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The Economics of Love

Let’s face it, we millennials are the Disney generation, trained since the crib to believe that the perfect spouse is out there somewhere. But if your dog costs as much as a down payment on a car, then how much does your relationship with a significant other cost? Especially if the dog is the one who barks less…

According to a survey conducted by the National Endowment for Financial Education, 7 out of 10 people say that they spend more money when they're in a relationship verses when they're single. And while that may be true of people that have many friendships too, most friendships don't have movies where one friend builds the other friend a  house. That happens in relationships though! So what exactly do we get from being in a relationship? Perhaps the most obvious reward is happiness. However, measuring happiness is tricky because it’s an intangible reward that is completely subjective.

Therefore, I feel it prudent to look at the only objective measurement in the field of relationship happiness: the divorce rate, which hovers at around 50% for all married couples. If you were asked to invest a large sum of money and emotion into a project that you knew had no more than a coin flips chance of succeeding, would you do it? 80% of all Americans over 25 have tried this investment at least once, but that rate is quickly shrinking.

One trend that has picked up in recent years is cohabitation. Cohabitation is when two individuals in a pre-marriage relationship decide to move in together. In 1960 about 450,000 couples in America cohabited; today that number has jumped to about 7.5 million, an increase of 1,566% while the total U.S. population has only increased by 75% since then.

About half of all marriages are preceded by cohabitation, something that was once thought to be taboo until you're married. These statistics may not be surprising to many, considering how much less sexually conservative America has become since the 1960’s. As a matter of fact, a 2001 National Marriage Survey found that, again, 50% of 20-somethings agreed with the statement that “You would only marry someone if he or she agreed to live together with you first, so that you could find out whether you really get along.”

Relational aspects aside, it seems to make perfect economic sense to cohabitate before marriage. You'd split basic costs of the rent, utilities, and other house-based costs. To weigh all the options we're going to break this down into three cost categories of spending during a relationship: food, social obligations, transportation and/or rent.


BREAKING: You cannot live without food.  The average cost of groceries spent for a male is $319.37 and $284.64 for females, and that's not factoring in those with specialized diets.

Cost per couple = $604.01 per month/$7,248 per year.

New Friends/Social Obligations

Unfortunately, we can't all live like Drake. And unless your significant other burns more bridges than the Great Chicago Fire of 1912, you'll probably be acquiring some new friends! Your new friends will be in relationships of their own, bringing social outings and wedding gifts that require both time and money. According to, the average amount spent on gifts was $82 for a close friend and $50 for regular friend. Factor that in with a few social outings like dates or a baseball game, we're looking at about $100 more spent on social activities per month.

Cost per couple=$41 (one close friend wedding per two months) + $50 (one friend wedding per month) + $100 (weekend social events with friends)=$191 per month/$2,292 per year.

Transportation (non-cohabiting)

Here's where cohabitation factors in. If you're not cohabiting then you still have to pay for the gas and/or transportation to see your significant other. If you live within walking distance, odds are you're going to move in to cut costs, but if you have to drive or take a subway then this cost must be factored in as well. Especially for the long distance relationships. Therefore, I broke this category down into three subcategories: Metropolitan Muses (0-30 miles apart), Regional Romantics (30-400 miles apart), and Long Distance Lovers (400+ miles apart).

If you're in a Metropolitan Muse relationship then you have the shortest commute to your significant other. You can take a subway or a bus, making your commute roughly $3-5 round trip depending on where you're living. Factor that in over a 30 day month where you see your significant other two-thirds of those days, then you're looking at roughly $60-100 per month/$720-$1,200 per year, which could be split much easier than other transportation costs...

