When I was feeling especially single last year, I downloaded a few dating apps. The basic services on Bumble and Tinder are free, so I figured I had nothing to lose. Why pay for a dating app when I can swipe my heart out without spending a dime?
I quickly realized the problem: I can’t really tell if I like someone from a photo, so if I want to give any of my matches a chance, I have to meet them in person.
That’s when dating stops being free and starts to add up. Here are a few common dating expenses and suggestions for how to get around them.
I’m not really a mani-pedi kind of girl—I’d rather paint my own nails at home—but more than once, I’ve realized a few hours before a date that every item in my closet is hideous. I rush out to the nearest clothing store and try things on in a last-minute frenzy, barely glancing at prices. Or, I’ll head straight to Sephora, convinced I need fancy new mascara in order to face a potential love interest. This is my worst dating habit. Low-budget solution: Think of “be yourself” as style advice. Wear something you already own, even if it’s not perfect. You’ll save money and feel more comfortable. Resist the urge to visit a salon before the first date, because the right person will not give a crap if your hair looks a little frizzy.
I live in Los Angeles, which means I usually have to drive to meet my dates. This either involves paying for gas (not a big expense, unless I end up spending a lot of time with someone who lives all the way across town), or using a ridesharing service like Lyft.
Low-budget solution: If you live in a place with good public transportation, use it! I get nostalgic for the days when I lived in NYC, and could use my unlimited-ride Metrocard to get anywhere, 24/7. Another option: If you live in an urban area, arrange all of your first dates within walking distance of your home. (There’s no need to tell your date you live nearby, especially if you don’t hit it off.)
At the bar.
I’m usually nervous on first dates, which means I want a glass of wine. Meeting at a coffee place would save money, but it would probably make me even more anxious with the caffeine. A glass of even the cheapest wine at an L.A. bar is $8 to $12, which feels like a big expense, considering that my favorite white wine is $3.99 a bottle at Trader Joe’s.
Low-budget solution: Limit how much you drink. It’s common sense anyway if you’re meeting a total stranger, but staying relatively sober keeps both you and your bank balance safe. If you can tell after one drink that you’re not interested, don’t waste your time or money sticking around out of guilt. Make an excuse and say goodbye.
I avoid meeting for dinner on a first date, because that’s more time than I want to spend with someone I may not like. I’m only interested in having dinner with someone I definitely find attractive. I believe in splitting the cost (or taking turns paying), but even so, dinners can get expensive fast.
Low-budget solution: Do your restaurant research ahead of time. Before you suggest checking out that new taco place, check the menu online, so you know what you’re getting into.
Follow-up dating activities, if all goes well…
Whether you’re dating around, or hanging out as much as possible with one specific person, there are plenty of fun things to do without spending a lot of money. Check local events calendars for activities that are cheap or free, like art openings at galleries and author events at bookstores. See a movie at the closest $2 theater. Find out if local museums are free on certain evenings, or if you can take a free yoga class together in your favorite park.
Know your spending limits.
Overall, my advice for dating without going broke is to have a budget and stick to it. Don’t run up a credit card bill trying to impress someone, because chances are, you’ll still be paying interest on those purchases long after you’ve lost interest in that person. Be yourself, boss girl— someone who’s strong, confident, and makes smart choices with her money. Your future dates will love you for it.
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