A few months after graduating from college, I accepted a job offer at a newspaper in a small Indiana town. It paid well enough and promised a wealth of reporting experience, but there was one major drawback–I’d have to move several hours away from my then-boyfriend, now-husband.
I accepted the position, dismissing the potential difficulty of a long-distance relationship. I only had to stay a year or so to gain the experience I needed, and it’s not like we’d be living in different countries. I figured weekly or bi-weekly visits would be more than enough to sustain the romance. Any added difficulty would be manageable.
Thankfully, our relationship survived. My finances were another story.
It didn’t take long for me to recognize just how damaging long-distance dating was to my wallet. After several months of gas-guzzling road trips, lengthy phone calls, expensive dates, and pints of ice cream to keep me emotionally stable, I realized just how expensive it was to live across the state from my boyfriend. I was hardly saving any money and I’d stopped putting extra money towards my student loans. Something had to change.
I was able to right the ship, mostly with savvy planning and a little restraint. Here’s how you can do the same.
Make it part of your budget
If being in a long-distance relationship is important, then you need to budget for it the same way you would budget for going to the movies or eating out. Look through your bank or credit card statements and add up how much you spend every time you visit.
Come up with a total, concrete figure of how much your LDR costs each month. Compare that to your other expenses and total income to make sure you’re not spending more than you’re earning.
For those who can only see their significant other every few months, calculate the annual cost. Include flights, rental cars, eating out, souvenirs, and all other expenses. Divide that amount by 12 and set aside that figure automatically in a separate savings account. If the cost of flying goes up, then increase your budget to match it.
Discuss it with your partner
Being in a long-distance relationship can be especially difficult when you sorely miss your other half, but can’t afford to see them as often as you’d like. When that happens, the only answer is to talk to your partner and find a compromise.
Thankfully, there are a bunch of viable solutions for this problem. Can your boyfriend or girlfriend help subsidize your travel costs? Can you do cheap activities while you’re together? If the situation is truly dire, is it okay to visit less often?
When I was doing long-distance, I had a regular Monday-Friday schedule while my boyfriend had to work at least one day every weekend. He never got two days off in a row, and since we were three hours apart, it didn’t make sense for him to visit me just for one day. Plus, some of my close friends also lived in his city, so we made the decision early on that I would be the one driving.
I was also earning more at the time and had more money to spend on gas and car repairs. Sometimes people would comment on our arrangement, asking if I was upset that I did most of the traveling. Because we had talked and agreed on this scenario together, I was never angry.
Every arrangement is different, and what works for one couple may not work for another. Just do what’s best for your relationship and be open to talking if you’re having trouble.
Evey Wilson had been dating her boyfriend for four years when she got the opportunity to work in Washington D.C. while finishing up her Master’s degree. He still had one year left of law school at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, so they decided to do long distance. Every two weeks, one of them would drive almost six hours or take the bus.
“While it was expensive, it was really one person traveling once a month, so that is kind of how we kept our costs down,” she said.
If you both have similar schedules and budgets, then dividing up the costs of traveling 50-50 makes sense. Wilson recommends scheduling your visits ahead of time so each person can look for good deals to avoid last-minute scrambling.
Be a cheap date
Unfortunately, my boyfriend and I learned pretty quickly that we couldn’t afford to be in a long-distance relationship and go on fun dates at the same time. In college, we would travel to concerts in Chicago or Louisville, but as young adults, we had to settle for Netflix and Arby’s.
Cheap dates are a life saver when you’re long-distance. Sometimes you have to get creative. Find a Groupon for a restaurant or visit a brewery that offers samples on Fridays. Thankfully, it’s not too hard to find a frugal way to spend time together.
Look online for coupons or ideas for low-cost events, like local festivals or free days at the zoo. Sometimes we would just take long walks around the neighborhood and have a single beer at a bar. At the end of the day, we didn’t really care what we were doing—it was about spending time together.
Save on transportation
When I was driving every weekend to see my boyfriend, I signed up for a credit card that offered five percent cash-back on gas. This was back in the Dark Ages when gas cost more than four dollars a gallon, so I wanted to save every penny I could.
I also tried to only fill up at my local Kroger, where I could redeem the points I earned doing my grocery shopping. If I didn’t have any points, I used the GasBuddy app to find the cheapest gas station near me.
If you use MegaBus or Greyhound to see your sweetie, sign up for their emails. That way you can take advantage of special sales and offers. Much like booking a plane ticket, bus fares are always cheaper the farther out you look. Sometimes MegaBus will have one dollar tickets if you book early enough.
While a long distance relationship may be worth it emotionally, it’s important to recognize the financial reality of choosing to be in one. Travel does cost you, especially if you travel frequently to see each other. These tips offer ways to keep costs down while involved with a partner who’s far away.