Give Me Back My Five Bucks

Guest Post: Why I Can’t Afford to Start Dating

Note: Today’s guest post is by Cait, who writes over at Blonde on a Budget. She is a 20-something who is blogging about her journey from being maxed out, to becoming a balanced and financially sound woman.

Once twenty-something’s reach a major milestone, like graduating from university or turning 25, they are hit with a number of questions. When are you going to get married? What part of town are you looking to buy in? And when are you going to have kids? Being single at 26, my answer to most of those questions is, “I need a boyfriend first.” But the part I leave out is the fact that I can’t afford one right now.

I’ve been single for just over three years and haven’t dated much since going back to school last year. In that time, I don’t think I’ve missed having a boyfriend once. This could be because my schedule hardly lets up enough for me to even have a social life, but the truth is I made a conscious decision to stay single until I finish school (July 2012). Today I want to share with you why.

I Know My Priorities
Right now, my life revolves around three things: finishing school, paying down debt, and building some savings. Do I think I couldn’t accomplish those things with a partner by my side? Of course not, but I physically can’t afford to risk giving less of my time to any of these priorities.

If you haven’t read my blog before, here’s where I tell you that I currently have $19,000 of debt. I’m almost proud of that number, considering it was $28,000 just over 6 months ago! But it’s still a big number and something I think about daily. Until the day comes where paying off debt isn’t my #1 priority, I can’t afford to add a boyfriend to the mix. (And really, who’s going to be attracted to -$19,000 anyway!?)

I Know My Budget
Krystal has written a couple of great posts on why it costs more to be single. Some of her points are completely valid, especially the one about paying double for essential living costs. But when you don’t have a significant other in the first place, it can cost a lot to get to the point where you would be splitting your bills in half.

For example, my current budget includes about $30/week for groceries and another $15-20 for take-out (including coffee). Since dating usually starts over a casual coffee or dinner, and eventually leads into spending the night and then going on vacation together, I need to be in a situation where I can afford to add dating to my budget. Owing $5,000 on a credit card makes it difficult to enjoy those indulgences, which leads me to the final reason I can’t afford to start dating yet.

I Know Myself
When I have a boyfriend, I’m that much more likely to overindulge. Having a partner in crime makes going to the movies and trying new restaurants that much more accessible. I also love giving random surprises to brighten my guy’s day. Unfortunately, I know I don’t have the extra dollars for surprises, birthdays, and Christmas gifts that are needed in a serious relationship.

Part of my journey from being an overindulging idiot to becoming a financially sound woman is changing both my spending and saving habits. If I were to start dating someone today, I can almost guarantee that I would go back to ignoring my budget and living beyond my means. I can’t afford to start dating until I can trust myself to make good decisions that won’t hurt my debt repayment plan.

With all of this being said, if a relationship fell into my lap tomorrow, I wouldn’t shoo it away. I want to start a life with someone, as much as the next person, I just can’t afford to look for it right now – at least not until I’m debt free. When I finish school next summer, I will have no student debt and hopefully no credit card debt. Maybe then I can start working on answering some of the questions every twenty-something is faced with.

Author: Krystal Yee

I’m a personal finance blogger and marketing professional based in Vancouver. I’m a former Toronto Star (Moneyville) columnist, author of The Beginner’s Guide to Saving and Investing, and co-founder of the Canadian Personal Finance Conference. When I’m not working, you can usually find me running, climbing, playing field hockey, or plotting my next adventure.


  1. Penny says:

    Good for you for knowing what you want and what works for you. I’m of the opinion that you shouldn’t really go out looking for someone anyway. If you just go about your life doing things that interest you and are important to you then the people you meet along the way will be people who share those interests and priorities.

  2. This is a great post that really says a lot about how serious you are about getting your own stuff together before finding someone to share your life with. However, I’m glad you leave yourself a caveat at the end.

    I never post my budgets because I’m always embarrassed by the amount of dining out the BF and I do. Even though we split costs, you’re right – having someone does make doing things that cost money (dinner, movies, etc.) more accessible and more tempting. Especially in school when you’re stressed all the time and the last thing you want to do is cook =)

    Best of luck with the home stretch of school!

  3. Michelle says:

    Great post! I think it’s a great idea to do this. And I agree with Penny, if you do things that you like, then you’ll eventually come across someone like you.

  4. Money Rabbit says:

    Good for you, girl, in actively striving to be single! It definitely helped me feel more in control of my finances. Dating/boyfriend upkeep can be stressful. But don’t think of it as who would want -$19,000 … not to be cheesy, but you’re a goldmine of awesome, and any guy who recognizes that will be rich. Believe me, I know, I so enjoyed meeting you in Toronto!

