Men face a tough road when it comes to dating. Even in 2014, they are generally expected to take the lead when it comes to asking a woman out, arranging the first date and picking up the tab. A survey of 1,000 people released this week from NerdWallet found that 77 percent of respondents said men should pay for that initial outing.
A typical first date activity -- eating out at a restaurant, for example -- is not cheap. And anyone actively searching for love, especially if he has enlisted the services of an online dating tool, could easily go on a few first dates a week until finding "the one," or at least until settling into a longer-term relationship. That could add up to $400 or more a month in dating costs for men. So how is a modern man with an eye on his budget supposed to handle that kind of expense without turning to credit card debt?
One option is to get more creative with date nights so they feature activities like a free museum trip or community event, like an outdoor concert. Dating coach Neely Steinberg saysfor the most part, women don't care about swanky, expensive places. "There's lots of hidden-gem places that are reasonably priced where two people can eat a great meal and have a drink for around $50," she says. She also suggests a sunset walk with a stop at your favorite dessert place, a hike followed by a picnic with sandwiches or even cooking the meal yourself.
[Read: How to Date Like an Entrepreneur.]
"At the end of the day, if a woman is connecting with you on a first date, I don't think she cares all that much about how much you've spent or where you are. So it's less about throwing money around and more about developing your interpersonal dating and flirting skills," she adds.
Jason Vitug, a U.S. News contributor to the Frugal Shopper blog and founder of the financial education startup Phroogal, says that in general, whoever initiates the date (usually the man) should generally be the one to pay, which also makes the best first impression. He says he always plans (and budgets) to pay for the first date, and then on the second date, he allows the other person to handle the bill. He adds that it's also a good chance to get some insight into the other person's relationship with money.
One of his successful dates cost just $5: He and his date walked around town during an arts and craft fair, and he purchased a fresh juice blend to drink. The entire date lasted several hours and led to a second date. "You can have a nice first date outdoors and then wrap up the afternoon with coffee or dessert," he says. He adds that lunch dates tend to be more affordable than dinner ones, and coffee dates can help keep the focus on the conversation and not the meal while costing under $10. For first dates, he recommends steering clear of money drains, such as movie theaters and bars, which also tend to be crowded and loud anyway.
[Read: Why Boys Know More About Money.]
Tim Maurer, a certified financial planner and director of personal finance for BAM Alliance, points out that people can usually find a way to come up with the time or money to do the things that are most important to them, including dating. "Dating is one of those important things and should be treated as such, not flippantly," he says. Some costs are inherent to the activity, he adds. He suggests incorporating them into your budget as a regular monthly expense.
Meanwhile, men can also shore up the rest of their finances so they're not putting their financial stability at risk with their pursuit of romance. The California Society of Certified Public Accountants recently released a list of personal finance tips aimed specifically at single people, who now make up more than half of the U.S. adult population. While applicable to both single men and women, the list includes bulking up emergency savings, protecting your credit by making sure you have enough funds to get you through a health crisis and funneling more money into retirement savings.
The ultimate solution, of course, is to find love so you no longer have to continue going on so many first dates. The NerdWallet study found that after first dates turn into longer-term relationships, men and women split the bill much more evenly, with four in 10 respondents reporting that they take turns paying for the bill. (The rest of the respondents said that either they or their significant other pays the bill most of the time.) That suggests that for many men, at least, those one-sided first dates paid off.
The NerdWallet survey hints at a slew of financial challenges that arise once a relationship gets more comfortable: More than one-third of men and women surveyed said they've "hidden cash" from their partner and more than one in four said they've "secretly spent money" without telling their partner. Many couples also lacked a shared savings goal, which can make it difficult to set money aside. Paying for the first date might be just the beginning of a long and complicated financial relationship.