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budget-friendly dating

Dating in the time of COVID-19 isn’t easy. The pandemic has impacted Americans and the economy unevenly. And cities have shutdown and reopened at different rates. So depending on where you live, it can be complicated for a couple to find a good restaurant, see a movie, visit a museum or enjoy any other romantic activity together. One small upside is that dates during COVID-19 may be cheaper than usual. Many COVID-friendly dates such as picnics and takeout are less expensive than typical activities, so wooers won’t have to dig as deep into their savings accounts to make Cupid strike.

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, SmartAsset investigated the best U.S. cities for budget-friendly dating in 2021. We compared 96 cities across three categories and nine metrics. The categories include date affordability (cost of two cappuccinos, cost of takeout and a bottle of wine, average monthly internet cost), date access (coffee and snack shop density, restaurant density, percentage of households with internet access, percentage of city made up of parkland) and economic favorability (housing costs and unemployment rate). For more details on how we created this study, read the Data and Methodology section below.

Key Findings

  • $40 night in. The average cost of takeout and a bottle of wine across the cities we studied was $40.44. Without the restaurant mark-up on that vino and all the streaming options available right in your living room, a dinner-and-a-movie date at home is easier on your wallet than a night on the town.
  • Romance is more affordable in the South and Midwest. Six of the top 10 cities in this study are located in the South, and three are in the Midwest. The Midwestern city Madison, Wisconsin ranks as the best city for budget-friendly dating in the country, while Texas is the southern state with the most cities in the top 10 – Plano, Irving and Austin. Ninth-ranked Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is the only top 10 budget-friendly dating city outside the South and Midwest.

1. Madison, WI

Madison, Wisconsin is a college town with the most budget-friendly dating opportunities in the country. With relatively inexpensive internet, it is easy and affordable to connect with a date on a video call and stream a movie or binge a TV show together. Residents here average $56.99 in monthly internet costs, ranking ninth-best for this metric. If instead you prefer a casual date outside, two cappuccinos will cost you $7.78 on average, the 19th-cheapest amount on our list. Madison also had the third-lowest unemployment rate in November 2020, at 3.5%, so your date is likelier to have a stable budget for dating.

2. Arlington, VA

Arlington, Virginia ranks at the top of our study for economic favorability, which means that your date in this D.C. a suburb is likely employed and has a decent disposable income. In November 2020, the unemployment rate was 3.8%, the fourth-lowest in our study, and on average, residents pay only 26.14% of their income on housing costs, the second-lowest for this metric. Those looking to share a special meal with a significant other also have a vast variety of options: Arlington ranks 15th for the greatest density of restaurants, with almost 230 for every 100,000 residents in the city.

3. St. Petersburg, FL

Located on the Gulf Coast of Florida, St. Petersburg claims third place in our study for the most budget-friendly dating city. The average cost of two cappuccinos is $6.64, the third-most affordable place on our list to go on a coffee date. A takeout date night here with a bottle of wine would cost $37 on average, and if you prefer to go on a romantic outdoor picnic, 15.63% of the city is reserved for parkland. Relative to other cities in our study, that is the 23rd-lowest average cost of takeout for two and a bottle of wine and 18th-highest percentage of the city that is parkland.

4. Plano, TX

Census data shows that more than 95% of households in Plano, Texas have interest access, the third-highest rate in our study. This may make it easier to speak with a date on a video call or enjoy a movie night together at home. Takeout for two with a bottle of wine costs $31.50 – sixth-lowest in our study – and a coffee date with two cappuccinos costs $7.48 – 14th-lowest overall.

5. Raleigh, NC

The average resident in Raleigh, North Carolina spends only 29.29% of income on housing, the 11th-lowest percentage in our study. The leaves plenty of disposal income for dating. The average cost of two cappuccinos is $8.58, and a takeout date with a bottle of wine will cost you $41.50 — 37th and 18th in this study, respectively. Speaking to your date on a video call and binging a TV show together can also be affordable, with monthly internet costing $57.05 – 10th-lowest across all 96 cities.

