Tony Choi, a 33-year-old digital director who lives in Hackensack, New Jersey, never had much money to spend on dates.
“I grew up poor, and throughout my 20s I was never earning much, because I work in nonprofits,” said Choi. “I would love to go on a date somewhere super fancy and have those gold-leaf desserts, but it hasn’t been for me.”
In the past, Choi would find himself on dates at restaurants or bars, worrying about the size of the tab. “In the gay community, it isn’t clear who pays,” he said.
He’s not worrying much these days.
As inflation creeps up and a recession looms, Choi is finding that the men he dates in New York City are suddenly in the same thrifty mindset.
“A lot of people are waking up to the reality I have been living in for awhile,” he said. “The good news is that it is making people refocus on what is important. Do you have to go to that Beyoncé concert, or can we have a picnic in Central Park? Is a date really about the price tag?”
When it comes to dating, singles across the country are scaling back on fancy food and cocktail dates, opting instead for cheap — or even free — activities like walks and coffee.
“My first date with my boyfriend was wandering around Midtown until we found a bench to talk on,” said Brian Vinik, 29, a video editor who lives in Hell’s Kitchen. “There is so much you can do without spending any money,” he said.
This summer, dating app Hinge found that almost half of its users are more concerned with the costs of dates now versus a year ago. Thirty percent say they prefer sober dates, because they are more affordable. Some, like Choi, have come to embrace frugal romance.
“If someone is trying to live above their means, that is never attractive to me,” Choi said.
Bartenders are taking notice.
Macnair Sillick, food and beverage manager at the Williamsburg Hotel in Brooklyn, said he is seeing many dates opt for nonalcoholic cocktails, which are significantly cheaper.
“It’s $12 versus $18,” he said. “We expanded our mocktail section because people are looking for it and asking for it.”
Elsewhere in the country, gas prices have some swinging singles asking themselves — is he, or she, tank-worthy?
Gaige Kidd, 33, a health-care recruiter in Orlando, Florida, finds himself factoring the cost of fuel into his decision to make a date.
“It can take 30 or 40 minutes to get [to her], and I drive a truck, so I can blow through a tank a week,” he said.
His new strategy? Pick a midway point. Kidd also prefers activities like putt-putt golf or arcades, where drinks are available if the woman insists, but are not the main focus.
“Orlando is the tourist capital of the world, so there are a lot of fun little things to do around here,” he said.
Inflation has also motivated him to screen dates more thoroughly before inviting them out, and he still feels strongly about paying the bill. “It’s just how I was raised, the gentleman picks up the tab,” Kidd said.
But now, he’d like to get a better sense of where his money is going.
“I love my money. I am pretty fond of it,” Kidd said. “So before I make that investment to go on a date, I want to get to know her a little better and talk via text or phone or video messaging.”
Even in Los Angeles, where conspicuous consumption is part of the culture, singles are embracing more simple meetups.
Keisean Raines, a 45-year-old business consultant in the wellness space, has been planning dates that consist of picnics at the beach or coffee at sunny outdoor cafes. She has never been gung-ho about trendy bars, but now Raines really isn’t looking to knock back cocktails while getting to know someone.
“We don’t know what is going to happen, and I don’t think there is any career that is recession proof,” she said. “I try my best to be practical and create memorable experiences at the same time.”