It was easy for me to put a price tag on my last breakup. Between the money I spent on auto insurance, the cost of moving to a new continent to be with my now-ex, and the price of purchasing last-minute flights back home, I could see how much money I spent on dating as it (unfortunately) appeared on my credit and debit card statements.

The Cost of Dating and Free Date Ideas

This exercise inevitably lead me to consider the more optimistic opposite cost: How much does it cost to fall in love? What is the cost of dating in general?

Answering this question proved slightly more difficult, but it’s necessary to explore. An estimated half of Americans indicate their financial situation is holding them back in romantic relationships, according to the American Institute of CPAs.

With money being such a determining factor in romance, it’s important to understand how much each of us might spend to find Mr. (or Ms.) Right. Here’s how I broke it down:

The Cost of Dating Sites

Many sites are free, and even those that aren’t, tend to be free for women. While I’m not a fan of online dating, I have tried it briefly, and found prices hovered between $10 and $20 a month for premium services.

Some sites like Tinder offer a free version, which limits the amount of “likes” you can make each day; if you opt to pay their monthly $15 membership, however, you get unlimited likes.

My friends who pay for online dating services argue that they don’t get as much spam as one does with free services and that the guys are more motivated. One of my friends swears online dating is the cheapest way to eliminate the duds before investing a dime — perhaps there’s money to be saved by screening my dates ahead of time.

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Grooming Costs

I’m not a girly girl. On a normal day, you will find me dressed in whatever my hand reaches first in my closet. And combing my hair is about as far as I’ll go in terms of trying to look good.

But if I’m going on a date, I’ll probably have my hair done, go for a manicure, and — just maybe — even buy a cute top.

Even if I don’t go overboard, I’m looking at $30 or more before I even walk out the door.

Putting Yourself Out There

When you’re in a relationship, a tub of ice cream and a movie make for a perfectly acceptable Friday night date. But when you’re looking for love, you say yes to more expensive events, namely bar nights, dinners with friends, and concerts, all to the tune of anywhere between $20 and $100 per night.

I try to keep costs down by having just a drink or two, or having a snack before I go out, so I’m not tempted to order every appetizer on the menu.

The Cost of an Actual Date

A way to keep costs low is to not go on dates with everyone who offers. Spend a little time chatting first. See if you are flattered by their interest or if you want to get to know them better.

I check to see if there are any deal-breakers before accepting. Do we want the same things? Some people date for fun, others to find love. Both goals are fine, but if your date wants something different than you do, it likely won’t work in the long run.

You can pick a coffee shop to make it a cheap date, or offer to go for a walk around town, which makes for a great conversation starter on top of being free. If we go out to eat, I always reach for my wallet when it is time to pay.

Only once did a guy let me pay the whole bill (and no, there was no second date).

The guy tends to offer to pay, or else we’ll split it. While I think men should pay for a first date, and I will pay for the second one, I always come prepared to pay my share. I bring small bills so we can get it over with quickly and I don’t have to wait for my change.

First dates usually cost me $5 to $30 because even on a “free” date, there are transportation costs to get there.

Dating is a numbers game, so you may go on a dozen dates before you find a boyfriend. Then, you’ll go on a dozen more dates with said boyfriend.

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How Much Is Too Much?

Throughout the dating process, many people begin to wonder if they’re overspending. It’s a fair question — given that it’s impossible to put a price tag on your “happily ever after,” you may be willing to dole out cash in a less-than-frugal manner.

You may ask yourself: Should I designate part of my budget for dating? While it may seem like a salient move for your wallet, some dating coaches say you may inadvertently hurt your long-term success, as well as the fun of going on a first date.

“You want to think about your budget as one big picture — you don’t need to carve out money for dating,” advises dating expert April Beyer, founder of LEVEL Connections matchmaking firm. “This behavior will limit your choices, options, and ultimately the joy of being single.”

“Your desire for intimacy should have no reflection on your checking account,” Beyer adds.

In short, do your best to cut out feelings of guilt about splurging on dates. Seeing new people on a shoestring budget can affect your bottom line of finding and making a new connection.

“Simply do what you can afford and what feels appropriate. Dating can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be if you choose locations that allow for quality conversations without breaking the bank.” Beyer advises.

Asking the Right Questions

We asked April Beyer the three questions you should ask yourself when it comes to money and dating, from the first date through moving in together, to help you assess your spending:

  • If we split the tab for a date, are we meeting at a place I can afford? If not, ask to meet in a more casual, inexpensive environment.
  • What small, inexpensive, and thoughtful gifts/ideas can I provide that offer value without spending a lot of money? Dig deep here. Money isn’t everything.
  • Would I move in with my boyfriend if I could afford the full rent on my own? If the answer is no, don’t do it.

Cutting Costs: Free Date Ideas

Everyone I talked to seemed to agree that date nights cost approximately between $30 to $50 per person, regardless of whether you’re dating casually or in a serious relationship.

One-off $30 dates probably won’t break the bank, but if you go on six $30 dates in a month, then you’ll start racking up big numbers.

To spend time with your boo and not bust your budget, you have to get creative.

Be open with your partner or your date about the fact that you want to go out with him or her, but not spend too much. It’s easier to explain from the outset that you’re interested in saving money rather than getting to an expensive restaurant and only ordering water and a side salad.

Here are a few free date ideas:

  •     A hike
  •     A trip to the beach (excluding the cost of snacks)
  •     Free days at local museums
  •     A day of viewing your favorite street art throughout your city

Your relationship status doesn’t matter as much as the type of relationship you build with the people you date. Be open, be honest, and let people know that while money is something you want to be mindful of, you also want to have fun with them. Who said those two things have to be mutually exclusive?

Once I Find a Boyfriend

Once things go well, I usually pay for every other date. I like it better than splitting the bill every time. Without counting pennies, it’s an easy way to balance things out in my head. If he gets expensive tickets for a show, I’ll treat us to a nice dinner.

If you’re too worried about the cost of dating, it can become debilitating.

I also like to get small gifts when I see my boyfriend needs something. It’s $10 here and there to show the other person you thought of him or her.

By then, things are going well. Thank goodness, because you are moving in together, and finally recouping the whole cost of dating by halving your rent and going back to TV marathons!

Just kidding — sort of. It’s easy to keep having fun, cheap dates that don’t break the bank, if you so desire.

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The Total Cost of Dating

Let’s calculate how much all of this is going to cost. For a dozen dates at $15, a couple of grooming sessions at $30, a dozen more dates with “the guy” at $50 (of which I’d pay half), and saying yes 10 times to my friends telling me “you should really go out tonight or you’ll stay single forever!” at $30 a night – that’s $840 to find my next boyfriend.

And I’m not trying as hard as others. Some girls have their hair done for every date, or join a gym to get in shape. Nor am I a man paying for dating sites or first dates in full — otherwise, I’d probably be looking at more than $1,000.

In the end, it’s clear that love — like everything else in life — can be expensive. Just ask people who measure love by the size of an engagement ring.

But in the end, dating can be as cheap or as expensive as you desire. You can enjoy the park or a fancy restaurant. Furthermore, if the person is right, the place won’t matter — just make sure you split the bill and budget accordingly, so you and your beau can keep hitting the town.