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Flat-sharing, divorces and cheaper dates: How the cost of living crisis is impacting the way we love

With the price of everything skyrocketing—from rent to gas, electricity to the UK’s beloved Freddo chocolate bar—the cost of living crisis is impacting just about everyone. According to recent data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 93 per cent of adults in Great Britain reported an increase in their cost of living from August to September 2022—a bite felt most by low-income households who now, on average, spend a significant proportion of their income on food and energy.

This crisis isn’t just impacting the price of physical goods either, it’s impacting our wellbeing too—with financial woes causing more people to struggle with their mental health or lose sleep.

But how is the cost of living crisis affecting our love life? There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer to this question; instead, to unpack such a deeply nuanced issue, we first need to explore how the crisis is impacting the dating behaviour of different demographics. By far the largest proportion of ‘active daters’ are gen Zers and millennials, and while we’ve seen trends such as cobwebbing or winter coating currently making the rounds on TikTok, there’s also a slightly more serious conversation to be had.

How is the cost of living crisis impacting the dating behaviour of young people?

Over recent years, gen Z and millennial dating behaviour has witnessed a trend of becoming more ‘cash-candid’—being more open and honest about finances with potential partners. As first highlighted in a recent study conducted by Bumble, almost one in three individuals said they felt it was more important to talk about their financial situation now than at the start of the year. Moreover, ten per cent of those who responded said they would actively share their salaries with the people they meet on the first few dates.

Out of the 2,187 adults quizzed by the dating app, 30 per cent of those aged 18 to 34 reported being more conscious of their date’s budget when picking a venue. Just over one in five reported that they were more likely to set themselves a budget for the date compared to the start of the year. Lastly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the same survey found that one in five now cared more about being with someone who is more financially stable than they did at the beginning of 2022.

Although all research should be taken with a healthy dose of scepticism, this data reflects a clear change in the way young people approach their love life—a shift that has been significantly fuelled by the economic anxiety that is intrinsically connected to the crisis we’re facing. It therefore makes sense that we’re being more open about money—which, in a way, can be seen as a positive. It should, in theory, help destigmatise the way we approach income, allowing us to have open and transparent conversations about our financial position, and how it impacts our wellbeing.

Slowly overcoming this taboo could also push young people towards cost-free (or at least cheaper) dating alternatives—a walk in the park, a picnic, or a museum visit. Albeit small, this could be a positive culture shift that sees gen Zers prioritising healthier and free dating experiences over expensive cocktails or dodgy pints. This is reflected in Bumble’s research, with the data finding that one in three participants were now more likely to suggest a cost-free date activity, with more women than men looking for free and budget-friendly dates.

Flat-sharing, divorces and cost-cutting

However, despite the small positives mentioned above, the cost of living crisis is having a profoundly negative and unhealthy impact on our love lives. “Of course it affects our romantic relationships,” sex and relationship coach, writer, and Feel Fully You founder, Juliette Karaman told SCREENSHOT. According to Karaman, this particular economic crisis is forcing “some people to stay and live together—even if they want to divorce and live separately.”

“It can be psychologically challenging because you’ve taken the step to get divorced and separate, and then you can’t physically make it happen. It means you’re still together while you want to start a new life,” Karaman continued. 

This is a scenario depicted by an individual in her thirties from Telford, England, who wished to remain anonymous. Speaking about her experience, she mentioned that the cost of living crisis had made her divorce “particularly hard” and had forced her to “stay living” with her partner for far longer than she would’ve liked. All of which had a detrimental impact on her mental health.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the cost of living crisis is also forcing people in relationships to live together prematurely to save costs. This was another issue raised by Karaman who mentioned she’d seen cases “where people start dating, live in different apartments, and then, due to the crisis, immediately start living together to save money.” This is the case for Oliver and Amelia, a London-based couple in their late twenties who decided it was best to move in together in a bid to keep costs to a minimum.

“We’re both working class and the cost of living plus rising rent prices in London was hitting us particularly hard,” Amelia noted, highlighting how the couple, who have been dating since early April, cementing their relationship as ‘official’ in August of that same year, both expressed their financial anxiety early on in their relationship. “It was a risk but it’s paid off,” she continued. “We definitely have less weight on our shoulders now, even if the cost of living crisis is getting worse. It just wasn’t sustainable for us both to be living on our own.”

Despite Oliver and Amelia’s situation, Karaman warns couples to take caution when jumping into commitments just for the sake of cutting costs. “They need to ask themselves: Am I ready for this? What are my boundaries?”

Ultimately, this crisis is impacting every aspect of our lives, with our relationships being particularly in the crossfire. The ways in which it’s changing how we love isn’t black and white, it depends heavily on our financial position and individual circumstances. What is more certain, however, is that the current economic squeeze is transforming how we approach romantic relationships—a shift that, more likely than not, isn’t for the better.

