The cost of living crisis has ruined our love lives

I’ll get these,” I told my date cheerily, indicating the two glasses of wine we’d ordered at the bar. Medium glasses, I should add. Of house wine. From a standard – not gastro – pub. I would quickly come to regret making such a recklessly generous offer.

“That’ll be £21,” said the barman – without the merest hint of a smile to suggest that this was his idea of a rather tasteless joke. It took every ounce of self-restraint not to gasp, hand fluttering to my chest, and shriek “I beg your pardon?” in a tone shrill enough to shatter glass. It was, after all, a first date. We were at least four rendezvous away from me feeling comfortable enough to become the physical manifestation of my mother.

“Sure – £21? Of course. Right you are. No problem.”

It was the week before payday. My brain stirred into action, firing off rapid strings of mental arithmetic: he would buy me back a drink, presumably, so we could stay for one more after this, but I probably couldn’t stretch to another round. I was supposed to be seeing an old friend for dinner the next night and was due to go on another first date the night after that. Should I cancel the other date? Or just put it all on the credit card? I could transfer some money from my savings, but I’d already done that the previous month, and the month before…

Talk about a buzz kill. Here I was, preoccupied by my bank balance, when I should have been focusing on making eye contact and charmingly frivolous conversation – laying down the romantic groundwork that would make dragging myself across town mid-week a genuinely worthwhile activity.

This situation is perhaps indicative of just how much spiralling costs across the board are impacting every facet of life – including in the realm of romance and relationships. It’s not just me who’s feeling the pinch: according to a new study, 54 per cent of single Brits have said they’re not currently dating because of rising prices. Nearly a third of the women surveyed by credit-building card provider Aqua even said they were planning to stop dating altogether – because it was, quite simply, too bloody expensive.

Inflation in the UK has meant that a number of industries, including the food and beverage and fashion sectors, have been hit with startling price hikes. In the year leading up to January 2024, restaurants and cafes saw an 8.2 per cent increase; clothing and footwear prices rose by 3.9 per cent in the year up to March 2024.

“The cost of living crisis has had a huge effect on people in a multitude of ways, including how we spend our leisure time, and yes, even how we date,” says Thimbl’s financial expert, Alex Kosuth-Phillips​​​​. “People are more budget-savvy than ever, with more than half of UK adults admitting to spending less on non-essentials as a direct result of the increased cost of living.”

Another survey from 2023 crunched the numbers on modern-day trysts to find that the majority of UK singles spent £60 per date – though for 13 per cent of respondents this could shoot up to over £100 for a first meeting. The research from Novuna Personal Finance revealed that the average person splashes a whopping £1,652 in total before finding a special someone, after an average of 15 dates. Despite the fact that, as per the Aqua research, people reported they could only afford an average of £38 per date. The numbers don’t add up.

Whether it’s £100, £60 or £38, it’s still a hell of a lot to shell out on what is, let’s face it, more likely to be a letdown than a triumph. In simpler – read, cheaper – times, it was easy to chalk up a bad date to experience. Oh well. Better luck next time. These days, it’s hard not to start actively resenting them. It’s hard not to start calculating whether the conversational enjoyment to monetary spend ratio stacks up, at a point when you should be getting lost in the moment and losing track of time (an endeavour made all but impossible by the constant “ping” of banking app notifications informing you that the last round tipped you back into an unarranged overdraft). It’s hard not to start listening to the cynical voice in your head arguing, rather compellingly, that you’d probably have a much better evening hanging out with your mates. At least then the financial worries would be partially offset by a riotously enjoyable evening.

Then there are the costs incurred before you even get to the date part: the hundreds of pounds invested in prep, from new threads to haircuts, perfume and cologne to makeup. All of it splurged in the vain hope that, in time, this initial outlay might lead to you spending more money still – on lingerie. All these pre-date expenses can add another £40 per date, according to the Novuna survey.

In this economy? It’s enough to make you give up on the whole sorry business, take Hamlet’s advice and “get thee to a nunnery”.

“Finances are at the forefront of people’s minds at the moment, and this is forcing people to be more thoughtful about how they connect with potential partners,” relationship expert and co-founder of dating app So Syncd, Jessica Alderson, agrees. “For some, this means being more selective about who they date, and for others, this involves finding more creative, affordable ways to spend time with someone.”

She also highlights that the cost of living crisis is “impacting people’s mental health and overall wellbeing. Some people don’t have the emotional energy or motivation to date in the midst of financial stress. It’s just not always a priority when you’re struggling to make ends meet.”

What’s particularly unfair about all this is that being single itself comes at a price – there are strong financial incentives to date purely so you can get coupled up and cut costs. Single people are forced to spend an average of £9,298 more per year when they live alone. Dubbed the “singles tax”, this massive extra financial burden is, according to research from UK Debt Expert, comprised of paying for rent and bills, plus annual lifestyle outgoings such as weddings, car insurance, streaming services, Christmas, holidays and takeaways, all without a partner to share the load. With the average UK salary coming in at £34,963, the total singles tax could equal about 30 per cent of your take-home pay.

“This premium that singles are having to pay leaves far less disposable income for other costs, like dating, socialising, owning a pet or attending a wedding; parts of modern life no one should feel they need to miss because of costs,” says Maxine McCreadie, personal finance expert at UK Debt Expert.

Under such circumstances, it perhaps makes sense that one in three couples are only staying together because they fear “not being able to afford to live alone”, according to Experian research. I don’t blame them, in all honesty. An extra £9k a year; a further £60 per date. When J Lo sang “My love don’t cost a thing”, she clearly wasn’t weathering an economic downturn.

So has the cost of living crisis killed romance stone dead? Not necessarily, but you might have to get a bit more creative with how you go about it. One of Alderson’s tips is to plan dates that involve free activities, such as visiting a local park or museum. “These types of activities not only save money but can also allow for more meaningful conversations,” she says. “A lot of people actually like simple dates such as going for a walk because it’s a low-pressure way to connect. Particularly if it’s a first date, and you’re not sure if you like each other yet, it can be refreshing to do something that doesn’t involve a major time or financial commitment.”

Another “hack” is to look for deals online, advises Kosuth-Phillips: “There’s absolutely no shame in using cinema and restaurant discount codes to help towards the cost of an evening out. Additionally, don’t feel obliged to foot the entire bill. Regardless of your gender, you’re under no obligation to fund the whole outing.” One 2024 survey revealed that just 19 per cent of women believe that men should pay on a date. It is 2024, after all.

A lot of people actually like simple dates such as going for a walk because it’s a low-pressure way to connect


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