Trying to balance your dating life and your budget? Unsure of how to date someone when you are not financial equals? This is a down-to-earth guide on how to date on a budget!
My husband and I dated for 8 years before we finally tied the knot. During those 8 years, we were on complete opposite sides of the financial spectrum.
I was so deep in student loan debt that my negative net worth was scary. I worried and thought about money every single day.
On the other hand, my husband had received a scholarship to attend school and graduated debt free. But in addition to that enviable position of no student loans, his parents gifted him the money they had saved for his college education (it was a lot of money).
So while he was rolling in dough, I was picking up pennies off the street. I actually did that.
This inequality made our relationship….interesting. Ok, let’s be honest, it made parts of our relationship difficult (but really just for me, the broke one).
I budgeted, re-budgeted, calculated debt payoff schedules, hustled for overtime, while he had never budgeted in his life, didn’t even know what his yearly income was, and didn’t think twice about plane tickets home, the cost of food, the price of movie tickets, or the fact that it cost $40 in gas money for us to visit each other (we didn’t always live in the same city when dating).
Don’t get me wrong – he is fantastic with money. He saves, he invests, and he is not wasteful. However, he didn’t have the money stresses I did. He didn’t understand them, wasn’t aware of them, and money certainly didn’t cross his mind when we went on dates.
Looking back, that wasn’t healthy for our relationship. Mostly, it wasn’t healthy for my stress level.
I wish I had been a little more proactive about communicating my finances. I would have been less stressed and more at ease with our relationship. I could have avoided panicking over our dates and their cost. Together, we could have figured out how to date on a budget.
So after chatting with a few friends, and thinking about how to date with such financial inequality between partners, I’ve come up with what I’m going to call a beginner’s guide to how to date on a budget.
(Below I refer to ‘boyfriend’ a lot since that was my experience, but this obviously applies to either a boyfriend or girlfriend!)
Let your significant other know that you are on a budget
You probably talk about a lot of things with your significant other.
I’m betting he knows your most embarrassing moment, has heard about all your dreams of traveling the world, knows everything that happened at work today, and can recite all those crazy ex-boyfriend stories.
But does he know that you are on a budget? Do you ever talk about money? For most people in the dating world, the answer is no.
That’s not good. Obviously.
You need to rip off the bandaid and have an honest discussion about your budget.
Sit your significant other down and let him know that you are trying to be mindful with your daily and monthly spending. You are doing this by creating and sticking to a budget. You want him to be aware of your budget so he can understand why you may have to say no to certain things in the future since they may not fit into your budget.
Be simple and straightforward. You’ll probably feel a little vulnerable and that’s normal.
And don’t forget to tell him WHY you are on a budget
Now that budget conversation is not going to be easy for you (I’m guessing). And it may take your boyfriend by surprise. There’s a chance he’ll feel awkward and maybe even confused.
But that’s why you need to explain why you are on a budget. Share your bigger picture.
Are you on a budget because you want to get out of debt? Are you saving for a down payment on a house? Trying to max out your retirement savings? Simply trying to make ends meet? Whatever the reason, tell him why.
The why is so important because it will help him understand your motivations. It will help him relate to you better. He’ll probably even admire you for thinking about your financial future and taking actions to reach your financial goals. (hey girl, that’s marriage material! Any guy wants a girl who is fiscally responsible! hehe.)
Let him know your ‘dating’ budget
Okay, so nobody has a ‘dating’ category in their budget, but most people have budget categories that are directly impacted by dating. The ‘entertainment’ category is a great example. But your ‘restaurants’ and ‘vacations’ categories are also probably affected.
You need to make sure that your significant other is aware of your budget for each of these categories. There’s no other way to do that other than going through each and every affected category.
Figure out the ‘restaurants’ budget category
I don’t know about you, but for me, a classic date involves eating out. Let’s get real – every good thing involves food. So have that conversation with your significant other about your ‘restaurant’ budget category and how you are going to handle eating out. Everyone knows food is a big money-pit so here are some suggestions on how to get the conversation rolling:
- Let him know how much you have budgeted for this category. Discuss how much of that money should go towards dates (versus how much should go towards eating out with friends, happy hours, etc.)
- Discuss how BOTH of you would like to spend this money. Do you guys prefer one super nice restaurant each month, a few nice places each month, or a ton of fast food? If you don’t agree, try to find a compromise.
