Falling or being in love is a magical, wonderful experience — butterflies in your stomach, heart eyes all over your face, cash flying out of your wallet. Whether you’re dating casually or in a committed partnership, you’re going to spend money on your relationship again and again. It could be a weekend getaway for your anniversary or a romantic restaurant on a first date, but the fact is, love costs money. So is casual dating more expensive than a serious relationship? And whatever your situation may be, is there any way to control the cost of dating?

The Cost of Dating When You’re in a Serious Relationship

Sara, 24, and Russell, 26, are a couple in Austin, Texas who have been dating for a year and a half. When it comes to date nights, Sara says, “Dinner, movies, going out for drinks — we’re pretty basic.”

Their dates tend to be simple, but they still come with a price tag. Sara and Russell split costs down the middle every time they go out, or they trade off whole checks. For instance, if Sara pays for a dinner on Monday, then Russell will pay for movie tickets on Friday. Dinners out tend to be in the $30 range, and movie nights usually run $40 to $50 if they get snacks or a drink.

“We split everything, so that’s almost like being a single person,” Russell says when asked if they think that being in a relationship is more expensive than being single. “We each get a drink and an entrée we like, which we’d do as a single person. But at the movies, we sometimes get one soda and split it, so there are ways to save as a couple that aren’t open to a single person.”

Further Reading: “The Weird Way We Budget as a Couple — It Really Works!”

The Cost of Dating When You’re Single

Z.J. (a nom de plume) is a 34-year-old single queer woman in Washington, D.C. Here’s how her dating life generally goes.

“First dates are often doing free things or coffee or happy hour,” Z.J. says. “If I ask the lady out, I intend to pay, but won’t insist. There are many beautiful and very walkable neighborhoods in D.C., and first dates are usually on a day fit for strolling. If the date goes well, there may be more food. Food costs usually stay under $30 a person.”

Z.J. is a budget-conscious woman who even blogs about money in her spare time. As such, she strives for cheap or free dates while getting to know someone.

But, she notes, “once I’m in a relationship, dates often get more expensive.”

Erin, 26, also lives in D.C. and says that for her, an average date runs her $20 to $30. What does that money go to? “For initial dates, I suggest grabbing a coffee, having a picnic if the weather is nice, or going to a museum,” Erin says. “If it’s a couple of dates in, I suggest going to dinner. I’ll offer to split the tab but let him pay if he actually insists. I’ve definitely done the thing where I have my card out when the bill comes so I can at least pay for my half. Or I’ve traded off with a partner — that is, we’ll alternate who pays.”

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Everyone I talked to seemed in agreement that date nights cost about $30 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’re racking up the bucks.

To spend time with your boo and not bust your budget, you have to get creative. As both Z.J.’s and Erin’s experiences show, going on dates that are more activity-focused — like strolling through a cute neighborhood together while you talk, or even using a Groupon — can be much easier on your budget.

Further Reading: “Should Finances Play a Role in Your Dating Life?”

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 (bring your own snacks!)
  • Free days at museums
  • A day of viewing your favorite murals in 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?

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