Being in a relationship may enrich your life, but it's definitely doing no favors for your wallet. Find out where you're spending the most money on your girl and plug those holes ASAP.
By Jesse Bouche
You've been dating for 6 months now and things are great – you're hanging out regularly, your friends like her, her friends like you and, well, things are good. There's one catch. You haven't saved a penny in the last four months and you're watching your credit card balance climb onward and upward like a balloon on parade day.
Your girlfriend is making you broke. But, how? And more importantly, how do you stop it? Let's start with how you got here (here being the point where you start stuffing credit card statements into your sock drawer in order to hide from the shame):
She Wants to Go Out
It's Friday. She wants to leave the house. Nothing too crazy, just meet a few friends for a drink or two at a local pub, maybe have a couple of appetizers and then retreat back home to watch a movie. Doesn't seem like a big deal, right? Wrong.
Let's break it down:
- Return Cab Fare* $20
- 3 Drinks for Two $50
- Appetizers $30
*The return cab fare is because you're not the kind of jerk that drinks and then drives.
For a quiet night with friends you just blew $100. Do that once a week and you're looking at $400 a month or $4800 a year. Don't even get me started on full-blown dinners, the movies, big nights out or the tiny little extras like stopping on the way home for a fancy hot chocolate.
Even if you two are splitting the tab now and then, all that socializing can cause some serious damage to your wallet. One to two nights out a week can break you faster than you think.
She Wants to Call You
Don't have unlimited texting and thousands of included daytime minutes? Too bad, she's calling and texting you anyway.
I love my lady. I do. But, I still pine for the days when my cell phone usage consisted of a few work calls and the occasional call to friends, which would go something like this:
“Hey, you want to get a drink tonight?”
“Sounds good. Six?”
Click. The End. Now, I'm renegotiating my contract for extra minutes and all-inclusive texting (more on that later).
She Wants Presents
She's not an unreasonable girl. She's not standing there demanding you buy her diamonds and designer purses. She just wants a present every once in a while. That's fair. Too bad so many of us go way over board on the gift-giving front.
According to the National Retail Federation, the average man will spend $103.00 on Valentine's Day gifts this year. That's down from last year's $123, you can thank the recession. Let's extrapolate that and just say most guys are going to spend between $100 and $120 on a gift for their lady. The problem? There are so many gifts:
- Birthday $100-$120
- Valentine's Day $100-$120
- Christmas $100-$120
- Anniversary $100-$120
That's $400-$480 and we haven't even started on those little surprises throughout the year or times that call for bigger presents (you've been there). Let's throw in an extra $15 a month for congratulatory flowers or you-had-a-bad-day cupcakes and you're looking at an extra $180 (and still looking cheap).
She Wants to Get Away
It's just a quick getaway. You know, a “mini break.” Well, guess what? That weekend skiing trip or drive through wine country could easily cost you well over $1000.
If you're driving, you've got gas and food. If you're flying, you've got plane tickets and all the costs associated with getting to and from the airport (not to mention the obligatory $20 that seems to fly out of everyone's pockets any time they spend more than 30 minutes in an airport).
Staying in a hotel? That's a minimum of $100 a night. Make it $200 if you don't want to hear about how disgusting your Motel 6 bathroom was for the next 3 months. Throw in 3 meals a day for two days ($200 a day for the both of you) and you've got yourself one expensive weekend.
I haven't even started on lift tickets, winery tours, or that helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon she's always dreamed about.
How to Stop Her Wants from Destroying Your Finances
It's simple: be honest. If your budget can't handle going out two or three nights a week, tell her. If you can't afford a weekend getaway, tell her. Nine times out of ten, she's going to respect your willpower and how responsible you are with money. If she balks, she's not the girl for you.
You also have to be honest with yourself. Do you know what you can afford? Do you have a budget and a strong understanding of how much money you have coming in every month? If not, subtract 10-20% of your take-home pay for savings. Now, factor in your bills and regular expenses (rent, cable, car insurance, etc) along with any debt repayment you're currently tackling. Whatever is left over is how much you can actually afford to spend every month on night's out and frivolous purchases.
But, and this is a big one, that doesn't mean you can get away with never going out, getting presents, planning trips or talking on the phone.
It just means you have to go about a little bit differently:
Limit the Night's Out
Try to limit your nights out to one night a week or even less. If you like the socializing, then something has to give. Either you go out and don't drink or you start inviting your friends over for drinks and dinner.
During our leaner undergraduate years, an old girlfriend and I used to trade off with three other couples hosting a weekly night in. We'd spring for booze and serve dinner once a month. It would cost us about $100, but it was a fraction of the cost had we spent those nights at the pub.
And there's always nights in. I cook most of my meals from scratch, I have a Netflix subscription (and an Xbox for Netflix streaming) and a comfortable couch. It's definitely not the most cosmopolitan of experiences, but it does the trick. Check out The Top 5 Dates Under $15 for some more cheap but memorable ideas, and also A Couch, a Film and a Bottle of Wine for some good wine / movies on the couch pairings.
Renegotiate Your Cell Phone Plan
She's never going to stop calling and texting. Renegotiate your cell phone plan before you spend a small fortune on over-usage fees. Sorry. $5 for the extra texting plan or $15 in overage charges? You may not want to spend the extra money on the plan, but you're spending it anyway when she texts you all the time, you might as well be smart about it.
Save For Your Getaways
You want to get away? Have a little vacation? Fine. Here's the catch though, you have to save the money first. In fact, you have to save 130% of what you think it's actually going to cost.
It's the only way you won't drive yourself into debt on mini-breaks and quick little trips, plus it'll make the experience so much more enjoyable knowing you're only paying for it once (as opposed to the two or three times you could end up paying for something on your credit card).
You're also less likely to over indulge or spend frivolously with your own, hard-earned and saved money.
Save on Presents
You could negotiate some kind of present limit with her. Or, you could swallow the $480 a year and be a much happier man. Again, sorry.
Jesse Bouche is a grad student and freelance writer working his way towards a debt-free life. Check out his progress over at http://sixmonthstodebtfree.com.