‘Cost of loving crisis’: Cash-candid dating is the latest financial trend gripping gen Z and millennials

In 2022, the dating world has no time to spare. Following two years of lockdowns and restrictions, single people are making their priorities and preferences clear from the get-go now more than ever before. As trends like hobby dating and awareness about toxic practices including kittenfishing and Kanye-ing continue to gather mainstream attention, a new topic has debuted on the list of obligatory icebreakers: finance.

Meet cash-candid dating, a monetary trend rooted in the cost of living crisis where singletons are being more honest and open about money matters with their matches.

What is cash-candid dating?

According to a new consumer research by women-first dating app Bumble, commissioned through YouGov, talking about one’s financial situation with their dates is no longer considered ‘taboo’. In fact, some straight-talking gen Z and millennials are reportedly discussing their salary with a new flame almost straight away.

In cash-candid dating, this level of honesty and overlay of finance and romantic relationships has, in turn, paved the way to ‘low-key dates’—a meetup with little to no costs involved, which ultimately leads to less monetary pressure on both parties in question.

The results of the research also indicate that one in three people (34 per cent) aged between 18 to 34 across the UK are now more likely to suggest a free date activity, such as a walk in the park or on a beach, than they were at the start of 2022. Nearly half (42 per cent) of them also admitted to preferring “modest” date locations to avoid any stress about money whatsoever.

While one in ten (11 per cent) of daters said they are open to discussing salaries on the first few dates, as they believe it’s an important factor to know about a potential partner, almost one in five (19 per cent) mentioned the fact that it’s more imperative to them now—given the cost of living crisis rippling across the globe—to be with someone who is financially stable than it was at the start of this year.

On the other hand, only six per cent of participants admitted to never talking about finances with someone they’re dating. This ultimately suggests that, for the majority of single people, discussions about money are no longer inhibited.

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Compared to other generations, gen Z and millennials aged between 18 to 34 also proved to be the most concerned and pressured with their spending habits—with 30 per cent of them being conscious of their date’s budget when suggesting a venue, compared to just 19 per cent of people aged 35 to 54. 21 per cent of gen Zers and millennials are further more likely to set themselves a budget to spend on a date than they were at the beginning of the year, compared to just 12 per cent of singles older than 34.

Now, cash-candid dating is not about outright baring your financial history to your partner on the first date. Sure, it can be considered part of ‘cutting to the chase’, but the monetary shift in priorities is essentially hinged on being frank about your fiscal status to better navigate decisions together by planning financially-viable dates.

How to approach monetary conversations 101

Let’s be honest here. Whether you like it or not, money is an inevitable part of dating and the conversation about who should pick up the bill and how often you should go out on dates is bound to arise at some point. So, how exactly do you bring the topic of money up in the early stages of dating without making things feel… awkward?

Partnering with Alice Tapper, the financial expert behind popular social media platform Go Fund Yourself, here are some tips Bumble has sketched about navigating cash-candid dating like a true pro:

1. How to suggest a low-key first date

“Being ten minutes into a three-course dinner and realising there is zero vibe is an expensive but avoidable situation,” Tapper said. “Save yourself the pain of having to think up an elaborate excuse in the loo—your mate suddenly contracting a tropical virus is not compelling—and kick things off with a short and simple low-key date.” Think a breezy walk in the park during the weekends or a quick morning coffee run. You get the idea.

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2. How to suggest splitting the bill

Given how the subject is a controversial one, Tapper believes nobody should be picking up the full tab unless they really, really want to. “Times are tough and, thankfully, we’re moving beyond gendered expectations of who pays for what,” she said. “While paying can be a kind gesture, it often creates unhelpful expectations and pressure. On the first date, in particular, there’s no shame in confidently asking ‘Shall we split?’.”

In fact, research from Bumble shows a quarter (25 per cent) of gen Z and millennials believe that you should split costs of the date even if you and your match have different salaries.

3. How to figure out if you’re on the same page about finances

Now, onto the elephant in the room: how do you work out someone’s values when it comes to finances in the first place? According to Tapper, having open conversations about money and earnings with your date (the concept of cash-candid dating in its true essence) are good places to start.

“On a first date, you can kick things off with questions like ‘Is work important to you or a means to an end?’ Down the line, you might move on to bigger conversations like whether they prioritise saving and paying off debt. Remember, there are no right answers—it’s just about what your values are and whether they align.”

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4. Value over wealth

Lastly, while we’ve all heard the advice that it’s important to ‘find someone who has the same values as you’, remember that financial values are an important standard to consider as well. That being said, it’s also recommended to avoid basing your entire relationship on this factor altogether.

“We’re all guilty of making assessments about a date, but what someone earns is only half the story,” Tapper said. “While it’s okay to want financial stability, someone’s behaviour and values around money are more important than what they earn.”

At the end of the day, while it’s totally fair to know about your potential partner’s financial health, remember to tread with patience and make sure your match is comfortable discussing the same. This will not only encourage a more transparent relationship but, ultimately, you’ll come out as a stronger unit than ever before.