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First Date: How Much Should you Spend?

Last updated by on January 18, 2015

Who Should Pay for the First Date – Taken to the Next Level

One of the most heated discussions elicited from any post EVER on 20somethingfinance came as a result of an analysis I did on who should pay for the first date.

Regardless of what your take on that controversial topic is, the next question to arise is “how much should you spend on the first date?”.

The First Date: Hard to Break Away from the Social Norm

how much should you pay on the first date

Here’s the thing about first dates. It’s hard to break away from the traditional dinner and a movie, or dinner and some form of entertainment since it has become such a social norm. On the second, third, or fourth date, and so on, I think it’s completely acceptable, in my opinion, to break free from that social norm and go for a long hike, a bike ride, cook at home, or do something that is usually free.

But I don’t know that you’d want to break too far away from the social norm on the first date just to save a few bucks. If you break free for other reasons, so be it, but being frugal for the sake of being frugal can wait until another day.

That being said, is it possible to spend too little?

Spending Too Little – Frugal Vs. Overly Cheap

Since we’re all value-rich personal finance stewards, I’m going to assume that there are few people that would set a lower limit on how much you should spend on the first date. That would just be shallow, after all, right?

Not so fast. There are social norms, and if you’re going to partake in them, the hot dog stand and the dollar theater combo is probably not the way to go.

Spending Too Much on the First Date: The Downsides

On the other end of the spectrum, I think it is possible to spend ‘too much’ on the first date. We’ll get into how much is ‘too much’ to spend in a bit… but there are some obvious drawbacks to spending TOO MUCH:

  • You’re setting bad expectations. The pressure is on to keep it up, regardless of who pays.
  • You are showing signs of reckless spending. Hey, if this is going to be something serious, why set that standard right away? It sends a bad message that you are careless about your spending.
  • Your motives might be questioned – in spending a lot on a first date, your motives might come into question by your date. You usually don’t want that, unless your goal is to not have a second date (if you catch my drift).
  • If you have a lot of first dates and don’t go far beyond, you could go broke real fast.

What is the ‘Perfect Amount’ to Spend on the First Date?

I’ve take too long to spit it out, so I’ll just get on with it now…

What is the perfect level at which you are spending neither too much nor too little on the first date? (take the poll below).

What is the Perfect Amount to Spend on the First Date?

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I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 10,000+ others by getting FREE email updates. You can also explore every post I have written, in order.

  • Tara says:

    I prefer lunches for first dates since I tend to meet people at work (I work at a large company, so that’s not a big deal really). Lunch is casual, so easy to get to know someone and see if you want another date without getting formal. It’s also easy to walk away from if things were weird.

  • RS says:

    I prefer coffee as a first date. Since my pool of potentials are limited by my social circle, online dating has helped broaden my horizons. Dinner and a movie (esp in that order), is too much of a time investment if there’s no inital spark. I prefer a movie and then dinner, so if conversation falls short, there’s something to help thru the evening.
    The coffee shop atmosphere forces a conversation with no strings attached, and if we hit it off, it doesn’t have to stop there. If not, it’s not a huge investment on either person.

  • Danielle says:

    I disagree with lunch for a first date, but that’s just a personal preference. I said $75-$100 for a first date. $50 would be fine, but you’d be hard pressed to find a decent, non-chain restaurant dinner for that price. BF and i usually spend $115 at dinner… not what we would prefer to spend, but that’s the price for the area we live in.

  • Budgeting in the Fun Stuff says:

    I prefer great ideas as opposed to thinking about the actual amount spent.

    My husband-to-be knew I LOVED donuts and scary movies, so he took me to see From Hell but surprised me with Shipley’s Donuts that he had smuggled in. Normally, this would sound uber-cheap and tacky, but he had gone out of his way to make me smile…that’s a perfect first date. I found out later that he despises scary movies and like kolaches more than donuts…that just made it sweeter. 🙂

  • Griffin T. says:

    I agree that lunch is an easier first date, as its low pressure and generally more casual, but depending on how much chemistry you have, it might be best to go straight for dinner.

  • Ron Ablang says:

    I’m going to agree w/ RS and say coffee for a first date. Dinner or lunch can seem like too much pressure for some women. So if the two don’t have enough to talk about on their coffee date, then there isn’t much lost.

  • In my experience, I have found that it actually hurts a guy’s chances with a girl if he spends too much on her during the first date. I think this is due to the fact that spending too much doesn’t make you seem like as much of a challenge that she has to overcome. So, my advice is to go somewhere very casual (not trashy), reasonably priced, and most of all fun!

  • Abby says:

    ON PLAN: I’ve never done the stereotypical “dinner and a movie” first date. If I am spending time with someone that I’m trying to get to know, a movie seems like a waste of time because you don’t get to interact at all. Dinner first dates can be awkward because you are too paranoid about price ranges, getting something stuck in your teeth, who should pay, keeping a conversation going in the right direction, etc. Actually, I think I just described an interview… I have always preferred casual or entertainment-type early dates. Lunch, minigolf, a baseball game, amusement park, etc. If you have mutual friends, group dates can be fun as well. You get to be together, interact, and learn about each other without the “interview” feel or needing to be the center of attention the WHOLE time.

    ON PAYING: I am uncomfortable with someone I’m not close to spending a significant amount of money on me. I wouldn’t fight over an ice cream cone or modest lunch if my date insisted on paying, but would feel terrible if I couldn’t at least contribute to a $100 evening unless it was a regular thing where I could pick up the next one. I don’t like the implied expectation that I “owe” them something, but worse, I don’t tend to get along with people who consistently refuse to ALLOW me do to things for myself like pay, or open a door, or drive, etc. Chivalry is nice when it isn’t forced down your throat… then it is only creepy. I.e. If I try to hold a door open for you because your hands are full and mine are not, don’t yell at me for breaking the rules.

  • Ron Ablang says:

    @Abby: You sound like a reasonable woman. Some young women have this feeling of entitlement, like the men should pay for everything since women have to pay lots for their makeup and clothing.

    Personally, for any meeting, I think that the person who did the inviting should pay. I wouldn’t expect to have to chip in if I was invited to something unless it was mentioned to me during the invite.

  • Jesse W. says:

    I think it is all relative to the money you can afford. While no one should spend thousands on the first date it is a little bit different if you make $150,000 a year compared to $40,000 a year.

  • Abby says:

    @Jessee- I think it has a lot more to do with the lifestyle you maintain.

    If your goal is finding a person you will continue wanting to do things with, you should pick things that you enjoy doing that are within your personal spending tolerances. If you are the type of person who enjoys expensive dining, then a compatible person should as well. If you expect to never do that again, a nice dinner first date seems like a waste.

    Discretionary spending is not an equal % of salary for everyone. There is nothing wrong with someone making 40k spending more a year on entertainment than someone making 150k. Maybe the 150ker is saving for something in particular like a house or visiting family that lives overseas and the 40ker has minimal expenses.

  • Erin says:

    I said $75-100. Even an afternoon in a museum or zoo and dinner/lunch would easily cost this in NY so I realize this might be alot but that’s just what a date would cost.


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