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My Dates Aren’t Worth What They Cost

Photographed by Meg O'Donnell-Bath.
When Hannah*, a 29-year-old visual merchandiser, arranged to meet her date Josh* in his hometown of Oxford, she’d budgeted around £50 for the date. “I would typically budget £30 to £40, but as I was travelling for the date, I made an allowance for it,” she says. Hannah (who preferred not to share her last name) hadn’t had much success dating where she lives in Reading, so it seemed worth spending a little extra to go on the date — or so she’d thought. 
They met at the pub, where they ended up ordering about four rounds of drinks. “He drank quite quickly, so I felt like I was keeping up and buying rounds quicker than I would like,” Hannah recalls. “I told him what time my last train was, but he said we could make one quick bar on the way there.” Hannah ended up missing her train, meaning that her only option was to get a taxi halfway back, and then to ask a friend to pick her up and drop her the rest of the way back home. In total, she ended up spending around £100 on a two-and-a-half-hour date. 
“I think we both got the vibe that we weren’t going to see each other again, so he didn’t really care about me missing my train, or offer to pay half my taxi fare or anything, even though I felt like he was the reason I missed my train,” she says. Hannah says that the money she “wasted” on the date with Josh put her off dating “for a while”. 

Dating during the cost of living crisis

Meeting someone off a dating app for the first time is always a gamble. Dates require time and money, and often mean sacrificing a chilled evening in or hanging out with friends to spend time with someone we might be totally incompatible with. But now, as the cost of living crisis has worsened, it appears that fewer of us are willing to take this gamble if it means blowing a hole in the budget. In 2022, daters were already watching the pennies to inflation, with nearly one in five single people saying they were going on fewer dates, while 14% were trying to spend less on the dates they did go on.
Hannah says that the experience has made her far more selective about who she decides to go on a date with. “I try to move the conversation onto voice notes — even phone calls or FaceTime — before a first date,” she says. “It helps to weed out people that aren’t that fussed about dating seriously. It saves me money, compared to if I was to just meet them on a date for the first time.” 
For Hannah, rising costs have also prompted her to consider what’s most important to her, and worth spending money on. “I have less money to spend in general, so I don’t want to prioritise a date with a stranger over doing something with my friends,” she says. 
Laura Anne Moore, host of the podcast Mind Money Soul, makes a similar point. After a string of pricey dates last summer, Laura deleted the dating app Hinge (she’d been paying for the “premium” version of the app), and hasn’t gone on a date since. “Because I’m single, and because I live in London, my expenses are already really high,” she says. “[Stopping dating] was less of a conscious choice; it was more like: I want to put more money into holidays and friendships and trying to survive in London.” 

Choosing friendship over romantic relationships

Many people feel the same way. In fact, 55% of American Gen Z and millennials say friendship is more important than a romantic relationship. It makes sense, then, that faced with strained budgets, people are increasingly choosing to spend their money on time with friends and experiences over dates that will potentially go nowhere. 
There are others, like Heather, age 31, who say they “would love to find love” — however, their budgets simply won’t allow for regular dating. “It’s the difference between eating less that week so I can have £40 for a date,” she says. Like Hannah, she’ll now spend much longer getting to know someone before committing to a date. “I’m ‘picky’ in order to try to prevent wasting my money, essentially,” she says.
Hannah says this “weeding out” process does have its benefits — in general, she’s going on fewer bad dates — but it’s also taken some of the fun and spontaneity out of meeting someone. “It would be nice to be able to date without having to worry about money and budgeting for it each month,” she says. “If I’m on a date and it’s going well and we want to stay out and go on to dinner or drinks, then it becomes a real financial choice, which I hate… I’ve definitely had to put dates on credit cards in the last few years, which I never had to do before.” Hannah is not alone: One 2022 US study showed that 22% of millennials are going into debt over dating, and 19% of Gen Z. 
Of course, taking a break from the apps or cutting back on dating for financial reasons doesn’t need to mean putting your love life on hold. “It’s actually surprising how often I have to remind clients that the dating apps have only existed for 10, 15 years. Before that, people met in person,” says relationship therapist and dating coach Laura Caruso. This might mean joining a running club, or simply talking to people we meet in a coffee shop. “Shifting from ‘I need to be actively dating’ to ‘I just need to be meeting new people’ can really keep you in the game and help you feel motivated and energised and not like you’re falling behind.” 

Talking about finances with a love interest

Part of the problem is the stigma that surrounds talking about money. Heather recalls how she was recently left feeling “ashamed and embarrassed” after going on a dinner date with someone she met on an app. “I made the mistake of him choosing the restaurant and it was too expensive for me,” she says. Heather says she has always felt too anxious to raise finances with a date. “I feel really embarrassed to admit I’m struggling with the cost of living alone.”
“Talking about finances requires you to be really honest,” says Aja Evans, a financial therapist and coach. “It’s another layer of vulnerability to be sharing with someone what you’ve gone through, but also what your mistakes might be, or things that you don’t love about yourself financially with somebody else.”
Talking about finances with a love interest is usually fraught. However, things do appear to be changing, with the rising cost of living now escalating conversations around money during the initial stages of dating. In fact, 39% of singles say they now broach the subject of money much earlier on with their potential partner than they would have done previously.
As Evans sees it, this is a good thing. “Having that conversation [about money] sooner rather than later is best,” she says. “You need to know that the two of you as a couple can navigate what life throws at you, and money sometimes is that first challenge or hurdle that people have to deal with together.”
This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to date someone in the same tax bracket, Caruso stresses. “It just means that you need to be with someone who’s very empathetic and understanding of your financial situation and vice versa,” she says. “That means you’re doing separate things sometimes — and you’re both okay with that.”
Being more open about money can also make it easier to suggest dates that are affordable — whether it’s going for a walk in the park, or cooking a meal together. “Finding different ways to spend our money together that feel good can be a bonding moment, potentially helping you to get closer through being open around being vulnerable,” says Evans.
It’s something Heather hopes to see change in her own dating life. “Surely we are all feeling [the cost of living crisis], but perhaps are embarrassed to talk about it as we’re trying to ‘impress’ and seem like we have our shit together,” she says. ​“It’d be such a relief if people were more open.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities.