I was single for a good long time. Pretty much my entire life actually, until I started dating my current boyfriend. We’ve been together for just over a year and my love of personal finance and dedication to debt eradication is definitely a big part of our relationship. Maintaining frugality isn’t always easy when it’s just affecting you. Factor another person into the equation and the question becomes this- can you maintain frugality in a dating relationship?
For me, like thousands of other people and couples, the answer isn’t cut and dry. There are times my relationship saves me money and times it costs me. We have to have conversations about spending and about debt more than say, my debt free roommates. I feel comfortable bringing up my spending limits and he respects them. There are also moments where our views differ-significantly.
When my boyfriend and I started dating last March my financial goals were not what they are now. Of course, I was concerned with paying off debt and cognizant of living a somewhat frugal life. But I wasn’t as well informed and motivated as I am now. My only sources of income were coaching and catering part time. My loans were in deferment because I couldn’t make the monthly payments. I was constantly stressed about what would happen when my coaching job ended in May because I didn’t have anything lined up. I was frugal more out of fear than out of achieving a goal.
My new dating life was a great diversion from that stress. We went out and paid for the majority of our dates in the first few months.We didn’t spend a ton of money-me being me, a dinner date was tacos or sandwiches. Still, cheap is distinctly not free. We definitely spent money that I didn’t really have.
Not only was it a distraction from the all too real and sad facts of my life, I was also getting to know this incredible new person. We sat and ate tacos on the street on our first date and I realized that he was pretty laid back. We went to a video arcade on our third date and I shared my love of Mortal Kombat and my natural competitiveness with him. Our fourth or fifth date (can’t quite remember) was actually my 26th birthday and we got dressed up and went to a fancy meal with friends.
All these memories cost me money. But all of them also introduced me to my boo in an unfiltered way. Right now our date nights are very filtered. We follow a very basic pattern of getting together, cooking, watching tv and going to bed. It’s cheap, it’s fun because we enjoy the company, but new and exciting it ain’t.
Oh sure, we have other frugal things we like to do. We go hiking, camping, watch sunsets, explore Austin on foot, go to museums on free days. We got lunch together at Dairy Queen on free cone day. Since my schedule has been so jam-packed with work for the last few months though, we’re mostly doing the dinner-and-movie-at-home thing.
I’ve read that fighting about money is often the death of a relationship. Money is hugely important in each person’s life and if your partner is not treating it how you want them to, it’s going to cause a problem. Sometimes I know he would rather order in than take the time and energy to cook at home. He’s invited me to places and events on weekend’s that I’ve had to pass on because I cater. Money plays a big role in our relationship.
The key to maintaining frugality in a relationship is communication. Surprise! It’s just like every other big thing in a relationship. Although we’re not married or in any legal way committed to each other, we are committed to our relationship. So we talk a lot. When I got serious about paying off my loans, I told my boyfriend. When he suggests going out to eat, I mention the food I have at home and that I’d like to use that up. I suggest fun and frugal things to do- like re-watching all the Star Wars movies from our nice comfy couch. I try to be proactive in coming up with dates, since they revolve around my budget restrictions.
He’s great at meeting me on my level. He’s interested in saving money too, since he’s got his own loans and doesn’t make a huge salary. He’s also very low-key, not a big drinker and quiet in social gatherings. He’s naturally more of a homebody than I am, so date nights at the house are fine with him.
I’m lucky. We’re on the same page for the most part and when we aren’t we talk about it. I’m looking forward to loosening up a little when I’m debt free. I think it’ll be a nice treat for us both if I buy us dinner out once a month. My overall frugality isn’t going anywhere though, so money will always be a part of our relationship. My relationship is effected by my frugality and my frugality is effected by my relationship. I think prioritizing both is absolutely doable.
Would I be more frugal if I was single? Well, yes. I would be. Would I be happier if I was single? No, probably not. If it costs me $6 to eat tacos with my boyfriend on the street, that’s $6 well spent to me.
Kara Perez is the original founder of From Frugal To Free. She is a money expert, speaker and founder of Bravely Go, a feminist financial education company. Her work has been featured on NPR, Business Insider, Forbes, and Elite Daily.