It's a cost of loving crisis: Why young people are getting into thousands in debt looking for love

People are being driven into debt because of the pressures to spend on dating and relationships, new research from financial services company Experian has found

love and money

There are plenty of ways to show your love other than by spending a lot of money. Image: Unsplash

“Shall we split it?” you say at the end of a not-so-successful date, hesitant because they got an extra drink and chose the most expensive bar in the area. They protest, but you notice the glint of relief in their eyes. Later you mourn for the cash you splashed on overpriced cocktails and soggy chips.

Dating is expensive, more so as prices keep rising. When you’ve finally found love, at least you’re spending money on someone you actually like, but the cocktails and chips don’t stop (you just share them with better company).

Plus, there’s suddenly birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas and Valentine’s Day… 

If you’ve noticed the pennies flying out of your bank account in the name of love, you are far from alone. There are certainly worse ways to spend your money, but experts are worried that young people are feeling too much pressure to spend.

On average, people aged 18 to 35 have racked up a debt of £2,250 because of dating and relationships, according to new research by Experian. They believe it’s at least in part down to social media putting pressure on young people to live lavish lifestyles.

It’s understandable. That tiny bowl of pasta served at London’s swankiest restaurant looks great on an Instagram story. Perfectly lovely, if you can afford it, but for lots of us it’s a luxury.

“These toxic norms we are seeing on social media can build that pressure to spend a lot of money on dating, especially for the younger generation,” says financial educator and content creator Megan Mickewright.

Megan Micklewright speaks about how important it is to be honest and open with your partner about your finances. Image: @thesavvyspenderofficial

“One of the big topics on social media at the minute is about dating and who is expected to pay for it, and that’s the sort of thing that can make people feel like they’ve got to spend.”

Around a third of young people have checked out a potential date’s social media profile ahead of meeting to see if they can afford their lifestyle. And three in 10 men (30%) have changed their mind about whether they should pay on a first date after seeing their partner’s social media content.

Men feel they are under more pressure to spend than women. A shocking one in 20 young men (5%) are in £10,000 of debt because of dating and relationships, Experian estimates. Lads, no future relationship is worth thousands of pounds of debt and your partner would agree.

“Managing finances independently is one thing, but bringing a partner into the mix opens up a whole other world of considerations,” James Jones, head of consumer affairs at Experian, says. 

“It’s been sobering to see just how many young people have ended up in financial difficulty due to their dating and relationship experiences, largely due to external pressures. Feeling comfortable enough to discuss financial topics should be a top priority in a relationship.”

Research from the Velloy Dating Index shows that two in three (66%) young people aged 18 to 34 feel that dating is too expensive in the cost of living crisis. That’s double the proportion of older people aged 55 and over.

Relationship expert Sophie Cress advises showing your thoughtfulness in a more personal way, rather than spending lots of money. Image: Supplied

It’s even worse in the run-up to the often-dreaded Valentine’s Day. You might have agreed with your partner to keep it small, but then you are hit with weeks of marketing. 

Show your loved one they are important to you with our hamper! Take them out for our three-course Valentine’s special! Treat them to a night of pottery painting! How else will they know they are loved? 

Ok, you’ve snapped, panicked and overspent. Fair enough. Some of this is romantic and thoughtful, but your partner won’t appreciate it if you’ve managed to get yourself into debt in the process.

“Financial troubles have the potential to severely impact a romantic relationship, leading to tension, stress, and disagreements between partners,” says relationship expert Sophie Cress. “This stress can also spill over into other aspects of the relationship, affecting trust, communication, and intimacy between partners.

“Couples may face disagreements and power struggles within their relationship as a result of differing attitudes towards money, spending habits, and financial goals. Arguments may arise over budgeting, saving, or debt management, which can further strain the connection between partners.”

John Junior, a mental health campaigner who has felt pressure to spend this Valentine’s Day. Image: Supplied

Spending money can be a way to show their partner they are loved. John Junior, a 35-year-old based in Manchester, understands the pressure to spend – especially on Valentine’s Day. He has booked a hotel, spa, movie and has bought little gifts for his partner. His mantra is “go big or go home”. 

“My partner says we don’t need to do anything,” Junior says. “But there is pressure. You see things on TikTok constantly. Hotel rooms covered in loads of hearts, balloons and presents. It’s so in your face.”

