Think Online Dating Is Too Expensive? Here Are 5 Ways to Keep Costs Down

Diana Silveira is a big fan of online dating sites.

For one thing, she says, “It’s easy, and I think preliminary dating in pajamas is great.”

For another, she met her husband, Clerley through eHarmony 12 years ago and they now have an 8-year-old son.

Christine Fasan agrees.

Corey Bauhs and Christine Fasan walk in downtown St. Petersburg, Fla., on Feb. 8, 2018.
Corey Bauhs and Christine Fasan walk in downtown St. Petersburg, Fla., on Feb. 8, 2018. They met on the site Coffee Meets Bagel a year and a half ago and are getting married this month. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

“I thought it was the best way to find a relationship because I didn’t want to meet guys in bars,” says Christine, who found her fiance, Corey Bauhs, on Coffee Meets Bagel a year and a half ago. “And I wanted to make sure our values matched up before I invested a lot of time.”

More than 49 million people have tried online dating sites ranging from paid, personality-matching services to free, swipe-if-you-like apps.

Although both our couples’ online dating experiences ended in happily-ever-afters, only 17% of people who married in the last year met Prince or Princess Charming on a dating site, according to a Statistics Brain survey.

Since this is The Penny Hoarder, we had to ask the couples for practical online dating tips that won’t break the bank.

Here’s what they told us:

Budget Dating Tip #1: Be Ready to Commit… to Your Dating Site

Both of the couples agreed on one tip: Don’t waste money on more than one dating site.

Most markets have too much overlap to justify spending the extra cash, although Corey suggests not limiting yourself, so long as the sites are free.

Corey believes in using a lot of sites.  “Cast your net as wide as possible, but I wouldn’t use the paid ones,” he explains. “You see the same people 99% of the time.

Although, as Diana notes, there is something to be said for filtering.  “I knew I wanted to use a paid service to weed out the more casual people,” she says.

Budget Dating Tip #2: Pick the Right Dating Site for the Right Relationship

Male and Female having coffee
Clerley and Diana Silveira sit together in their kitchen. Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

Clerley and Diana agree that by using eHarmony’s survey — or 29 Dimensions, as the service describes it — they were both able to filter out people by personality, such as someone who preferred going to to the gym instead of the movies. (They both prefer the latter.)

Estimating she spent about $270 over 9 months with eHarmony, Diana says she considers the service worth her money because she traveled for work and didn’t have time to meet a lot of new people at that point in her life.

“At the time, Match seemed more like a hook-up site then, and I wasn’t interested in just a Friday night date; I was looking for something more serious,” Diana says. “Try just one for a few months to see if it’s for you.

With the plethora of options out there today, picking the right site could take a few tries, notes Christine, who estimates she spent $100 to $200 on dating sites over the years.

“I tried so many,” she says, laughing. “OkCupid, Plenty of Fish, Tinder, Match. I was interested in dating a lot then as opposed to finding a relationship.”

When she decided to look for a long-term relationship, she decided Coffee Meets Bagel was a better fit. The service is designed to let guys check out prospective matches first, then allows the ladies to choose from the men who have expressed interest in them.

And while you may research and pick a site that seems to offer a better chance at finding love, understand it’s unlikely you’ll find your soulmate on the first date, says Clerley.

“There were people with really high expectations: Love at first sight, get married the next day, have a kid a couple days later,” Clerley says. “There was one woman who didn’t even finish her lunch before she got up to leave. I said, ‘I’ll pay for the lunch, but can we just finish eating?’”

Female and Male walking
Clerley and Diana Silveira walk outside of their home just before sunset. Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

Budget Dating Tip #3: Start Small

Both couples also agreed: Expect to kiss a few frogs.

Corey, who estimates he spent about $20 total on dating sites, went on 25 to 30 dates through online services; his fiance topped out at 30 to 40. As a result, he advises keeping it short and sweet for early dates.

Meet up for coffee first; don’t start with going out to dinner,” Corey says. “You’ll end up spending $50 to $70 right away vs. $5.”

Diana agrees, noting that going out for coffee and splitting the bill also puts less pressure on the date.

“Whenever I went on dates early in the relationship, I paid for myself so I could just leave,” she says.

Budget Dating Tip #4: Embrace Love on a Budget

Corey Bauhs and Christine Fasan sit on the seawall in downtown St. Petersburg, Fla., on Feb. 8, 2018.
Bauhs and Fasan got serious about money strategies once their relationship became serious. They started budgeting and having open discussions about finances.
Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

“Corey is a saver, and I’m a spender, so that came up quickly,” Christine says, but when they got serious about the relationship, they also got serious about money strategies.

We came up with a going-out budget,” Christine explains. “We opened a joint account to be our spending money.”

Corey says they created the account because although he pays off his credit card each month, it’s easy to overspend any given month when you’re swept up in hearts and romance instead of budgets and cash flows.

We opened the account about six months into the relationship, when we knew neither of us was going anywhere,” he says. “Once you get more serious, you need to know what is going on — credit card debt, credit scores, all that — before you get married.”

Christine adds that strategies like budgeting and open discussions about finances helped head off problems down the road.

“I think talking about money early on — and our different views on it — was really important and beneficial,” she says. “It could cause a lot of problems, but it hasn’t caused many issues for us.”

Budget Dating Tip #5: Never Underestimate the Cheap Date

Corey Bauhs and Christine Fasan kiss in downtown St. Petersburg.
Bauhs and Fasan kiss in downtown St. Petersburg. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

Both couples’ advice for inexpensive dates: location, location, location. As in, find local outdoor spaces or free events for cheap, romantic dates.

“Just going for coffee and taking a walk — we took advantage of the beaches as easy, cheap dates,” Diana says. “Every place here is scenic.”

Even special-occasion dates can be had on a budget, Corey says.

“We went out for a wine and cheese pairings. We had personalized instructors — it was very intimate,” he explains. “And we got it through Groupon for $25.”

Looking for Love?

Weighing the costs associated with online dating against the convenience and possibility of finding true love, both couples agreed that it was worth the effort — although they admittedly could be considered biased.

Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer for The Penny Hoarder. Before she and her husband were married, he sent a barbershop quartet to serenade her at work for Valentine’s Day. Now, they order a very romantic pizza. She wouldn’t want it any other way.