    That being said, the occassional date wouldn’t hurt ;) Oooh, I’m bad. But even the bad dates I’ve been on gave me something to laugh about when meeting girlfriends for coffee.

  5. Great post! I’m definitely with Penny here. ‘Looking’ for a relationship never works. You walk into the best relationships when you least expect it.

    I also think that a truly good boyfriend is one who is supportive and that means being supportive, understanding (and frankly admiring!) of your ability to get out of debt.

    An as Money Rabbit says- you’re not -$19,000. You’re a gutsy go-getter!

  6. Pira says:

    Great post! Although I’m in a long term relationship, I totally see what you are saying. I have school loans that are a priority right now as well, and I do find it sometimes hard to juggle that with doing fun relationshipy things. For instance, I recently planned a day outing for the bf’s birthday and it required a lot of careful budget planning, taking some extra shifts at my second job etc. Not to say it isn’t worth it, but I would also have loved to start a relationship after getting all my finances in order. So good for you!

  7. Melissa says:

    First of all, you’re a rockstar for having paid off all that debt so fast. Obviously!

    Second, this is really smart to set yourself up with these goals. I get the same hassle for still being single from my family (I’m 24!) and while I *would* like a boyfriend, hello, don’t they see I’m doing other things! Haha.

    Besides, it’s not like you’re actively refusing to engage with any member of the opposite sex. I assume if someone came along who was really worth it, you’d make a change. But to just make a point of not looking, is a smart move right now. Good luck!

  8. I definitely think dating is more expensive, especially in the early stages when you might be going out to restaurants and bars more often on the first few dates. After that, I’m not sure there’s a huge difference (at least my my case) except I still tend to go out to eat more often when I’m dating someone than when I’m single.

    • Cait says:

      It’s so easy to eat out more, when you have someone to go with at any time. Not only do you finally have someone to try a new restaurant with, but there’s an extra voice saying how good it could be! Obviously you can make meals at home together too but I personally find myself giving into temptation more when I’m with someone (not even a boyfriend, but friends too).

  9. Anonymous says:

    Great post. I agree that dating can be expensive. I have a friend who argues that “Two can live as cheaply as one,” but as someone who was single for years and have now been in a relationship for 5 years, I say to that: Not so much. When you’re single, you can eat “beans and rice, rice and beans” for dinner every night if you want to. If you have a BF or GF, they’re going to want something more. Plus, even if you try to split expenses, it doesn’t always work out 50-50. So a lot of times, I end up buying groceries, toiletries, etc., for two. And yes, the dining out is a huge expense. And when you’re single, you can happily stay home and read on the weekends, or do any number of other free things, but when you’re in a relationship, there’s the pressure on both sides to have dates that involve dinners, movies, activities–all of which, for the most part, cost money. You are really young and have PLENTY of time to date when you are ready!

    • Cait says:

      I have to laugh about your beans and rice comment because it’s so true. I can eat the same pot of chili for a week and it doesn’t bother me. But now I kind of want beans and rice…

  10. Christina says:

    It’s great that you know what you want and you are sticking to it. However, dating doesn’t have to be expensive- it’s how you look at it. My husband and I started dating when we were young, in university and very broke. We rarely paid for a date as we found that were lots of great activities we could do for free. I equate it to how you live your life; you can live an expensive one or a frugal one. We didn’t dine out at fancy restaurants or go on long vacations together but we had some amazing experiences and made some great memories. Now at 27, we’re about to celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary and I can’t imagine those years without him.

    • Krystal Yee says:

      I tend to agree with you. In fact, I find that I spend less now with my boyfriend, than I did when I was single. There’s no pressure to go out and feel entertained. We can just hang out at home, watch movies, cook food, go for walks, or take a drive somewhere. It helps that I’m a pretty frugal person, and my boyfriend is a student – so it works. :)

      And since one of my biggest expenses is travel, it’s nice to have a travel companion that will help share the cost of gas and accommodation.

      • Cait says:

        I agree with both of you but what’s great about your relationships is that your partners are willing to do frugal things. I’ve met guys who will only eat at expensive restaurants and will only wear designer brands. If you know me at all (which Krystal does) I’m about as Plain Jane as it comes… so even though I’m sure I’ll find a guy who’s willing to living the same simple lifestyle as I do, I can’t afford to sift through the others just yet. ;)

  11. Byrocat says:

    Hopefully not having a boyfriend doesn’t also mean that you don’t have a social life — there’s lots of things to do that don’t take heaps of money or better yet are free.

    Congratulations on focusing on finsihsing school and getting your debts down. Knowing your weaknesses and trigger-points always helps in this sorts of journeys.

    Keep your chin and optimism up and you won’t fail! Bon voyage!

