The Economics of Dating
Singles seeking a significant other are opening their wallets wide after a two-year hiatus in which the dating game was largely relegated to the virtual realm.
Indeed, online dates and masked meetups temporarily took the place of happy hours and dinners out during the height of the pandemic. But with restrictions on indoor dining, group gatherings (like concerts), and travel now lifting, couples (and hopefuls) are taking courtship to the next level.
A 2021 survey from online dating site Dating.com found that 75 percent of singles planned to spend more than $100 on a meal on their first date and 65 percent of respondents expected to take their first date on an excursion or outdoor adventure that would cost more than $500.1
Some 45 percent of those surveyed had made connections with people in other cities during the pandemic and planned to visit them to meet in person for the first time. Of those who planned to travel, 25 percent expected to spend more than $1,000, 55 percent said they would spend from $500 to $999, and 20 percent planned to spend less than $500. More than 20 percent of those surveyed were planning an international getaway for their first date.
“It’s no surprise that singles are ready to spend this year,” said Maria Sullivan, vice president at Dating.com in a press release. “From museums to exclusive restaurants — and even island excursions —our members are excited about the prospect of impressing on the first date.”
The cost of dating
Dating has never been cheap, for new or existing couples.
The average American spends roughly $168 per month — or $121,000 during the course of their lifetime — on dating, according to a survey provided by OnePoll. Married couples spend even more keeping the spark alive, averaging $186 per month, the survey found.
For many, that includes the cost of subscription online dating services, a market forecast to reach $10.4 billion by 2026, according to IndustryARC.2
Often, those trying to woo a potential partner spend beyond their means to impress. But that’s a slippery slope, said Jennifer Mann, vice president of Lenox Advisors in Chicago, Illinois.
“I think a lot of people do overspend on their dates,” she said. “Let’s face it. Most of us like to be spoiled. But that doesn’t mean that we need to be. If you have the money for fancy dinners and extravagant dates and that’s what you enjoy, go for it. However, if you don’t, then save those things for special occasions.”
Don’t let finances deter you from dating
Because of the expense involved, some singles who wish to be in a relationship choose to put romance on hold.
A 2020 online poll of 1,000 Americans by MassMutual revealed that nearly one-third (29 percent) of singles said their financial situation had deterred them from dating or getting serious in a relationship. Young adults (41 percent of millennials) were most likely to indicate that their finances kept them from dating seriously.
Keep your spending in check
The secret to finding happiness with a mate is honesty.
Indeed, dating need not — and should not — break the bank.
“Dating can be very expensive, but there are a lot of ways to keep costs under control,” said Mann. “Just be creative. You can do picnics on the beach. Create a scavenger hunt. Download a free walking tour of a nearby city. Get museum passes at the local library. You can cook together. Take a virtual dance class. If you check out the local park districts, many have great, affordable events — free outdoor movies, concerts, festivals.”
Anyone tempted to treat their sweetie to lavish gifts that stretch their budget should consider the goal, especially if they hope to cultivate a meaningful relationship.
Talk money – but time it appropriately
No one would suggest that money is an appropriate topic on your first date, but it is important to discuss your spending and saving philosophy early on. That invites a discussion of financial goals and career aspirations so that you can determine whether your vision for the future aligns.
Indeed, honesty is essential in every facet of your relationship, including your finances. If you can’t afford that trip to Vegas or a Broadway show right now, say so, and provide context.
- Are you making double payments toward your credit card to become debt-free faster?
- Are you paying off your student loan?
- Are you saving for your first home?
- Have you learned your lesson with borrowed money and now prefer to plan and save for life’s little extras in advance?
If you’re looking for love, you’re not alone. Singles at every age are spending big bucks —in some cases more than they have — to meet a potential mate.
As you plan your next date, however, just remember that it doesn’t take a Michelin-rated restaurant to form a connection. Use some creativity, be honest about your budget (as appropriate), and keep the focus on having fun.
1 Dating.com, “Hey Big Spender! Dating.com Reveals Majority of Singles Are Ready to Put Their Dollars Where the (First) Dates Are,” July 26, 2021.
2 IndustryARC, “Online Dating Services Market – Forecast (2022–2027),” 2020.