Money Talks, So Should You

Using a coupon on the first date – dealbreaker or good financial savvy?

Marie Gentile
by Marie Gentile, Staff Writer (@dimespring)

It’s the end of a first date. You reach a sweaty palm across the table and grab the black leather billfold. After awkwardly pretending to examine the check, you slide in A.) your credit card, B.) cash, or C.) a coupon. 

Think D.) any of the above, is an acceptable answer? You may be breaking an unspoken rule of financial dating etiquette. 

We talked to several etiquette experts, a coupon site and some regular folks who have some opinions on dating, and the general consensus was that a coupon could be a first-date dealbreaker. That’s not always the case — some felt it could show a sense of fun and responsibility, but the most common verdict was that it’s an unnecessary risk.

“Using a coupon can sometimes make you look cheap or inflexible,” said Jacqueline Whitmore, etiquette expert and author of “Poised for Success.” “Perception is everything on a first date.” 

Sending the wrong messages

Dating — especially dinner dating — is expensive. So what’s so wrong with trying to save a few bucks? Well, the problem here isn’t so much about the savings as it is about the subtext. 

“Using a coupon on a date is a definite no-no,” said Thomas Farley, a manners expert known commonly as Mr. Manners. “It sends the message that you’re not important enough for me to pay what everybody else in the restaurant is paying — I need to be getting a special deal to make this date worthwhile.”

Using a coupon may make your date feel that you chose the restaurant solely based on the discount, not based on what he or she would enjoy. This may leave them feeling unappreciated or undervalued. 

Psychology aside, many see the main stigma around coupon use on the first date as simply looking stingy. 

“It looks like I picked a place based off of where I could get the cheapest deal and I would never want to portray that to anybody, not just on a first date,” said Justin DeAngelis, a law student from Chicago. “Even if I had to use loan money, I would never do that.” 

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But what about frugality and fiscal responsibility? Aren’t those desirable traits in a potential partner? Yes, but there’s a fine line between frugal and cheap, one you definitely don’t want to be on the wrong side of on a first date. 

“First impressions are everything,” said Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert and owner of the Protocol School of Texas. “On a first date, as much as I appreciate someone being frugal and fiscally responsible, I would (rather they) choose a restaurant that is affordable — sans coupon.”

In defense of discount dating

Not everyone sees a problem with pulling out a coupon at the end of a date. In fact, with the rise in popularity of sites like Groupon and LivingSocial, particularly among young people, couponing has become not just commonplace, but cool.

“I don’t have a problem with that at all,” said Jill Bremer, executive coach and and etiquette trainer. “I think we kind of have a ‘Groupon mentality,’ at least for younger people who are dating. And it shows good financial savvy.” 

Marilyn Lintel with the Atlanta-based deals site ScoutMob said discounts offered by companies like theirs can provide date ideas outside the typical dinner-and-a-movie box. 

“With Scoutmob, you try cool places you may not have heard of otherwise and that can make a date more memorable,” Lintel said. “Daily deals and being adventurous is ‘in.’”

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Coupons can also add to the quality of the date by allowing you to indulge in things you couldn’t otherwise afford. With a couple extra dollars in your pocket, you can upgrade to a nicer restaurant or order dessert without worrying about breaking the bank. 

“If I’m getting 60 percent off and I can buy us a bottle of wine instead of just a meal, then why not?” said Chris Blevins, a lab technician. “If we’re having a really nice time and I bust out a coupon and she’s turned off by that then that’s not the girl I wanna be with.”

Some may even view coupon use as a positive indicator of romantic compatibility.  

“It would show financial responsibility and that’s something I admire in people, so it depends what you’re looking for,” said Jessica Duhig, a law student. “I get excited about deals too, so it certainly wouldn’t make me feel uncomfortable.”

A time and a place

Even for those who say using a coupon on the first date is a dealbreaker, every rule has its exceptions. For example, many anti-couponers agree that deals for packaged experiences, such as a wine tasting or a hot air balloon ride, don’t fall under the typical coupon taboo. In these cases, using a coupon allows you to try something new and exciting for an affordable price and spices up the date with a little adventure. 

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Also, while the first date is a veritable minefield of dos and don’ts, using coupons later on in a relationship is, to many, much more acceptable. 

“On a first date, the money you’re going to save with your coupon is meaningless because you’re definitely not going to save the date,” Farley said. “I’d save those coupons for at least after you’ve been dating a little while or a night out with some friends.”

Final verdict

The key here is a little wallet-friendly planning. Playing it safe by picking a place that’s within a comfortable price-point — without a coupon — will help put you and your date more at ease when it comes time to pay the bill. 

If you do decide to use a coupon, whether it’s on the first date or after you’ve been out with the person a few times, discretion is the name of the game.

“Give the coupon to the server upfront, before your date arrives if you are meeting at the restaurant, or away from the table,” Gottsman said. “Ask the server to bring the bill to you at the end of the meal, calculated and ready for you to hand your credit card — no coupon in sight.”

That’s right, mum’s the word. We promise we won’t tell. 

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Marie Gentile is a personal finance reporter and content producer at Dimespring. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Marquette University. A native Midwesterner, Marie is now living in Atlanta and adjusting to life below the Mason-Dixon.