  12. Zion says:

    I’m glad this works for you, but I’m not sure making an agreement with yourself that you won’t date until you’re out of debt is really something most people would reasonably do. There are plenty of cheap date alternatives if you’re creative. No one has to go to strictly 5 star restaurants, there are plenty of inexpensive alternatives. And besides, what happens when you do fall into a relationship once all of your debt is paid off? What says you wont go back to frivolous spending since you’re in a relationship at that point?

    • Cait says:

      Oh no, I’d never wait until I was debt free… that’s another 2.5 years away! I just think it’s smart for me to stay single until I’m done school (July 2012). I’m working two jobs, going to school online, and paying down debt. Those are my priorities right now, not dating.

  13. Tina says:

    I completely agree with you…..I just ended what was a 3 month dating thing because I just couldn’t do it. I have too many “single” goals at the moment. And I am hopefully going back to school next year. I was in a 5 year relationship, and i am content not being tied down at the moment. I work way too much…so I don’t blame you!

  14. Serendipity says:

    I understand what your trying to say. It’s hard when your trying to woo someone. I imagine this would be harder for a guy because a lot of guys feel the pressure to be the one to pay for dates.

    Good for you for working on you. I’m always into self improvement and I’m contantly making goals to make myself better. I think it’s only fair to me.

  15. munchkin says:

    I totally get what you mean. I am single, and if I started dating someone now, there is no way I would be able to save the amount that I am, for sure! I think its great that you are making an effort to get your stuff together before being on the lookout for a man :)

  16. MO says:

    I think I respectfully disagree with the reasons mentioned in the post. Becoming financially independent and having a relationship aren’t mutually exclusive in my opinion.

    Without getting into the whole sexism debate, if a guy asks you out, its reasonable to expect him to foot the bill for the coffee. If you’re trying to control your expenses, and you hit it off after that first (possibly free) coffee, there are a ton of inexpensive or free activities where you could both enjoy each others company, get to know each other better and not go into debt. Just off the top of my head, I can come up with include taking walks, going to the beach (if you live close to one), museums and art galleries (they can be free at times), volunteer together, stay indoors and catch a movie or talk or play a board game. I’m sure others can come up with a ton more. You can cook a meal together and actually save.

    If it gets to a stage where you move in together, both of you would save more than you would if u lived separately.

    There is nothing wrong with setting priorities but if everyone waited for financial independence before dating, the dating scene would be monopolized by people in their 50s and 60s with the odd smart, financially savvy young person.

    Just my 2 cents.

    • Cait says:

      I just replied to a similar comment above but I do agree with you about cheap dates, etc.! However, it’s not always easy to find a partner who’s willing to do cheap things. So many people are stuck in the mindset that they have to keep up with the Jones’ – this is something that shocked me about dating a lot last year.

      As Krystal said, you need to find someone who has the same spending habits as you do. So, until I’m confident in my new habits (I’ve only been frugal for 6 or so months now), I’m not positive that I wouldn’t revert back to my old ways… it’ll come!

      • MO says:

        If the person you are dating cannot appreciate what is important for you in life at that given point in time, perhaps its time to move on. Being frugal is not a bad thing, its not a vice. Its is simply being smart and honest about one’s financial status and attempting to live within one’s means and hopefully improving our future.

        I’m sure there are many guys out there who will appreciate that and like you for who you are and not for how much cash you throw around on dates. :)

  17. Ginger says:


    This couldn’t have come at a better time!

    I haven’t posted about it yet, but I’ve been seeing a guy lately and all I can think about is how much it costs/will cost me! *sigh* you can definitely see my PF blogger roots!

    I don’t have debt but have a very tight budget these days and while I haven’t really spent much yet, now that I’m dating I’m sure dinners, coffees and more will add up quickly. Plus all the nice new clothes you have to get, the haircuts, beauty stuff, etc.!

    • Krystal Yee says:

      I totally get where you and Cait are coming from, but honestly (and maybe this is me being naive), I think you can date someone without incurring any more expenses than you would if you were single. I’ve been dating my boyfriend for almost 6 months now, and haven’t bought any new clothes, or done anything different with my hair/beauty routine. Maybe it’s just me, but aside from birthday presents & anniversaries, I don’t see how going out with someone will cost more than being single. If anything, going out with someone costs less because they contribute to buying groceries and picking up the tab for dinners out on occasion. I think the real key is to find someone who has the same spending habits as you.

  18. I’m definitely going to write a post about this one! I’m on the fence. I do stress out about gifts, dinners etc. But for the most part, we manage to keep our costs down.
    Some cheap dates include: hiking, taking a walk in a garden, going on a coffee date instead of dinner, watching movies or tv at home, cooking dinner together.

