A Reasonable Courtship

This is the first entry in a five part series this week on the stages of a relationship and how you can make financially sound choices throughout. Other entries include engagements, weddings, honeymoons, and marriages.

It’s a coming-of-age routine that almost everyone goes through at some point. You’re introduced to someone. That person seems interesting. Eventually, you wind up on a date – and you hope to impress and, perhaps, build something that lasts.

Along the way, though, you often burn through a lot of money buying gifts, paying for dates, and so on. Many people tend to buy into the idea that romance is best represented by breaking out the wallet and doing something impressive (read: expensive).

That’s simply not true. A relationship isn’t built on the money you spend – it’s built on the personalities of the two people involved. Instead of spending a lot of money to impress (and at least in part misrepresent what you’re all about), spend less money in ways that actually have meaning.

Here are ten dating tactics that not only save you money, but also create memorable moments and a solid relationship that can be the foundation for much more.

Never try to act like something you’re not. Many people work hard to put up an enormous “front” that misrepresents several aspects of who they actually are. They drive an expensive car and dress in expensive clothes and go to expensive places, but it’s not sustainable – and they know it. They’re just hoping to create an “image” of some sort of mainstream idea of success. While that might work over the short term, over the long term the other person will see that you built your initial impression on a lie – and that won’t go over well. If you’re looking for anything longer than a quick fling, be yourself. If you don’t, it will eventually backfire – but not until you’ve wasted a lot of money and energy putting up a false front.

Be thoughtful instead of flashy. Flashy, expensive things might do a great job at getting the initial “wow,” but unless it’s also thoughtful and well-considered, it won’t really mean anything at all. The best memories I have from dating my wife are simple moments – putting a lot of effort into building “big” moments are usually wasted. So, bother rarely – or don’t bother at all.

Tell your story – and listen to their story. Many people struggle with things to talk about when they’re first dating someone – and they often replace it with expensive dates and other distractions. In truth, it’s really simple – talk about yourself. What’s your story? What are your interests? What are your passions? What was your life like growing up? What are the ten or twenty best anecdotes or stories you can tell about your life? Your answers to those questions are all the material you need to talk about for hours and hours. Even better, encourage your date to talk about the same things – and listen, and ask follow-up questions. If your date is filled with such conversation, you don’t need expensive distractions.

Give yourself reminders for important occasions. A forgotten birthday or dating anniversary or other occasion can be disastrous. Remembering it, however, and coming through in some way when it’s not expected is golden. Help your memory out by setting up reminders. I use Google Calendar for this. I put in events like birthdays and anniversaries and certain holidays, then have a reminder emailed to me 10 days in advance so I can plan something. This way, I never “forget” – and it’s free.

The community around you offers a lot of free date opportunities – look for them. The average community is loaded with free things to do – here’s 100 of them, for starters. Look around for interesting things to do that don’t damage the wallet. You might be surprised how many engaging things you can do together without spending any money – and, after all, it’s the “together” part that’s important.

Entertainment books can save quite a bit on other dates. What about going out to eat, or doing things like going miniature golfing? An “entertainment book” is a great way to save money on these outings. You can usually pay for an entertainment book by using it just three or four times, which is easy to do if you’re dating regularly. Not sure you’ll use it? Offer to split the cost with a friend, and make a deal – you can take out, say, fifteen of the coupons yourself and then they keep the rest. Then you can cherry-pick the ones you’ll actually use for half the price.

Make something together. Make a meal together. Make a film together. Make a piece of art together. When you create something together, you not only discover countless things about each other, you almost always produce something wonderful, memorable, and shared. Even better, such creative processes are usually quite inexpensive – you’ve got to cook for yourself anyway, and if you already have the supplies, making films or making art together can be very, very cheap, too.

Involve the other person in the things that interest you – and be willing to try their interests, too. You have certain interests and hobbies, as does the person you’re dating. Share them. Have a movie night where you each pick your favorite movie. Have a date where you engage in your favorite hobby and attempt to teach your date, then reverse it the next time. Most of the time, these are very inexpensive dates – but they’re very memorable ones, too, since you often reveal much of yourself when you show what you’re passionate about.

When there are problems, talk about them – don’t “solve” them with gifts. You’re not going to be perfect. You’re going to make mistakes – say things you regret, do things you shouldn’t. Some of those things are likely going to hurt the person you’re dating. Instead of trying to polish over it with gifts, talk about it. Admit your mistakes. Try to understand why the other person is upset. Don’t just try to “make it better” – figure out the real problem and either fix it or find a good solution.

Don’t “force” things to work – sometimes, they’re not meant to be. I know people who have spent countless hours and countless dollars trying to make a relationship work when it’s clearly not working. Never force it. When you find the right person, you’ll fit together quite well without the need to constantly try to “make” it work.

Got any good, reasonable, frugal advice for people who are dating? Please leave them in the comments.

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