So, Who Pays On A First Date?

It's one of the biggest questions if you're single – who pays on a first date? I wish there was a magic wand I could wave that could clear this up for everyone.

I so vividly remember being on dates when I lived in NYC (I used to go on a lot of dates) and feeling nervous any time the bill comes. Do I offer to pay? When? Will he be insulted? Does he want me to insist and wrestle this bill to the ground?

Like most money etiquette questions, it's contentious, and like most people, I have my own opinions about dating and money etiquette. Being raised in the south, it's sort of de rigueur that the guy should pay no matter what, and honestly, it's something I've come to expect.

Who Pays on a First Date? Everyone has an Opinion…

Talking with a guy friend over dinner the other night,  he felt differently and made a remark that women want to be treated as equals, they should pay their own way.

Okay, that's a valid point.

BUT Then he followed it up by saying that any woman who expects a guy to pay or dates a guy exclusively for dinner dates is a “prostitute.”

Okay, not a valid point.

Turns Out…A Lot of Guys Don't Pay on the First Date out of Fear of Getting Played

Dating for Dinner” became popular in the 30's and 40's when women first entered the workforce, got paid much, much less than men and still had to pay for households on their own. My girlfriends in NYC and I used to joke about it, but dating is painful. Going on a date with someone you're not interested in is an excruciating way to waste time, even if dinner is involved. Do people really do this?

But there are a lot of people out there giving dating a bad name.

In 2011 Business Insider published a piece on a young woman living in NYC who dated guys specifically to eat $1200 worth of dinner each month. There are a lot of things wrong with that article (like her budget and priorities, and the fact that she was tracking her dates' spending like it was income) least of all how she's giving other women a bad name.

More recently in Aziz Ansari's new Netflix show, Master of None, which I highly, highly recommend, his character goes on a date with a girl who orders like, THREE entrees.

Why Men Don't Always Pay On a First Date

Tongue-in-cheek jokes aside, I can see how men, if the women depicted above represent even a small margin of datable women, that their reaction is to immediately go dutch on dates.

Some women like to argue that men should pay for the first date because most of them are just out for a casual hook up anyway, and in essence, they're wasting the more relationship minded woman's time. Like, he doesn't want to date you seriously, but you should get free dinner as a consolation prize?

Like, he doesn't want to date you seriously, but you should get free dinner as a consolation prize?

Aren't these two attitudes EXCELLENT moods to set for a first date? (sarcasm, ICYMI.)

Who Pays on a First Date? A Quick And Easy Way to Decide

To figure out who pays on a first date, I'm going to look to the etiquette of same-sex couples for a great example. The person who pays on the first date should be the one who did the asking. (I double checked this with homosexual friends of mine.)

Emotions and intentions aside, someone asking you to dinner is an invitation. You should accept because you want to, and they should pay because they want to.

With that said, my buddy Martin also recommends doing a lower cost first date to both relieve the pressure and save your wallet in this post. 

And if a guy asks, I think he should pay, and I don't think it's wrong for women in that situation to have the expectation that he's going to at the end of the night.

At the very least, It shows he has a generous spirit, which is important when seeking out a potential partner. Like, accept that I'm a strong woman who can pay her own way, but pay for my dinner anyway because you asked, obviously like me and want to impress.

With that said, I think a guy should really only pay on the first date and then the couple can take turns, which (I think) sets the tone for a more financially equitable relationship than say, making him pay for the first 3-5 dates.

And yes, being a guy who wants to date women is expensive. But if we're comparing apples to apples, being a woman is just as expensive. We pay more for beauty treatments, clothes, hair care and healthcare.  Guys can get away with paying less for things and perhaps this comes out in the wash within our dating customs.

Something for you to think about.

What to Do When Someone Pays on a First Date

Say thank you. What are you, an animal?

And for pete's sake, ladies, don't sleep with a guy (or give any sexual favors) just because you feel obligated to because he “bought you something.” That's a) wrong and b) just perpetuates the myth to the skeezier guys out there who think they should expect women to go down just because their AmEx did.

If you feel like returning the favor, do it by paying for the date the next time.

So, who pays on a first date? If you've ever had an awkward encounter over the bill, this one's for you. See our reasoning behind who should be swiping their card first.

 

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  • Giulia Lombardo
    November 25, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    this is a very good question, depends from situation and person of the date. Usually men would must to try to offer but sometimes they expect that women pay for them… if I’m still studying the men I tend to pay for boths or split the bill…right answer is depends!!!

    • Lauren Bee
      November 26, 2015 at 10:50 am

      Haha, yes it does depend, but that isn’t any fun to write a post about 🙂

  • Des @ Half Banked
    November 25, 2015 at 8:27 am

    Yes, yes, yes! Oh my gosh, I had this conversation once with my now-boyfriend over an early date, where I had invited him to a nicer restaurant with an impressive beer list that I knew he would love. At the end of the meal I picked up the whole tab, because I was the one who suggested the plans, and I was the one who knew going into it what the dinner might cost. I felt it would have been really presumptuous to assume it would fit in his budget at that early stage, but I knew it would fit into mine – which is why I suggested it and knew I would pay!

