How the high cost of living is shifting the dating scene
Surveys suggest singles are opting for more casual dates over fancy ones, and considering the budget up front
A few years ago, a typical date night for David Yarranton would often involve dinner and cocktails at a trendy restaurant.
But with the cost of living on the rise, the 27-year-old is getting creative. He still enjoys a night out, but is just as happy to whip up a meal at home or get outside for an afternoon of ice skating and hot chocolate.
"I find that's equally effective for getting to know someone, without necessarily breaking the bank," said Yarranton, who lives in Calgary.
The balancing act — between impressing a potential sweetheart and staying on budget (without coming across as cheap) — has always been a part of dating. But with inflation on the rise, it's getting trickier to strike.
Taking a new love out for dinner costs about eight per cent more than it did last year, according to October numbers from Statistics Canada. Extending the evening with drinks at the bar means coughing up about another four per cent relative to 2021 — on top of the already higher everyday costs of rent and groceries.
That's left some putting off scheduling dates altogether, while others are keeping their date nights simple by suggesting casual activities rather than elaborate ones, according to recent user surveys from the dating platforms Dating.com, Plenty of Fish and Bumble.
Casual dates gain popularity
The trend away from "fancy" dates and toward more casual ones has shown up in Bree Woolard's dating life this year.
The 24-year-old, who recently moved from Toronto to Calgary, is about 30 dates into a "50 First Dates" challenge: a self-imposed TikTok experiment intended to help her meet new people in the wake of a breakup.
Whether it's due to rising inflation or the change in locale (or a bit of both), she's noticed the types of dates she's been invited on has shifted in recent months, with fewer dinners out and a lot more hikes.
There have also been some awkward money moments along the way, such as the time a date brought Woolard to a fancy restaurant where she ended up unexpectedly footing the bill.
"We still had a great time," said Woolard.
"But I think going forward it's important — more today than it used to be — to have that conversation up front and say, 'Hey, I'm just on a budget,' or, 'Hey, I'm trying to save costs this month … can we do something different?'"
'A barometer for the consumer'
Before ever setting foot on a date, some budget-conscious singles are also saving money by pulling back what they spend on dating apps and websites.
Revenues at Plenty of Fish, for example, have been affected by "deteriorating economic conditions," according to a recent earnings letter from the company Match Group, which also owns Tinder, Hinge and a variety of other dating apps and websites. Other "established" brands, like Match and OkCupid, also saw declines this quarter, the letter said.
Inflation has also affected some of these platforms' "à la carte" offerings, said the company's chief financial officer during a recent Nasdaq investor conference. In dating app lingo, this could mean, for example, the option to pay money to boost one's dating profile and get it in front of more people.
"People, they read in the press about layoffs, they read about recession, they're getting more nervous, and so we're seeing some pullback," said Gary Swidler, who is both the COO and CFO of Match Group, and who said this is more common among some demographics, such as younger users. "We are a barometer for the consumer to some extent."
Bumble Inc., for its part, has told investors it sees an opportunity in the current economic environment: to position the app as way to find a potential match more cheaply than hitting a bar and hoping for the best.
"Our weekly boost subscription costs less than a beer at a New York City bar, and the expense of going on multiple dates in a week really adds up quickly," said CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd on a recent third-quarter earnings call.
"We're leaning into this both from a product and marketing perspective."
Talking money, early
One possible downside of dating on a budget is it can spell tension for couples if they aren't on the same page about it, says Adam Galovan, who studies couple relationships at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
"It can be challenging when you have certain expectations, and when you have these costs and periods of inflation when maybe you're not going out to places that are quite as nice," said Galovan, an associate professor of family science in the university's department of human ecology.
And while finances are a common area of tension in any relationship, Galovan noted it can be particularly tricky to navigate in the early stages.
"I'm a big proponent of communicating and talking through things," said Galovan.
"But in the dating scene, sometimes you're trying to impress or put the best foot forward, and so those conversations may be a little bit hard to have initially."
Difficult conversations notwithstanding, anthropologist Helen Fisher believes an openness toward inexpensive outings is, to some degree, a reflection of greater maturity on the part of daters and part of what she describes as a trend toward "smart dating."
Still courting, but trimming back
Fisher, who is also Match's chief science advisor, is part of an annual research project commissioned by the dating platform that surveys singles across the U.S.
This year, it found a greater share of respondents expressed a preference for casual dates, and a vast majority listed similar attitudes about debt and spending as important traits in a partner.
A growing number said they were also more open to doing free activities on dates, or going somewhere close to home to save money on gas. Compared to previous years, a larger number said they were also taking video calls with potential suitors before spending money and energy on an in-person date, Fisher said.
"People are still courting, but they are trimming back to save money, no question about it," said Fisher, who believes the trends in her study also apply to Canada and other urbanized countries.
"They're less interested in what you look like and more interested in whether you are financially stable."
As for Bree Woolard, she's still got nearly 20 dates left to go — but is taking a temporary breather to give her brain, her heart and her wallet a bit of a break.
"Christmas ... is a lot of cost, so I'm focusing on where do I want to spend that? It's mainly with friends and family," she said.
"I think you have to be in the right mindset to date, so [I'm] waiting till I feel that again."
Yarranton, for his part, has started seeing someone more regularly. And while part of the early-relationship fun is in planning special trips and outings together, he said these days he's taking care to plan and budget in advance.
"I don't think [inflation] should keep you from living your life," he said.
"You just have to be a bit more intentional about where you're putting your money."