Who Should Pay on a First Date?

Just like other elements that can make or break a romantic relationship, the way you manage and talk about money with your partner needs to be established slowly, and considered as things grow.

At first glance, it seems that there are few things less incompatible than dating and finance. Surely talking about money is a real turn-off for a potential partner?

Well, yes and no. Ultimately, dating is about getting to know someone, and learning to make decisions together. And few decisions are more important than how you choose to budget your money.

Too many people fail to consider money or finances as an important factor when they are falling in love. Initially, this is understandable. But just like other elements that can make or break a romantic relationship — trust, communication, and healthy boundaries — the way you manage and talk about money with your partner needs to be established slowly, and considered as things grow.

How we each feel about and handle our finances is unique, and usually built form habits and experiences that are deeply personal and tied up with how our parents managed their money and taught us. This is what gives money the power to destroy a relatinship (or not) as it often comes with strong emotional ties attached. I’m not suggesting that you make a big statement and spill your entire financial history on the first date. But I am saying you should start building honesty about your finances early on.

Here’s how.

Who pays for the first date?

The first “financial” discussion that most couples have is often on their first date: Who will pay for dinner?

There are, of course, long-standing (and outdated) cultural assumptions that “the man” will do so. But how you approach this question — both as an individual and as a potential couple — can say a lot about your financial future together. As with most things when it comes to relationships, the key here is honesty and clarity.

Rather than letting those assumptions lurk in the background, be open about money right from the get-go. The goal is to handle this situation in a way that is comfortable for both you and your partner.

If you would like to take care of the bill, it’s best gauge how the other person feels about it first. For instance, you might say, “How should we handle the bill? I know these conversations are a little awkward, but I’d love to cover it if you don’t mind.” Likewise, if you want to split it, you can suggest, “Do you mind if we split this down the middle?”

Don’t, whatever you do, jump in and insist you pay, thinking you are being chivalrous — this can often be read as arrogance. You should also steer clear of either assuming that your date will pay, or that they know your financial situation (or you theirs). It’s never an easy subject to have in the early days of getting to know someone but avoiding the subject is the beginning of a bad habit, and can store up problems for the future.

What are some other mistakes you should avoid?

As you get to know each other, you and your potential partner will likely experience two money-related issues. The first is that almost everyone has a different budget for dating, and if you are trying to impress each other, it’s almost inevitable that one of you will be taken out of your financial comfort zone sooner or later. It’s important, therefore, to set clear boundaries about how much you are going to spend on dates, on gifts, and on shared meals.

It can be difficult to come up with a hard limit on this, of course, but pointing out that you are saving toward a goal, or looking to pay off your student loans or your mortgage for example, is a good way of bringing a little fiscal reality and honesty into your dreamy romance.

The second issue is that most people have at least one part of their finances they are embarrassed about. In a new relationship, you may naturally try to evade this particular topic, and keep an aspect of your finances secret. For most young people, the topic is debt. More than 76% of Millennials carry some kind of debt — excluding student loans and credit card debt — and plenty of them keep it a secret from their parents, their romantic partners, and often from themselves.

For Gen Z, it’s not much prettier. Most members have just entered the workforce for the first time, and more than a third already carry personal debt.

It’s not easy to come clean about an embarrassing financial matter, but you will need to eventually, if and when things get more serious. The key is to think of your finances as another aspect of your personality — like your hobbies and your childhood memories. It’s healthy to share these things with someone you trust and are building a future with. For instance, how would you share a personal story with your partner? How would you admit to them one of your less desirable character traits? Approach the topic of money in the same way.

More often than not, you will find that when you are honest, your partner will appreciate and trust you more than they did before. Take the power away from money by thinking of it as a way for someone else to get to know you better.

What about when things start to actually get serious? 

As your relationship progresses, to the point that you start to go on more regular dates and consider building a life together, the depth to which you discuss your finances should also progress.

Admittedly, this is challenging. But if you’ve been open with each other up until this point, it may ease some of the tensions discussions around money typically cause.

That said, before making any life-changing decisions, like considering marriage, investing in a pet, or opening a shared bank account, it’s important that you and your partner arrive at a shared understanding of your financial goals and how to reach them. These conversations can also help you spot potential red flags before taking those big steps. Just as every couple is different, the approach you take to your shared finances will be unique. However, in my experience, there are a few elements most successful relationships share in their approaches.

First, you should find opportunities to discuss your finances frequently, even if it’s only to make a joke about overpriced coffee. When you are beginning to save and build a life with someone, you need to keep careful track of every pound spent, especially if you are considering using a shared account (or accounts). Don’t get into the habit of hiding money or keeping financial secrets from one another.

Second, you should talk openly not just about your current financial situation, but also about your financial past, and particularly the way that you were raised. The way your parents approached money when you were a child will inevitably affect the way you do now, and it will be important for you and your partner to understand this so that each of you has greater empathy towards where the other is coming from. If you want to become a parent one day, knowing the financial habits you want to keep, or throw away, will be useful.

Third, you should discuss your beliefs about money and how it should be used, saved and spent. This is particularly the case as Christians.

Finally, you shouldn’t be afraid to dream a little, and to put some numbers behind your shared aspirations. Yes, money is scary and stressful, but planning a future with someone you love is fun. So let yourself imagine a little, and as a part of that, imagine how you will pay for your dreamed future as well.

The bottom line… 

Talking about money when dating is hard, but it’s also necessary if you want to achieve a truly respectful relationship.

By cultivating this skill now, you will also be setting yourself up for the future, so make an investment in your romantic future today by getting the conversation going at a reasonably early stage.