This is another great post by our friend Pretired Nick.
Since you’re reading Cash Cow Couple, it’s safe to assume that you already believe that a shared and intelligent approach to financial matters is a critical part of building a healthy, long-term relationship.
But, hey, what if you’re not yet in a relationship? I know from reading the comments that many of you haven’t yet found the right one yet. And if you’ve been dating for any length of time at all, you are probably getting frustrated by what you’re finding out there.
I thought for my second contribution to Cash Cow Couple, I’d share some thoughts on first date advice and how to go about finding the right mate. Now, if you read my last article on money and relationships, you already know that I didn’t get married until I was in my 40s (although I began dating my wife when I was 35). That left me a lot of years of dating, which gave me with a lot of experience I can now share with you. If, like me, you’re already settled down with your mate, feel free to read on and share your own lessons learned in the comments.
My most disturbing date had everything to do with money. It was a blind date, which is almost always a bad idea. I parked on the street, and called her on the security phone to her apartment building and was buzzed in. I knew I was in trouble when the door opened and it smelled like a perfume factory exploded. (I hate perfume and not just for financial reasons!) But given that we had a mutual friend, I knew I had to go through with it – and hey, you never want to be too superficial, right?
We walked out to the street and headed up the sidewalk to where my car was parked. “I’m just up here,” I said.
I looked quickly left and right. Where was she? I turned around and she was standing expectantly next to a shiny four-door luxury sedan.
“Um, I’m up here,” I said. Her face fell when she saw my piece of crap hatchback Honda, covered in dirt with a cracked windshield.
It got worse from there. She whined that my seat belt had dirt on it and was getting on her expensive jacket. She talked about the place her wealthy family owned in Mexico and blah, blah, blah. We got a quick bite and went to an outdoor movie showing – which it turns out is only fun when you go with fun people. We left early because she was cold and I was annoyed. When we got back to her place, I didn’t even get out the car and she raced back to her little apartment as fast as her stuck-up legs could carry her.
Contrast that with the first date with my now-wife. Same car, even cheaper cheap date – but she was thrilled to be there and if anything was nervous that I wouldn’t like her.
And I guess that’s as good of a place as any to start sharing the first date advice that I’ve learned over the years:
Always drive a clunker on the first date
Yeah, I know, every other dating advice site out there will tell you to borrow someone’s nice car on the first date so you can be more impressive. Me? I recommend making sure the other person passes the “gold-digger” test first. (Note that I’m talking about dating for relationship purposes here. If you’re dating for other purposes – the guys know what I’m talking about – trying to appear wealthier than you really are is good advice.)
The person who did the asking does the buying
Back in the day, men were the ones that had to work up the nerve to ask out a lady. And the women could say yes or no as they pleased, waiting for the right gentleman caller. If a date was planned, the man would automatically be the one paying. Those days are over. Now, women should be doing just as much asking as the men. But this does create an awkward dynamic: is she expecting him to pay? Will he be insulting her if he reaches for the bill? It’s weird. But the right answer is: If you asked him or her out – you pay. The good news is that if you did the asking, you also get to pick where to go!
Skip the fancy dinner
Hopefully the idea that you can impress another person by spending lots of money on fancy food is finally dying off. Just in case it’s not, Pretired Nick is here to tell you to quit it! But look, there’s a difference between cheap and inexpensive. Your job before you ask anyone out is to do a little research. You will seek out inexpensive places loaded with character. You’re going to impress the other person by showing your knowledge of the hidden gems of your city. Grab some food to go and take it to the park or the beach (this is an especially good way to avoid needing spend money on overpriced alcohol). Hang out. Talk. But keep your money safe! Eating out is a particular danger to your wallet. There are people who go on dates ONLY because they want to have other people buy them expensive food. Don’t even take the chance; there is great food and great atmosphere for low cost. Besides, taking someone to a fancy dinner just looks desperate. Oh, and if you’re really clever, try to find a place that doesn’t require tipping.
