What will love cost you?

Cupid wears a diaper, with no place to put a wallet – but if you’re looking for love there better be pockets on your garments. Deep ones: U.S. residents spent $928 million last year just on dating services.

Love is not only grand, but fiscally prudent. Cohabitation and marriage generally mean two incomes but only one rent/mortgage, fewer nights out on the town, less emphasis on recreational shopping and more focus on shared financial goals.

“There is a real benefit – I call it a financial inoculation against poverty – in being coupled up. You’re better able to withstand tough times,” says Carmen Wong Ulrich, author of “The Real Cost of Living: Making the Best Choices for You, Your Life and Your Money.”

Oh, but the cost of getting to couplehood. Prices for makeup, “manscaping,” marriage vows and mortgages really add up.

That’s the topic of my current column at MSN Money. “The high cost of finding love” is somewhat tongue-in-cheek — but not entirely. Winding up one-half of a couple can cost you a lot of dough.


How should you look while you’re looking?

Maybe you’ll be one of those couples who Meet Cute at a yard sale or dog park, or find true love at a church event or a Habitat for Humanity build. Or maybe you’ll go the blind-date, singles-scene or online-dating route.

Whether you do it yourself or hire some help, persistence will probably pay off. The emphasis might be on “pay,” though, especially if you live in New York, Los Angeles or other petri dishes for the fabulous-looking. It can take a moderate to large infusion of cash to cover:

  • The need to look your best when you’re out on the town, searching
  • The push to look even better on the first “real” date
  • The continuing costs of the salon, the gym, the clothes and (yee-OWCH!) the waxing

What does it actually cost to fall in love and stay there? Maybe not much. Maybe a lot.

I don’t think it should cost a lot. If you live in a laid-back area or are a demon dealista you can either dress casually or dress super-well on the cheap. But we live in expensive times — and it can be hard to get noticed with all the other eye candy (male and female) out there.

It’s easy to say, “Makeup and designer labels shouldn’t be a requirement”  or “If a woman looked down on me for driving a paid-for Chevy Cavalier then I wouldn’t want to date her anyway.” It’s easier still to say such things while you’re at home alone on a Friday or Saturday night.

That stinks. However, I think we’re living in an appearance-obsessed era. Why else would third-grade girls be putting themselves on diets?

Readers: Are you on the market? If so, do you feel pressured to take extraordinary measures in order to find that special someone?

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  1. I have to admit that I have paid for online dating memberships in the past, though the last time I tried online dating I joined okcupid, which is a free site. I kind of liked the paid sites better, though, because they typically found matches that were more compatible with me (theoretically, at least. In person it was a different story.) .
    I think that looks matter to a certain extent. I don’t think that a guy needs to drive a fancy car or pay for all the dates. But I am impressed if a guy makes an effort to look good. He doesn’t have to spend a lot of money on clothes or anything like that, just as long as he shows up for the date looking like he actually showered, brushed his hair (and teeth), and isn’t wearing the clothes that he slept in. (Or maybe I’ve lowered my standards a little when I think of what looks good.)

    • Donna Freedman

      @Neurotic Workaholic: Good point. If a guy showed up looking (or smelling!) like he hadn’t even bothered with basic neatness and hygiene, I’d be inclined to back away. “Looks,” though, can be very subjective. Intelligence, a sense of humor and the feeling of being comfortable in his own skin mean more to me than Clooney-esque looks.
      What was it that the admittedly short and funny-looking Aristotle Onassis once said: “Women find me very attractive when I’m standing on a pile of my money.”

  2. I talked on the phone to a man I met online. He said he liked older women…lol…(I’m thinking)and their retirement, paid-for home, not needing to go out dancing every weekend. Yeah, he like me until I deliberately told him I did not have as much money as he assumed (from his very pointed questions). (thought he was being subtle) His cell phone suddenly was needing a recharge and he would talk to me later. LOL I will never hear from him. It’s okay.