  19. For me, a social life in general can be a hit to the budget. When I was single, I think I spent more money socializing with my friends – camping trips, sports leagues, nights out, etc. When I started dating BF, at first, we would spend a lot of money eating out and doing stuff. As we got more comfortable with each other, we spent a lot more time hanging out and cooking our own food. We are still working on a balance of eating in and doing more frugal activities, without feeling like it’s a chore.

    So, I guess it really just depends on you and your partner. But I agree that it is a lot easier to spend money with someone special :) in our life. Thanks for sharing!

  20. Thanks so much for writing this post! I’m also 26 and also have $19K left to pay back and I’m in the same position. I can’t afford to go out much with friends in general, and that makes it really hard to meet people. I don’t mind not having a bf – sure I get lonely sometimes but I just don’t think I can handle it in terms of time and money at the moment. It feels much better to realize I’m not alone! I think our debt freedom will make us more attractive to guys in the long run :)

  21. Paul N says:

    I guess I have a different thought process then most posters here. I can’t really equate love + money. If I felt that I could be missing out on the possibility of a possible amazing relationship forming, how could I reason with myself to opt out of it?
    Just spending a few hours (and $5.00) at a Tim hortons, or finding a few of the simple things in life that are free can be fine for a date. You just have to be with the right person. If you don’t want to spend a lot while dating just say it in a clear nice way. If the person cares and understands then that should say something right there. If the person can’t deal with frugal dating that might give you an idea that you don’t belong together anyway.
    My most memorable times were usually the simplest spontaneous ones. Not ones impressing someone for weeks on end with expensive outings.

  22. StackingCash says:

    Times have changed! Since when does a girl pay for a date? I can understand the costs of maintaining yourselves, but for the food, movies, transportation, etc. I always figured the guy would take care of that. I never expected my girlfriends to pay for anything. I’m way old in my thinking I guess. Also, my wife still makes me pay for everything!

  23. Christopher Campbell says:

    I totally agree with you. I have the same reasons for staying single.

    I remember blowing out almost half my salary over a few dates back when I had a girlfriend. Now that I’m single, I am able to save something and indulge in some personal items.

  24. Greg says:

    Are you afraid of finding a guy who can manage his money?

    And you should stop thinking so mechanistic! First you go for dinner then you stay over then you go on a vacation? Good god. What you really need is a guy who can surprise you and lead you away from the dull sequence you expect! I hope you find it soon. It doesn’t have to cost much.

  25. Homefree says:

    Disclaimer. I’m 50 so feel free to ignore my advice.
    I get the focus part of wanting to stay single while paying off your debt. But want to caution about waiting for debt to be paid off. Don’t wait for anything. The decade of your 20’s should be all about having fun and enjoying life. When you find a SO, you will be settled down and all those things, house, kids etc will occupy your money and time for 20 years or more. So be frugal, stay focused, but make sure you are living it up and having a good time bf or not.

  26. Kathryn says:

    I have to applaud you for having goals, but it does sound like you are open if the right guy came along…you just are not actively seeking out Mr. Right until you are ready to.

    While living with someone who will share expenses can save money, the flip side of the coin is you could end up being burdened into with even more debt if they lie about their debt position, lose their job or become disabled with no insurance or benefits and you are emotionally attached as you end up taking on their debt also.

  27. Empress Juju says:

    my person & I fell in love over a couple of beers at a bar, a lot of homecooked meals, and shared home improvement projects.

    we made sangria with $3 wine and played board games, and talked for hours. we found a second-run movie theatre with $3 movies, and started making pizza together for less than takeout prices.

    we found an apartment together for less that what I was paying alone, and get excited about savory oatmeal for breakfast and slow-cooker meals for dinner. when we go out, we share meals and enjoy every bite.

    his mother gave him a couple of rings she no longer wears, and he put the stones into my wedding band… we’re paying cash for our modest wedding later this winter, and we each have more money in the bank than we did when we met.

    it’s good not to force things… I’m so happy I didn’t, so I could meet someone who I have so much fun with living beneath our means together, feeling richer than ever <3

  28. wallet says:

    You are moving in the wrong circles! Most women I have dated expect the man to always pay the full cost of the couple’s meals and entertainment. Precictably they lose interest as soon as the idea of paying for themselves arises, for instance to travel together!

  29. Kevin Mzansi says:

    Wow! Consciously staying single is a tough call, although your caveat at the end saved you :-)
    I’m in a similar situation as you – just trying to finish the studies and getting rid of debt before I actively start looking around again. There is a fine line between being frugal and cheap, though, especially early in relationship. You can only go to parks and museums so many times. I also find it quite challenging when you start meeting each other’s friends. For example, I would be worried if my friend’s 6’2″ 210 lb boyfriend is only eating salad and drinking water every time we have dinner as a group! This is especially tough when everyone in your friends group are already set on their career and are making good money.

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