Online Dating on a Budget

Today, I’m going to get a little personal. I’m going to talk about dating. Online dating, to be exact.

Online dating on a budget |

See, I’ve had my fair share of experience with online dating. When you’re out of school and in the “real world,” it becomes surprisingly hard to meet date-able people. Enter, online dating. It’s how I met BF.  It’s how I met my boyfriend before BF. It’s how so many of my friends met their boyfriends, girlfriends, fiancées, and spouses.

Because this is a personal finance blog, of course I’m going to bring online dating back to money. You can spend a lot of money registering for one or many of the myriad online dating sites that are out there. You can then spend a lot of money going out on dates with many potential partners before finding someone you want to spend more time with.

You can also use online dating incredibly cheaply. These are my tips for online dating on a budget.

You need options

I’ve used a variety of online dating services, from eHarmony to OK Cupid and a few in between. eHarmony and some other sites I’ve used are paid (meaning you pay a fee to join the service), whereas OK Cupid is free.

In my experience, free is actually better, and here’s why. When dating, you need numbers. You need a lot of options to pick through. On some paid sites, there are only a few matches sent to you each day, or a few people within your age range in your geographic area. On free sites, there are so. many. choices. Because there is no up-front cost to join, more people join free sites. All these options may sound overwhelming, but I think it is good because it allows you to be picky. Sure, some dating sites advertise that they take the work out of finding a match by finding that match for you, but I’d really rather find my own match. I’m kinda better at it than you are, dating algorithm.

Of course another benefit to using a free site is that you’re saving money! Online dating on a free site can be even cheaper than meeting someone a more traditional way, such as at an event or a bar. No need to pay for a cover charge or drinks – you can meet people right from home!

Meet early and often

This tip is less financial and more about the cost of your time. It is easy to spend a long time messaging back and forth with someone on online dating sites. I’ve messaged with people for weeks before meeting them, becoming enamored with their personality and wit. Unfortunately, sometimes you meet someone and you know right off the bat that it just isn’t going to work. That is something that often doesn’t translate through email.

Because of this, my advice is to meet people in person after a few messages. Of course you can do basic screening online, but if a person seems like a possibility, go ahead and set up a date. Better to see if you click before wasting your time or theirs.

Grab a drink

When meeting someone you’ve met online in person for the first time, there are a few things to bear in mind. First, make sure you’re safe. It should go without saying, but always meet in a safe, public place in case the person doesn’t turn out to be who they said they were. For the record, I’ve been on quite a few dates with people I’ve met online and I’ve never had a safety problem or felt uncomfortable in any way (well, except for general first date awkwardness).

Second, I would recommend always meeting for a drink as a first date. The reason for this is twofold. First, drinks are less expensive than a full meal, helping keep dating on budget. If you meet a lot of people and go to dinner with every one of them, you could rack up quite a tab! Second, drinks take less time than a meal. If you know within the first 10 minutes that someone is a dud, getting out of there after one beer is a lifesaver. Of course if you really like someone, one drink can always turn into two.

Pick the location carefully

Beyond safety concerns, there are other factors to consider when selecting the location for a first date. I would suggest meeting at a place that is comfortable but not fancy. You don’t want to make someone uncomfortable by choosing a bar that only offers $15 martinis. I would also suggest picking a place that you don’t go to every week. There is nothing worse than running into a guy you went out with last week while on a date! Not that that ever happened to me….

What do you think? Have you ever tried online dating? Any other tips for online dating (or dating in general) on a budget?   

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26 thoughts on “Online Dating on a Budget

  1. I met my husband on the internet in a chat room… 1999! I haven’t really done the online dating thing. I’ve heard a lot from people about Tinder – that seems like the popular program of the moment.


    • Nice! I have also heard a lot about Tinder recently, and friends who are still dating have used it, but it was after my online dating time. Definitely worth checking out though!