  3. I LOVE your opening line!

  4. I loved the line “financial inoculation against poverty” – so romantic! :).

  5. I’m no longer on the market, but when I was, I did pay for a matchmaking service. Not an online dating service, but rather I paid a fair amount of money for a complete stranger to set me up on dates with other complete strangers. Luckily for me, I only had to endure five losers before I met #6, who I married three years later. It was harder for him; he went through about 30 crazy cat ladies (his estimate) before I came along and took him out of his misery. LOL!!!

    Apparently there are about 20 women for every one man in these types of matchmaking services. Before he met me, my DH was going on two or three ‘dates’ a week, and he could have gone on more if he’d wanted. Even Happy Hour gets expensive after a while.

    Loved your opening line, Donna. It’s ok if Cupid wears a diaper. Just make sure he has good health insurance coverage and that you both have an iron-clad prenup. 🙂

  6. Practical Parsimony, that is so funny! When I did the online thing, I found that the men who contacted me were either 10-15 years older than me or 10-15 years younger than me. I also got some interest from men my age, but not as much.

    Donna, I don’t require someone to be an Adonis, but I do think it’s reasonable to expect someone who’s got a dating profile up to shave (or trim the beard), comb their hair, take off the baseball hat, and put on a clean shirt. I was surprised at the number of profiles (that featured pictures of people who looked like they just rolled out of bed. And yes, I had a few dates where they showed up looking like that as well. Come on! Make an effort to look nice–I did. We can all do that without buying designer threads or doing all sorts of high-maintenance grooming rituals.

    I don’t care about if someone’s “rich” but I do care if they are spendthrifts who are in debt. I’d rather date the guy whose car is paid for (though I’m not a fan of Chevy Cavaliers–I never found them to be reliable, lol). I don’t want to hitch my wagon to someone who’s got thousands in debt and nothing in savings. There are ways to be kind and generous and romantic without spending a lot of money–I’m always happy if someone wants to treat me, but I’m also happy if a man wants to make me dinner. If you tend to be frugal in general, that’s fine. You can be frugal and still have a generous and open heart.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Pamela: Agreed. If someone is clean and neat that goes a long way toward handsome in my book. Again, it’s the personality and the guy’s outlook on life that really hooks me. And, as you say, his willingness to cook me dinner is a plus.
      The most important thing for me is that we have similar financial outlooks and goals. So many marital disagreements are about money that I wouldn’t want to set up shop with someone whose views are too different.
      Not that I’m looking to get hitched, mind you. I don’t think I’ll marry again unless it’s for something really romantic, like health insurance.

  7. When I started dating my husband he was making $14K a year at Starbucks. He was eating $.99 cheeseburgers and the past used date food from the starbucks he worked at. He was spending $6K a year on rent, and paid back his friends $3K. Needless to say, he was broke.
    This didn’t stop him from trying to be nice to my (selfish) friends who asked him to buy them drinks when we all went out, or from buying me a small piece of jewelry for our anniversary. Poor guy tried so hard to show me a good time within his crazy tight budget.
    Anyway, I liked that he made so little, treated me so well, and tried so hard. Guess that’s why I married him!

  8. I found my steady guy of the past 2.5 years through online dating. I’m divorced and mid-40s, but there were still plenty of guys to look through and I got more than enough messages and “winks.” I didn’t and don’t put of bunch of money into dating. I take care of myself for myself (eating well, trying to get regular exercise, etc.) and after years of experience I’ve learned that it’s best to just be yourself and be honest about your values, etc. I hate to “dress up” and I don’t wear makeup; while I have to wear “business casual” at work, I’d rather spend the rest of my time in jeans and t-shirts. My guy is like that, too. He has good grooming and dresses neatly, but he doesn’t buy designer clothes or spend a lot on a fancy sports car. So it’s possible to find a good person without spending lots of money. I think the figures point to such high costs because folks in their 20s are so into spending on image. Since there are so many people in their 20s dating it skews the numbers.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Linda: As someone who is built for comfort, not for speed, I completely agree. We should take care of ourselves for ourselves, not for someone else. Thus exercise, eat as well as possible, etc.
      To that regimen I’d add:
      Laugh often.
      Read a lot.
      Look for something in each day that amazes you. (You will find it, once you start paying attention.)
      Be kind.
      Treat yourself — sometimes we need those hyacinths to feed our souls.
      Question assumptions, starting with your own.
      You may or may not find a partner, but you will find that you’ve built a life worth living.

