If you’re single, you know: Dating is expensive. All those cups of coffee and drinks with strangers add up quickly. The average unmarried American spent $1,596 on their dating life in 2016, according to a Match survey of 5,500 singles around the country. Of course, in some cities the average is higher. For example, in Washington, it was $1,788; in New York, $2,069.
This average includes bar tabs and dating site memberships, but also includes haircuts, manicures and new date outfits; entrance fees to dating events and money spent on matchmakers.
When that $1,600 average is divided by gender, men spent more ($1,855 on average) than women ($1,423). But the male-female gap isn’t that large. Perhaps that’s because, increasingly, men and women are splitting the checks on dates. About half of men, according to the Match survey, think men should pay on dates; 36 percent of women agree.
If a woman offers to pay, it might mean she’s not interested. Seventy-eight percent of women said they split the check on a date because they didn’t want to feel obligated to go out again or to get physical. But 47 percent of women said they offer to pay to be polite or to assert their independence. This shift is generational: Millennials are more likely to offer to split the check than are Generation Xers or baby boomers.
When I spoke to Dayana Yochim, a consumer finance specialist for NerdWallet, about this study, she noted that it was a decent chunk of money. Depending on where you live, that might be more than half of one month’s rent ($2,575 in Washington) or mortgage payment ($2,719), or about half the average 2016 tax refund ($3,000). But it might be a good investment. “It doesn’t seem very high to me, honestly. If you only go out on one date a year and this is what you’re spending,” then that’s a problem, she said. But for 20 dates a year, that comes out to about $80 a date per person.
Yochim stressed the importance of aligning your spending with your life goals. “If finding love and dating is on your high-priority list and you’re feeling the financial pinch from what you’re spending, then look elsewhere in your budget,” Yochim said. “What else are you spending on that’s not bringing you joy, or not bringing you closer to your life goals? Cut back there.”
Of course, dating isn’t a purely financial decision. “Studies show that people get a lot more lasting happiness when they spend their money on experiences rather than things, and I think that’s an important distinction to make here,” Yochim said. “Even if it’s a bad date, you have a story. You have something to laugh about or cry about with your friends. You’re getting a lot of mileage out of that $80 date.”
For those looking to cut back on what they spend on dates, Yochim suggested modest first meetups, like an iced tea and a stroll in the park. And if someone suggests a restaurant that’s out of your price range, don’t feel pressured to go along with it. “You can say, ‘Hey, that sounds great, but how about something more casual? Or something that’s not going to make me wonder if I can cover my rent,’ ” Yochim said.