- How are you going to handle who pays? Are you going to go dutch (split each check 50/50)? Are you going to cycle who pays the check (you pay one meal, he pays the next, you pay the following, etc.)?
Figure out the ‘entertainment’ budget category
Baseball games, movie tickets, visits to wineries, bowling – those are some great dates! But they cost money. Discuss how much you are budgeting for entertainment on dates (versus entertainment with friends). Talk about how you are going to decide what to do on each date, who is going to pay, and any other financial issues that you can think of.
Figure out the ‘vacation’ budget category
Your boyfriend may want to go on a European vacation next year. But you have more of a Super-8 motel at a nearby beach type of budget. You guys need to get on the same page. And the sooner the better so you can start saving up.
Talk about other (dating affected) budget categories
I think restaurants, entertainment, and vacations are the top budget categories that are impacted by dating. But you may have others that could be affected by your dating life.
Trips home for the holidays. For me, this was a serious expense. Each year I go to my husband’s family’s house during the holidays. They live in the middle of nowhere requiring you to land in a very small (read: expensive) airport. Each trip is about $1,000 in airfare. That’s painful when paying off debt like I was. Discuss his (and yours) expectations and finances for these types of trips.
Wedding Guest Budget. Ohhhh gurl. If you are in your 20s, you probably have a whole freaken budget category devoted to attending weddings. Discuss what weddings you each are expecting the other to go to. Do you want him to go to your sister’s wedding? Does he want you to go to his third cousin’s wedding? Transportation, hotels, outfits, gifts, meals…it all adds up quickly. Figure out who is paying for what.
Gas. This budget category might sound strange for a few of you, but for my long distance couples out there, you understand! My husband and I lived on opposites sides of the state for a couple of years of our relationship. We would try to see each other each weekend by swapping who drove. I averaged driving twice a month. Each visit would cost me a whole tank of gas (about $40 at the time). That adds up. Make sure to bring this up, because it might not even occur to your significant other that gas costs are a stress on your budget.
Do you want to mix it up a little (with a ‘dating’ budget category)?
Earlier I mentioned that nobody has a ‘dating’ budget category. But…should you? Is it easier for you (and your significant other) to both put money aside for all dating related things?
My friend and her boyfriend have a dating jar. Each month, they each put $50 into the jar that could be spent on dates together.
If you have significant inequality in income (or debt), then maybe one partner could put more into the jar than the other.
I never did this, but it sounds like such a great idea!
Brainstorm fun ways to spend less
At this point, you’ve let your significant other know that you are on a budget. They know why you are on a budget. And you’ve gone through the semantics – how you plan to spend your money in each category, who is paying for what, and what the financial expectations are.
Now brainstorm some fun ways to spend less. And guess what? I don’t think your boyfriend will complain about saving money. In fact, maybe he has some financial goals that he could reach sooner if he saves more money.
Prevent money problems before they happen
What if he wants to do something that you don’t have the money for? Discuss how you are going to handle the situation. Will he pay for it all? Will he do it without you? Will he let you know ahead of time so you can save up for it?
Try to think about any other money fights, money insecurities, or money stresses you’ve had. Share them and find ways to make them better together.
Keep him up to date on your finances (well, if you want)
Did you rock your budget last week? Were you $50 under your budget? Let him know. Tell him you are excited about that! Tell him that you put that $50 towards your debt (because you did that, right?).
You can share your successes and let your significant other know that they helped you.
Let him know the boundaries
One of the reasons I was so hesitant to discuss my budget with my husband was because I was afraid it would open the floodgates to his opinion about my entire financial situation. Honestly, I didn’t want his opinion (or judgement for that matter) on how I spent my money.
And that is why you need to discuss the boundaries of what money conversations you feel comfortable having.
Do you want to limit your money chatter to just the dating categories discussed above? Are you comfortable updating him on your debt and savings status each month? Is he okay with this?
Let him know the boundaries so he doesn’t accidentally step over them. Learn his boundaries too.
Kick off your budget with this free Monthly Budget printable
Start a budget today with this free budget template. And yes, there is some empty space for you to add a ‘dating’ category if you wish! And if you are comfortable, share it with your significant other.
If you sign up in the box below, you’ll get three days worth of budgeting printables: a monthly budget, a spending log, and a bill checklist.
How do you juggle dating and living on a budget?