  9. I’m single, but only theoretically on the market. I’m doing a fine job of leading a full and interesting life, and it seems less and less likely I’m going to bump into Mr Right. If I do, great! If not, also fine! I may regret this in my later years, and it would be really nice to have a second income around, but on a day to day basis I’m fine with the situation, and I just turned 40 – if I were going to freak out about it, that would have been a good time for it.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Bethh: A friend of mine got into her late 30s and figured she was probably not going to meet Guy of Dreams. She bought herself a small house.
      You guessed it: Relatively soon thereafter she met Guy. They’re now married and have a kid. And yeah, she sold the smaller house because she works at home and needed that second bedroom for an office. Now they have a nice but not ostentatious place and are very happy. But until she’d met him she had an interesting and satisfying life — like you’re having.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  10. Great article!

  11. My husband said he sobered up and was married. He thinks he is funny. Seventeen years later the joke is a bit worn and so are we but I think we can stick it out at least another year.;p

  12. I’m single and looking, but not really ‘out there’ if you will. I don’t go out, do online dating, or do anything out of the ordinary to find a man.

    I’m overweight so right off the bat I know that scares a lot of guys off, and I am working on that (for me, not to find a man). However, I dress pretty plainly, don’t wear make-up, and only visit the salon a couple times per year. I am of course a clean person and am overall approachable I think.

    I just don’t really think it’s worth it to put so much effort and time and money just to look a certain way and go out and so on. I guess I kind of think that the right guy will come along some day and that I don’t necessarily have to go out of my way to find him. Plus, at least when someone meets me, well, its me! There will be no surprises down the road.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Marie: Ha! Imagine the surprise some guy might feel if he marries Miss Pampered Princess and she sleeps late during the honeymoon. She might look a little different without the makeup and the false eyelashes and the hair done just so…
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  13. tony todd

    lol, i actually found a coupon for match.com. got it at couponcodeworld.com

  14. I am now 60… 14 years ago, I met someone on line who eventually became my wife, until her death following 4 years of suffering through terminal cancer… So yes, it can and does work given time. It was the 3rd marriage for both of us, and also the best relationship that either one of us had been in, ever… I have been alone now for over a year.. I did go on a number of on line sites again, basically just to go out and have some fun and stop the loneliness…Very few if any of the so called matches even sparked the slightest interest… Maybe I had been the one who had changed… Maybe I had had the best already and nothing was worthy of me or I of them. I also felt that far too many people on these sites were basically falsifying their profiles. Everyone seemed so athletic, traveled the world, had the best jobs, drove the most so called desired vehicles,dined at the best restaurants and what and who they were looking for also had to meet these incredible criteria in order to even receive a “wink” from them. All throughout my life, most of my friends were also female, and I had pretty much abandoned them during the marriage, but I was encouraged by a professional to at least attempt to contact a few of the ones I thought might want to rekindle a friendship… What I have found once I reconnected with one in particular ( and that in itself took months to accomplish) is an apparent hidden love that had been dormant for years…. Something I had NO idea of and was a complete surprise and actual shock to me. We have reconnected, spoken for hours every night for some time now, e-mail numerous times a day, and are working in closing the 1200 mile physical gap that now remains between us. It has become much more than the mere renewal of a friendship… We have found that we are in fact have much more in common than we ever knew from the past, and are falling in love with each other…Something that I doubt neither of us would be capable with each other 20 years ago or so. We have both grown to our current levels. Only time will tell how this story continues… but the future is looking brighter right now..I suppose the bottom line is Love can be anywhere as long as you are like so many women have already said, willing to accept not maybe what you want, but what you really need. Not everyone can, wants, or even needs a King or Queen… I have found someone with much more down to earth desires, ambitions, thoughts and feelings.. and it is good… I am cancelling all the on line dating sites.. I have found something much better right in my own back yard… I just had to search a little deeper to locate her and she me…

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