Cost of Local vs. Long-Distance Relationship: Who Has a Better Deal?

These long-distance dating tips can help your budget and heart.

The digital age makes connecting with people around the globe a snap — romance-seekers included. An estimated 14 million couples are participating in long-distance relationships, and 32 percent of college couples date from a distance, according to a 2016 StatisticBrain report. But money issues can affect any relationship, no matter how close two people are emotionally or physically.

Even though saving money isn’t known to send Cupid’s arrow flying or fuel the online dating trend, the possible financial perks of long-distance dating could make love that does blossom even sweeter — or make online dating more appealing to the financially frugal. Couples living in the same area can find ways to save money relatively easily, but couples in different counties, states or countries sometimes need more creative long-distance dating tips to save money and grow their relationship. If you’re in or considering a long-distance romance, find out whether the heart or the wallet wins.

Apps Instead of Outings Cost Less

Bethany, a Ph.D. student in California, drives an hour each week to see her boyfriend Eric. Earlier in their relationship, they lived in different states. She said that one of the biggest money-savers for their relationship has been connecting nightly for free using FaceTime. Although laptops, phones and WiFi can cost a pretty penny, like most people, Bethany and Eric would be using these whether they were dating or not, so these aren’t really costs related to their relationship.

If you purchase a smartphone or data plan specifically for limitless minutes or apps to enhance your long-distance relationship, however, that’s another story. Even the more affordable smartphone plans cost over $1,000 a year, according to an analysis conducted by Time Magazine’s Money division in 2017.

Find Out: Surprising Ways Money Affects Your Love Life

How Much Money They’re Saving by Not Going on Traditional Dates

Bethany and Eric were set up by their parents, which negated the need for dating apps or dating sites that often charge $20 to $60 per month. Once you meet someone and commit exclusively, those fees dissipate. They also saved on date night costs in general.

Connecting online is a lot cheaper than movie tickets, for example, which cost $9 each on average in North America according to a National Association of Theater Owners report. Two tickets coupled with concessions could easily make for a date with a $30 and above price tag — that’s money right back in your pocket while you watch Netflix instead.

Considering that couples spend $35 to $60 per date — with an average of $45 per outing, according to a 2016 survey by art event planners Paint Nite — one date per week could easily add up to $180 or more per month. If you have your hair or nails done, or purchase new clothes for particular dates, you could spend a lot more.

Traveling by Car, Train or Plane Can Get Pricey

Just because you date from a distance doesn’t mean you’ll save money, especially given that very few long-distance relationships stay that way continuously.

“One of our main costs is gas,” said Bethany, who’s even been considering buying a more fuel-efficient car to replace her old one. “Normally that wouldn’t have been a problem because I can get around campus easily with my bicycle, but I need my car to keep my relationship.”

Driving to see your long-distance love could add up if you do so often — a round-trip drive from Palm Springs to Los Angeles in a 2003 Acura, for example, would cost about $30 according to AAA calculations. Four of these trips per month would total around $120.

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Bethany and Eric considered using a commuter train, which would have been ideal in many ways — but not financially.

“If he wants a round-trip ticket, it’s $50, which in gas mileage, even with my massive SUV, is two trips back and forth to his city,” she said.

Flying to unite on occasion can add up, too. Recent college graduate Keisha and her girlfriend switch off spending about $500 to see each other across the country once a month.

“We both had great work opportunities out of college in different places,” she explained. “We save money on dinners out, but spend a fair amount on travel.”

Dating Costs Are What You Make Them

Although seeing your partner only a few times a year isn’t likely to break the bank, you can still maximize your savings by limiting your date splurges.

“I feel like because we only see each other once a week, we do something more extravagant,” said Bethany. “We don’t usually go to dinner at Chipotle or something [else] that’s easy.”

A Singles in America survey from 2017 involving 5,500 unmarried participants showed average spending of $1,596 per year on dating, which included everything from event tickets and coffee dates to haircuts and manicures. That breaks down to $133 per month. If you spend $100 or more on a gift or fine dining when you see your faraway partner, the splurges among short- and long-distance couples come out about even.

Whether you date long distance or locally, you can save money by getting creative — planning picnics rather than dining out when you’re together, for example — or you can go wild, spending extra cash on gifts or dates. What matters is staying on the same page with your partner about what’s important to your relationship — and staying within both of your budgets.

Talking About Money Is Important

Bethany and Eric have numerous financial conversations, which has seemed important to them given that only she has a car and the funds she’s provided to live on while obtaining her doctorate don’t leave room for luxuries. Meanwhile, Eric has more financial leeway. At one point, they decided he’d pay for 70 percent of their dates to her 30 percent to account for these factors. These talks strengthened their relationship, according to Bethany.

“I also think because we take the time to travel to see each other that we really have to feel like it’s worth it,” she said. “Is this really okay if we’re spending four hours of our weekend traveling to see each other?” The answer for the couple so far has been a resounding yes, and they look forward to living closer eventually.

If you’re in a new long-distance relationship, Bethany suggested having the money talks. “Don’t be afraid to share when you think you’re spending more than the other person,” she said. “Be very open about what kinds of things you’re spending money on. Talk so you can figure things out.”

Eventually, all long-distance loves will hopefully turn into local ones, then it becomes time for another financial talk: the average wedding cost.

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