Money Talks, So Should You

Urban Juggle: The economics of romance

Will O'Brien
by Will O'Brien, Dimespring 30 (@wpo3)

I used to worry about money. Then I got a girlfriend.

No offense, dear. Really. Our relationship is priceless.

But recalling those carefree (read: boring) bachelor days, it seemed an occasional meal out, movie ticket or round of weekend beers was about all my wallet could muster after covering rent and regular bills.

READ: Is using a coupon on a first date a dealbreaker?

There was little leftover, certainly not enough to entertain — let alone impress — another person. The prospect of budgeting for someone aside from my 23-year-old bumbling self was down right distressing.

Yet months on, things are working out, and I’m actually doing all right financially. The following — not to overlook her patience and understanding and my redeeming charm — are a few reasons, I believe, why:

Everyone’s gotta eat

Checking out a new restaurant or an old favorite is a fun, easy way to spend an evening, but dining out regularly can get expensive.

Cooking at home is more cost-effective and provides an opportunity to work together while showing affection. Nothing says, “I care” like a well-executed dinner, or in my case, an honest attempt — good result or not — at grilling the perfect steak. It’s the thought that counts, right?

If hitting the town, rely on old college tricks. There’s no shame in pre-gaming. Splitting a bottle of wine or a few craft brews before heading out and facing marked-up beverage prices is an easy way to save a few bucks. With thirsts quenched preemptively, one dinnertime drink per person usually suffices.

When ordering, think small. Selecting a series of appetizers and splitting a single entree not only cuts costs, the strategy allows each diner to enjoy a greater variety of dishes.

Should you be lucky enough, leftovers make for a simple, already-paid-for snack to share the following day.

Split the difference

Sharing expenses makes sense, but pulling out a calculator to evenly divide every bill does not. Stinginess can be a mood-killer. I should know.

So trust each other. That’s what relationships are all about, no? Learn to take turns.

INFOGRAPHIC: The cost of a date across the U.S.

If preparing lasagna at home, one person can purchase noodles, sauce and cheese, while the other picks a wine. If going downtown for a show, spring for the tickets and let your partner grab the cab.

It’s not about exact accounting. It’s about being together.

Weigh quantity against quality

When following the recommendations above, it’s important to consider the frequency and expectations of your interactions.

For example, $100 or more could be spent on one particularly spiffy meal, or the same amount could spread over several, simpler dates. Weekend shows at the local theater might cost $6 per ticket, but splurging on good seats for a favorite band may very well be worth the added expense.

Above all else, remember: It’s not science or math. It’s dating.

Will O'Brien is a 23-year-old journalist originally from Milwaukee, now based in Chicago. Aside from media and politics, his interests include soccer and documentary films. Will is a member of the Dimespring 30, a community of bloggers sharing their thoughts, experiences and perspectives on personal finance.