Junior has previous experience of homelessness and, now that he can afford it, he wants to treat his partner to a wonderful Valentine’s date – but as a mental health campaigner, he is worried about the impact it might be having on other people who feel pushed to overspend.

“I see a lot of prepay with Klarna on things when I’m scrolling, and bloody hell people must get themselves into so much debt,” he says. “You can make Valentine’s Day as big as you want because there’s these other ways to make a payment. I think that’s what a lot of people do. People live beyond their means.”

Cress suggests showing your thoughtfulness in a more personal way. You could plan a picnic, cook a meal together, or create a scrapbook filled with memories.

“It might be helpful to approach Valentine’s Day with a different mindset, one that views it as an occasion to celebrate love in all its forms,” Cress says. “It’s possible to have a wonderful Valentine’s Day by expanding the meaning of love beyond just romantic relationships.”

It’s not just people in relationships who spend a lot on Valentine’s Day. Comedian Luisa Omielan has spent more than £120,000 since 2012 on organising a Valentine’s party for single women and the LGBTQ+ community.

“I used to spend so much money on it,” she says. “Now, obviously with the state of things, it’s been quite difficult to sustain that. I’m having to do a low key version of it. But there’s still the same premise of: if you’ve got nothing else to do, don’t be a sad sack. Come and have a boogie.”

The cost of living crisis means it has become unsustainable. “I’m not somebody who comes from money,” she says. “I don’t have an inheritance. I don’t have any of those things. But I really believed in my work and believed in my audiences. I was always hopeful that one day the tide would turn. 

“But things haven’t gone in that direction and I just can’t afford to keep doing it. I’m not in a position where I can afford to invest £11,000 or £12,000 in an event. It’s too much of a risk.”

Omielan still feels it’s important to mark Valentine’s Day whether you’re single or in a relationship. Her event is a welcoming space, with a glass of prosecco on entry to the Clapham Grand, followed by a comedy set and then the dance floor is opened up.

“I’ve never had a date on Valentine’s Day,” Omielan says. “All I’ve ever had is my Valentine’s party. I’m heartbroken that this might be my last one. It’s always been my favourite night of the year, because I spent it with my audiences and my best friend. It’s been very much a day of love – not for the traditional reason that you might think, but I was spending the day doing what I love.”

Luisa Omielan has spent more than £100,000 on her Valentine’s Day parties since 2012. Image: Supplied

There are added costs that come with being single. People who are single spend an average of £7,564 more every year on outgoings like rents, mortgages, utilities and council tax than their coupled-up counterparts, according to Ocean Finance. It’s become known as the ‘Singles Tax‘.

Experts stress the importance of prioritising your financial wellbeing. It’s much healthier for your relationship (whether that’s with a partner or yourself) to spend within your means, and you can show your love in other ways.

“I think that you need to be on the same page as the person you are dating, including when you are planning a date if you get to that stage with somebody,” McKenna says. “Just be honest and open. Mention that you haven’t got too much money to spend, by saying you’d prefer to go somewhere cheap and cheerful, or that you just want to go for drinks.”

McKenna is a guest on Experian’s new podcast Cost of Loving. Hosted by Celebs Go Dating expert and relationships therapist Anna Williamson, the series provides supportive guidance and encourages healthy conversations about relationships and finance.

Cress says: “Rather than depending solely on costly presents or extravagant outings, give importance to building unforgettable experiences together which don’t necessarily need to be expensive. Look into activities like going for a hike, attending nearby events or festivals, or preparing a special meal together.

“It’s a good idea to consider alternative ways to express love and affection in a relationship. Acts of service, like helping with household chores or running errands for each other or providing emotional support during difficult times, can be great ways to show care and appreciation.”

She adds: “If you and your partner are feeling the weight of financial worries in your relationship, it’s essential to remember that you’re not alone. Many couples navigate similar challenges and come out stronger on the other side.

“This period of financial stress can actually be an opportunity for growth and deeper connection. Focus on the love and commitment that brought you together in the first place. With mutual support, you can overcome these obstacles and emerge even stronger as a couple.”

Experian has launched a new podcast series Cost of Loving. You can listen to it here.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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