  3. Susan says:

    Using a coupon on the first date seems a bit awkward, but using one a little later is okay. I just usually ask beforehand if it is going to weird the guy out. His answer helps me to judge the depth of his character, too.

    On paying, dutch is a good way to go, especially in the beginning. Men always eat & drink more than me, so paying for them can really cut into my budget.

  4. If a guy EVER busted out a coupon on the first date, there wouldn’t be a second date. I love my coupons, but that is tacky. I don’t mind just going for coffee or drinks for the first date, but if a guy needs to bring out a coupon at date number one, it makes me wonder what his financial situation is. And it’s probably not good.

  5. I’m married now, but dating always freaked me out. When I met my husband our first several outings were going running or hiking together with the occasional sack lunch–completely free. Eventually, I invited him over for dinner at my place, which I cooked–it didn’t cost much. In fact, I can’t really even remember either of us spending a lot of money on dating. My advice is to share an activity that you already enjoy with your ‘date’ that way if you don’t like your company, at least you spent your time doing something you love. And if you do like your company, at least you end up in a relationship with someone you have something in common with!

  6. How about cooking dinner on a first date? That’s way cheaper and impressive.

    I think being memorable and fun is way more important in the initial stages than throwing down money.

  7. Stu says:

    As this isn’t a dating site, I’ll stick to one point:
    For a first date – Get away from the norm of going to a sit down dinner. Instead, meet for a quick cup of cofee and see how things work. It you don’t know the person very well, the “date” is short, which keeps things casual. If it works out, great. If not, you’re out a few bucks for coffee and maybe 30 minutes of your time (remember: Time = $$).
    Going to dinner costs more (time & money) and can lead to the standard set of interview questions that dull the encounter. Do activities that are exciting, fun, and imbue all those qualities that build attraction. Doing such builds weath, in more ways than one.

      • Carrie says:

        Those are all great ideas, Stu! I’m planning to write a post about dates that are less expensive next week, so be on the look out. I definitely agree about the time = money issue – you don’t want to waste an entire evening if you really don’t get along with the company that you’re with!

  8. 20smoney says:

    Ah yes, learning how to date without breaking the bank is important! Good conversations are free!

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