Personal appearance – be smart
I’m sure there are frugality aficionados who recommend not spending ANY money on looking one’s best for a date. I say it’s going to happen, so let’s be smart about it. Ladies can leave their own tips in the comments, but guys — listen up. Haircuts: If you’re a guy, you need one. And don’t be trying to DIY it with your barbershop razor. Go ahead and spend a little money on a proper haircut. Next, clothing. I assume you own some passable duds, so I’m not going to lecture you. With two exceptions: Shoes and belt. Your shoes and belt should be high-quality and relatively new-looking. Why? Because these two items stick out like a red flag if they’re not in good shape. You could be wearing $300 jeans and your cracked belt and worn-out shoes scream “this guy can’t manage his money!” Now I’m not saying you necessarily want to look rich. But I am saying you need to look like someone who has their act together and understands how to buy quality. Fortunately, you should only be buying high-quality belts and shoes anyway and they should last you for years to come.
Coupons on the first date?
Um, well if you met on a frugality web site forum, then sure, pull out the coupons. Otherwise, no. Now, you’re going to ask me, “Hey Pretired Nick, I thought you were all about saving money while dating. Wouldn’t a coupon be a good way to make sure I’m on the same financial page as my potential mate?” It’s a good question and here is the answer: By pulling that coupon out of your pocket and giving it to the waiter, you’re bringing money front and center. The date is supposed to be out getting to know each other. While, yes, you might look a little weird and turn some people off by whipping out your coupon, the worst part is that you’re making it appear that you only chose this place because you had a coupon. You want to leave the other person with the impression that you chose that place because you know all the good spots in town, not because you’re on an deal email list. (On the second date, go for it!)
No Friday and Saturday night dates
What, but aren’t those the best date nights? OK, this is not a hard and fast rule. Sometimes it’s the only day that will work or sometimes the low-cost activity you’ve selected only happens on the weekends. The outdoor movie event I mentioned above was a Saturday night thing. But if you can avoid it, you should, at least on first dates. Not only do you give the clever impression that you’re too busy with other things to go on a date with her (hey, never hurts to look like you’re in demand!), but you can often score some great deals by dating off-peak. You can sometimes land on a happy hour or score some free appetizers or other great finds.
Be creative on your activities
Since you can’t talk during movies, they sometimes are a pretty bad first date choice. On the other hand, they can give you something to talk about afterward so that can be good. That said, the more you think out of the box, the more money you’ll save and you’ll have a better time anyway. If it’s summer, look for Anything in the Park. In Portland, Oregon, for example, you can see Star Trek in the Park – awesome! Other cities have Shakespeare or music or other local theater productions. Winter can be harder, but keep your eye out for art showings and music events. You’ve already identified your charming little spots. Perhaps that bar or coffee shop has some free music to add to the night. Check out cool book readings or various lectures, like the ones we have here in Seattle at our Town Hall.
Eat before you go
OK, this advice might be in a bit of an ethical grey area, but I’m going to suggest you eat before you head out the door. Not only will you avoid looking like a hungry predator as you gobble down your meal, you’ll naturally be ordering something less expensive. I know a lot of guys think the woman won’t respect them if they don’t order something dripping with blood, but if you mention how your schedule has just been off that day and you might just have an appetizer, you’ll not only save cash on your meal and the tip, but you’ll put some psychological pressure on the other person to order less as well. No one wants to order four courses for themselves if the other person is just nibbling. Bwah ha ha ha!
Wow, all of that reminds me why I’m glad I’m not out there dating anymore! Whew! I hope if you’re currently in the dating world, you find some first date advice that keeps you from wasting money as you look for the right person to settle down with. If you’ve already found your mate, please share any advice you have in the comments! Let’s get these frugal daters coupled up with each other!
Author Bio: Pretired Nick is a fellow money saving guru who will occasionally contribute to the Cash Cow Couple. Be sure to check out his outstanding blog on pretirement.