6. Cincinnati, OH

The average cost of monthly internet in Cincinnati, Ohio is an affordable $55.57, sixth-lowest in our study. And the price of ordering takeout for two with a bottle of wine is just $36, while a coffee date with two cappuccinos will run you $8.30. But if you prefer to go out on a romantic picnic, Cincinnati has the 26th-highest percentage of city area that is parkland, at 14.17%.

7. Irving, TX

Irving, another suburb of Dallas, ranks in the top 20 for all three date affordability metrics we considered. A coffee date here will cost you an average of $7 for two cappuccinos, the 4th lowest cost we found. If you prefer to watch a movie at home, your monthly internet service will cost $56.89 on average, ranking 8th. And if you want to treat yourself to a takeout date with a bottle of wine, it will average $35.99 — 17th in this study.

8. Austin, TX

Austin is the third Texan city to rank in the top 10 cities for budget-friendly dating. Your date here might spend only about 30% of income on housing, which means that that person will likely have more money to spend on dates with you. Austin has more than 27 coffee and snack shops for every 100,000 people – a top-25 rate – and a coffee date will run you $7.90 for two cappuccinos, 23rd-lowest overall.

9. Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is the only Northeastern city in our top 10. The odds of finding a solvent romantic partner in the Steel City are good: The average individual spends just 28.65% of income on housing. And dates that meet the parameters of the new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic are affordable: The average cost of two cappuccinos is 13th-lowest in our study, at $7.46, and takeout for two with a bottle of wine is 29th-lowest, at $38.

10. St. Louis, MI

St. Louis, Missouri rounds out the top 10 in our study with the ninth-highest number of restaurants per 100,000 residents, at 246. Inviting your date for takeout with a bottle of wine will cost you roughly $33, ninth-cheapest in our study. And the average cost of monthly internet is $59.67 – the 16th-lowest across all 96 cities.

Data and Methodology

To find the best cities for budget-friendly dating in 2021, we compared 96 cities across the following categories and metrics:

Date Affordability 

  • Average cost of two cappuccinos. Data comes from Numbeo and was pulled in January 2021.
  • Average cost of takeout for two and a bottle of wine. Data comes from Numbeo and was pulled in January 2021.
  • Average monthly internet cost. Data comes from Numbeo and was pulled in January 2021.

Date Access 

  • Coffee and snack shops per 100,000 residents. Data comes from the 2018 County Business Patterns Survey and is at the county level.
  • Restaurants per 100,000 residents. Data comes from the 2018 County Business Patterns Survey and is at the county level.
  • Percentage of households with internet access. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Percentage of the city that is parkland. Data is from the 2020 Acreage & Park System Highlights from the Trust for Public Land.

Economic Favorability 

  • Housing costs as a percentage of income. This is median annual housing costs divided by median income for an individual. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
  • November 2020 unemployment rate. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

First, we ranked each city in each metric, assigning equal weight to each metric. Then we averaged the rankings across the three categories listed above. For each category, the city with the highest average ranking received a score of 100. The city with the lowest average ranking received a score of 0. We created our final ranking by calculating each city’s average score for all three categories.

Financial Tips for Couples

  • Whether you’re dating or married (or happily single), let us be your matchmaker for another important partnership. Making smarter financial decisions to be in better control of your money is easier with a financial advisor. Finding the right one, though, is a lot easier than in dating. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors, get started now.
  • Try mapping out your date expenses. If you need to keep your dating affordable, SmartAsset’s budget tool will help you break down your monthly spending so you can set money aside for entertainment, including dates.
  • Thinking about moving in with someone? If you want to move in with someone that you are dating, our rent or buy calculator can help you figure out the best financial option for living together.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Hiraman

Ben Geier, CEPF® Ben Geier is an experienced financial writer currently serving as a retirement and investing expert at SmartAsset. His work has appeared on Fortune, Mic.com and CNNMoney. Ben is a graduate of Northwestern University and a part-time student at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing and a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®). When he isn’t helping people understand their finances, Ben likes watching hockey, listening to music and experimenting in the kitchen. Originally from Alexandria, VA, he now lives in Brooklyn with his wife.
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