  2. Never tried online dating and hope to never have to (hi, Hubs!). But I do think these are great tips, especially the one about grabbing a drink, not a fancy meal. Also, I think it’s really important to be practical and honest with dating. When my husband and I first started dating, I had my first job as a teacher and he was finishing up school (he went back to get another degree). We were in different places financially, so I always tried to be aware of that when making plans. While I don’t think you necessarily need to swap W-2 forms on the first date, I do think it’s important to not portray yourself or your values as something they are not.


    • That is a great point. I completely agree that it is best to be upfront about who you are when you are dating. It may be tempting to make yourself appear more this or that, but ultimately you want a sustainable relationship and that needs to be built on trust and the reality of who each of you is.


  3. I met my now-wife just before my sophomore year and her freshman year of college. Because of that, I haven’t used online dating. My sister has, though, and I’m 99.9% sure I would have if I was single after college (and perhaps even during college). It just makes too much sense not to give it a try. I like your tip to get a drink instead of a meal. I think that’s a good tip for hanging out and meeting up with friends, too, as it makes going out a lot more affordable than always getting food.


  4. I met my wife on Match. We started off grabbing a drink – which was perfect – but I would say one of the most important lessons to remember is to find someone who fits your lifestyle. We’ve always like to go out to dinner, but never over the top dinners and only on occasion. We found that we both really like staying in, making dinner, and watching a movie on TV. Much cheaper, much more relaxed, and much more enjoyable without the loudness of a restaurant or bar scene. Obviously, not a good idea for a first date, but you get my drift!



    • Completely agree, it is so important to find someone who fits your lifestyle. I think that is actually another great benefit of online dating, is that you can be really up front about what your lifestyle is, and screen for that from the start.


  5. I am a retired veteran of online dating. I have been out of the game for almost a decade now – I met my wife via one of the sites mentioned above and we have been married for 5 years in October (been together for 9). People lead such busy lives it truly can be hard to meet new people nowadays even if you already have a large social circle. Online dating can definitely be a money saver, but just like with anything else in life, you still have to be mindful because there are ways to spend more than you probably should.


  6. About 60% of my friends who are married have met through online dating sites. It’s interesting, a lot of them started online dating at around age 22-23 which is much younger than I would have expected.

    Good tips- I will be passing this article along to a friend who just put her profile onto a few sites.


    • Wow – that is a very high percentage of your friends who have met people online! I’d say about 30 – 40% of my friends have met people online, and many do start online dating quite early.


  7. I created an eHarmony profile, which paying members could see (I think), but I waited until free weekends to use it myself. They offer those fairly regularly. At least every couple of months.

    That said, I met my husband on — wait for it — Craigslist. I would look around at the ads. Most were mediocre to awful. Some were intriguing, and I even got some decent dates there.

    I had sworn off all dating sites for a bit after a series of disappointing dates. But I got bored shortly thereafter and looked at Craigslist just to pass the time. I found my husband’s ad, and here we are 9 years later.

    He wasn’t driving at that point, so I picked him up. We were both broke, so our first date was at a Popeye’s. But it was low-key and fun. And clearly it worked out.


  8. This is my first financial blog to read and I am enjoying the perspective and focus. I have never done online dating, so this was particularly interesting. I wish you the very best of luck and I think you have presented some key elements!


  9. Interesting… The drink thing is very useful, because it can save you a lot of time.
    I actually think that talking for sometime online may give you a good perspective of how the person is, and not losing time. And you can screen out many people at once… 🙂


  10. My partner and I met through online dating (OK Cupid). We met at a movie theater to watch Les Mis– or rather, were supposed to. I ended up getting lost along some bike path or other and he had to pick me up. He had just come from work at his last day at Banana Republic all dressed up in a button up and tie while I was in my nice-but-still-kind-of-ratty T-shirt and jeans. I felt suuuuper embarrassed. But we had a great time and here we are 2.5 years later!


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