My beautiful girlfriend and I have a lot of experience being a Regional Romantic. I'm from Northern Virginia and she's from Central New Jersey, an arduous four hour drive. Now, we'd try to link up every two or three weeks, often alternating who visits who. Factor in gas to this equation and you're going to use about one and a half tanks of gas roundtrip, which will cost you around $50 per excursion. Therefore, making the cost per couple around $100 per month/$1,200 per year. Note that this does take the cost of food down to $80 per month/$960 per year, but doesn't take in the inherent costs of owning a car, such as lease payments and general upkeep of the vehicle, which can quickly run up the costs of this relationship.

Long Distance Lovers have the worst in terms of transportation costs. If your soulmate is on another side of the country or the world, you're going to fly to see them. Now this cost occurs less frequently compared to the Metropolitan Muses subway tickets, or the Regional Romantics fuel costs, but the average domestic plane ticket costs around $379. If you visit each other once every two months, that still adds up to $190 per month/$2,280 per year.

Luckily, you miss out on most of the basic food and social obligations. Although odds are that if you fly out to visit your significant other, you're going to spend money on food and social events. Therefore their costs are down to $38 for food, and $29 for social obligations (remember this is on a per month average).

Rent (Cohabiting)

As previously mentioned, cohabitation is skyrocketing. Many people believe that there is incentive enough to move in with their significant other. Economically it makes sense if you don't already have a roommate, with the average rent in America hovering around $959. You're also splitting utility costs (around $468) and many other household items like furniture.

Cost per month $1,427/$17,124 per year.

Total Costs

Metropolitan Muses= $855-$895 per month/$10,260-$10,740 per year.

Regional Romantics =$371 per month/$4,452 per year

Long Distance Lover =$216 per month/$2,592

Cohabiting=$2,222 per month/$26,664 per year.

The alternative, of course, is being single. Single living means that you pay half for food and none of the social obligation or transportation costs. While you're paying full rent and utilities (unless you have a roommate) it seems like you make out pretty well by not choosing to be in a relationship. The total savings coming out to roughly $6,000 per year for food and social obligations alone. The transportation costs obviously vary, with the savings averaging around $720-$2,280.

I'm in a relationship, which doesn't make me an expert, but it does make me happy. I know that this is best for me. What these costs hammer home is the need to research before jumping in to any type of relationship. Like any investment with great time and financial cost, a relationship should be researched to make sure that you're making the right decision for you, and not because Disney said that this is how it's supposed to work. But what if you're in a poor one that's not worth the risk associated? Well cheer up, it's all sunk cost anyway.*

*This is still a finance website.


Department of Numbers. "US Residential Rent and Rental Statistics." Department of Numbers. Accessed April 13, 2017.

Hickey, Walt. "The Ultimate Guide To How Much To Spend On Wedding Gifts." FiveThirtyEight. September 02, 2016. Accessed April 13, 2017.

Jacoby, Sarah. "Here's What The Divorce Rate Actually Means For You." Divorce Rate In America 2017 Statistics, Marriage Today. February 2, 2017. Accessed April 13, 2017.

Jay, Meg. "The Downside of Cohabiting Before Marriage." The New York Times. April 14, 2012. Accessed April 14, 2017. "What is the average grocery bill per month for one person?" Reference. Accessed April 13, 2017.

Misra, Tanvi. "Not Married? The Odds That You Never Will Be Are Higher Than Ever." CityLab. November 05, 2015. Accessed April 13, 2017.

National Endowment for Financial Education. "What are the Average Costs of Being in a Relationship?" Smart About Money. Accessed April 13, 2017.

Stoeffel, Kat . "The Hidden Costs of Being in a Relationship." The Cut. January 15, 2013. Accessed April 13, 2017.

"Utility Bills 101: Tips, Average Costs, Fees, and More." September 19, 2016. Accessed April 13, 2017.

WorldAtlas. "Average Cost Of Public Transit By Country." WorldAtlas. November 17, 2015. Accessed April 13, 2017.

Williams, Geoff. "5 Creative Ways to Cut Airfare Costs." U.S. News & World Report. September 18, 2017. Accessed April 13, 2017.


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