How to Date Online Inexpensively

Flickr.firstdate.BostonBillIf you’re single and seeking a relationship, chances are you’ve at least considered online dating.

It became a hot topic among my friends last semester … two of them joined the free dating site OK Cupid, and we were all obsessed with hearing about their profile-browsing and dates.

As even “traditional” daters know, doing the typical dinner or movie date  can get expensive, especially if you’re doing it a lot. And if you add in online dating costs, it could really send you over the edge.

I turned to cyber-dating expert Julie Spira, the author of  “The Perils of Cyber-Dating: Confessions of a Hopeful Romantic Looking for Love Online” to see if online dating can be done affordably. Luckily, she says “yes.”

Julie has been experimenting with online dating since 1994. These are her tricks of the trade:

1. Pricier isn’t always better.

Julie says sites today range from free to about $59 per month. But you don’t have to spring for the most expensive sites to get the best results.

She recommends the free site Plenty of Fish (where, because of guilty television pleasures, I happen to know Millionaire Matchmaker Patti Stanger found her current boyfriend). More than 1.9 million Americans log onto Plenty of Fish several times a day, and they make up 50 percent of the market share for dating sites on mobile devices.

You can also be like my friends and use OK Cupid, another free site with lots of users. You will be matched with potential dates after answering fun quiz questions about yourself.

 2. You don’t have to pay for the bells and whistles.

Some sites, free or not, will ask if you want to upgrade to a “premium membership.” Usually, that just means you can skip viewing ads. It can also mean you can browse others’ profiles anonymously, so they won’t know you’ve been circling back to check out their profile.

If you can tolerate the ads, don’t worry about the premium membership, Julie says. Checking out someone’s profile can actually be a subtle way of letting them know you’re interested and increases your chances of meeting the right person. If, on the other hand, you tend to be a cyber-stalker (I’ll admit to looking at other people’s Facebook pages a little too much, for example … it’s all fun and games until you accidentally “like” their photo from 2010), maybe the upgrade is worth it. You don’t want someone to think you’re nuts.

3. Cast a wide net.

Many people today are creating profiles on multiple dating sites, Julie says. Usually it’s one paid site, one free site, and another niche site, like one centered around religion or a favorite activity, so if you’re ready to get serious you might consider including a paid site to your efforts: is the largest online dating site. Another to consider is

Even if you pay for a dating site subscription, don’t rule out those other online hangouts as potential meeting places. Plenty of people connect through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (all of which are free), Julie notes.

4. Commit to a site for at least three to six months.

Some sites will offer a special deal if you just join for a month. But that’s not enough time to really give it a shot, Julie says.

You’ll get the best value if you join a site for three to six months instead. Otherwise, you might just be throwing away the money you spent on the one-month membership.

5. Plan your date wisely.

It’s still customary for a man — if he’s on a first date with a woman — to pick up the tab, Julie says. So guys, instead of trying to negotiate that (suggesting going Dutch, etc.), just suggest dates that are in your price range. For same-sex couples, who’s going to pay may be less clear, so you may negotiate splitting the tab ahead of time to alleviate any awkwardness when the check comes.

A good first date doesn’t have to be expensive. Julie suggests offering a few options: maybe a happy hour (which can be relatively inexpensive if you limit yourself to one or two drinks), a coffee date, a casual lunch, or even just a Ferris wheel ride.

As a bonus, those options are also quicker than a dinner, so if things get awkward, it’s easy to cut and run!

Have you tried dating online? Do you have any tips to make dating less expensive?

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About Maria LaMagna

Maria LaMagna is a recent graduate of Northwestern University where she served as editor-in-chief of the university’s award-winning daily newspaper and studied for five months in Argentina. Before joining Money Under 30, Maria worked as a reporter for CNN and the Indianapolis Business Journal. Follow Maria on Twitter @MCLaMagna.


  1. I used to think online dating was a little scetchy. I tried OKcupid just to see what was out there. I didn’t really use it. It was kind of interesting to see what other people had going on. One day I decided to go on the site because it was before bed and wanted a little entertainment. I browsed around and actually found someone pretty interesting. He seemed very intellectual and funny from what I read. I sent him a message. He happened to be online and replied. It has been a year and we are now happily living together and thankful to have found each other.

  2. Thanks for the tips, Maria. Re: number 5–finding inexpensive dates in one’s price range seems like a smart idea, regardless of one’s gender or sexuality.

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