Single? 4 Ways to Approach Valentine's Season
The Valentine's Day Survival Guide for Men

The Cost of Love

It's Just Lunch appeared in this recent post on MSN Money, The Cost of Money

Are higher-cost dating websites worth the money? And how much do men and women actually spend on dating and for Valentine's Day? 

Have you ever noticed all of the song lyrics about love and money?

  • "No romance without finance …. "
  • "My love don't cost a thing …."
  • "Only boys who save their pennies make my rainy day …."
  • "Can't buy me love …."

Whether you side with Madonna or the Beatles on the issue of love and money, courtship can be costly.

When you imagine your ideal partner, you probably think of general characteristics you find desirable, not the financial implications of starting a new relationship. (So unromantic!) But there are usually a lot of dinners, movie tickets, gifts and flowers involved in the journey from single to happily committed.

To quantify the cost of love, let's look at the typical expenses associated with dating over a one-year period, along with lower-cost ways to woo your sweetheart.

The cost of meeting somebody new
If you've tapped out your real-life social network, you might consider online dating, and you might get good results. A 2005 University of Bath study found that 94% of people who used Internet dating sites saw their match again after the first date, and the relationships lasted an average of seven months.

If the thought of paying for an online dating service puts you off, Big Think points to a study showing that the time people give to a match depends on how much the dating site costs. Men who paid $50 were willing to commit an average of 49 minutes to the date, while the men who paid nothing for the match were willing to invest only 28 minutes. You're also likely to receive less spam from mildly interested potential matches on paid sites.

Online dating sites generally cost $35 to $50 per month. A more frugal suggestion? Branch out by joining new groups and organizations. Always wanted to take up trail running? Find a group that meets in your area for 5 a.m. runs. Music lover? See if your city has a young professionals membership to the symphony. 

Or consider online social networking, which is the 21st century way of letting your friends hook you up. Facebook, for example, allows you to check out your friends' friends, and your mutual friend can set up a casual group date.

Dinner and dancing
It's Just Lunch, a dating service for busy professionals, surveyed 3,968 singles nationwide about how much they spend on dates. It found that 51% of men in the U.S. spend more than $100 a month on dates, and 29% spend more than $150. In bigger cities, those figures are higher. For example, 82% of men in Los Angeles spend more than $150 a month on dates.

Women, on the other hand, spend significantly less. About two-thirds of women spend less than $50 a month. Perhaps it's a sign that the Southern gentleman is still around, but 75% of women in the South spend less than $50 a month on dates.

Going on averages, that's $600 to $1,200 per year spent on dates. But, according to an ING Direct survey, most women aren't expecting a fancy dinner and expensive bottle of wine on the first date. The poll found that on average,men overestimate how much is expected of them.

There are plenty of free and low-cost date ideas that don't involve dining on a McBurger and fries, and we've covered many of them at Get Rich Slowly. Picnics on the beach, comedy club improv shows, visiting the local aquarium, checking out a museum, hiking, and wine tasting are just a few examples of fun and memorable dates that won't break your savings account. Also be sure to sign up for daily coupon sites like Groupon and LivingSocial that offer deals on activities in your city.

Flowers and gifts

Flowers and gifts are still a big part of the relationship equation. According to the University of Bath survey, exchanging gifts is the best way to ensure commitment in the relationship. In addition, online daters who exchanged gifts before meeting in person reported a "more committed and deeper relationship."

 

What does a more committed relationship cost? Businessweek estimates that flowers cost the average single $110 per year. Then there are holidays, such as Valentine's Day. (After all, you probably don't want to launch into a tirade about how Valentine's Day is a materialistic Hallmark holiday when you've only been dating someone a few months.) The average person shelled out $103 on Valentine's Day merchandise in 2010, according to the National Retail Federation.

Assuming the average single spends about that much on birthday and Christmas gifts as well, we'll estimate total gifts and flowers at $419 per year.

Frugal options include buying flowers at the grocery store, where you can get seasonal bouquets for $5 to $10. As for gifts, plan ahead so you have time to be more creative. Your significant other will appreciate something thoughtful, like baking his favorite kind of birthday cake or making her a romantic dinner at home, more than picking up the obligatory (and overpriced) dozen roses, chocolates and stuffed teddy bear from the Valentine's Day aisle. (These homemade gift ideas are for Christmas, but can really be used year-round.)

So, what's the grand total for one year of dating, from matchmaking to flowers? It's $1,529 to $2,129, depending on your gender, it would seem. But then, as New Wave rock quartet the Knack sang, "You can't put a price on love."