    • Lauren Bee
      November 26, 2015 at 10:51 am

      I 100% agree, it is presumptuous to plan a date on your own and expect him to pay.

  • Jen @ KeenConsumer
    November 24, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    It is nice when the guy offers to pay but I do offer to split it if is the first date. I do like if he offers when we’re officially in a relationship though. This article is very entertaining! =)

    • Lauren Bee
      November 26, 2015 at 10:52 am

      Glad it got your spidey sense tingling 🙂 Am I old fashioned?

  • Jen Collins
    November 24, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    I like it when the guy pays, but always offer to split the bill. After the first date I’m all for splitsies.

    I also think the real rule should be ‘they who do the asking should do the paying” for the first date.

    • Lauren Bee
      November 26, 2015 at 10:52 am

      I always offer to split on first date, while silently thinking in my head that if he asked me he should pay. Those are always nice gestures to make.

  • Stefanie @ brokeandbeau
    November 24, 2015 at 9:25 am

    I’m personally a fan of splitsies. I feel more comfortable being treated once I’m actually in a relationship. Even then, it’s usually like splitting because we take turns treating.

    • Lauren Bee
      November 26, 2015 at 10:53 am

      Haha! You wouldn’t let me pay for our lunch in NYC either 😉 And yes once you’re in relationship, it technically is splitting when you take turns treating. But still I feel it’s more romantic that way than divying up the bill 50-50 every time you’re out.

  • Taylor Milam
    November 23, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    Hahah, I love your ultimate deciding factor—asking the gays! 😉 It’s so funny because I’m in a same sex relationship and didn’t even consider that, hah. I think it’s also SUPER common for same sex couples to just split the bill, especially with two women. It’s interesting to think about though, especially because it seems like the majority of pf bloggers are married or in a serious relationship!

    • Lauren Bee
      November 26, 2015 at 10:56 am

      It is interesting to talk about etiquette, and I’d be super interested to hear the differences in financial etiquette among different types of couples. I had one friend in a same-sex relationship tell me that once things got a bit more serious, the higher earning partner is expected to pay more when out, etc.

  • Deena Dollars
    November 1, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    This post is sort of old at this point, but I am HUGELY in disagreement that men should pay on the first date. I am interested in a partner who treats me as an equal, and I set that precedent right away. Most of the counterarguments don’t work for me, but I will address two.

    (1) The argument that “men just won’t let you” doesn’t work for me. Men know the trick of a woman offering to pay even though she doesn’t really intend to and they know they are being tested; it is pretty easy to be graceful and say, “hey, I am really glad we are on this date — this doesn’t reflect a lack of interest in you, but I am really more comfortable with us splitting the bill. is that alright with you?” I have had very, very few men say no to this. It shows vulnerability, grace, and character, and a vast majority of people respond positively to this.

    (2) If you can’t afford to buy groceries and pay for your dates, you should not be going on dates. Period. Dating is a luxury, not a need. If the person suggests something too expensive, you should suggest something more in your price range. If they make way more income than you, then down the line you can negotiate how that will work in your relationship — but when you don’t know someone from Adam, you should be doing things that suit both of your tastes and budget.

    This isn’t just about paying — I ask men out, I suggest dates, I hold doors for them. I do things my way, and it sets me out from the crowd. So please, every girl who wants to keep being like every other girl, keep expecting men to pay for you; you’re easy competition. 🙂

  • George
    October 26, 2012 at 11:15 am

    I’m actually a little appalled by some of these responses…how does wanting to split a bill mean the guy isn’t a gentleman and has no manners? The “give and take” of girls dressing up nice and guys footing the bill? I didn’t realize that being an ATM with a pulse meant that I could wear torn up jeans and an AC/DC shirt to a restaurant.

    And as for that 60% casual hookup number? Those are from guys who are on a website where they actually pay money to get the date to begin with (this according to the link you posted). I wonder how many of these women that are in it just for dinner would be willing to sign up for a site like that where the intentions are right out there in the open.

  • SavvyFinancialLatina
    October 18, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    This reminds me of when my husband and I started dating, then stopped dating and tried to be friends, and then started dating again. I didn’t realize how great my hubby was until I started seeing what other guys did on dates. It made me appreciate him even more. Let’s just say the second time around, he convinced me he was the one.

  • Thomas S. Moore
    October 18, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    I agree that a man should pay for the first date no matter who asks whom. Now the only problem is the choice that the lady makes as the place to eat. Sure there are reasonable places to go out to eat but if you are choosing some $100 per person place that would make me question whether you want me or just bored. In college the thing with woman was “a free dinner and a movie”. If you aren’t interested why bother going out? Its the same as woman thinking hes just taking me out to a nice place because he expects something. Not to say it won’t/doesn’t happen but no one wants to be on the short end of that stick.

  • Paula @ Afford Anything
    October 17, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    Wow, I’ve been out of the dating game for so long, I didn’t even realize “dating for dinner” was a phrase/cliche/way of life. Is it sad that my knowledge of my generation’s pop culture comes from blogs and Business Insider articles?

  • DC @ Young Adult Money
    October 17, 2012 at 11:24 am

    All I can say about this story is YIKES! I’m sure this happens more often than not, but to use online dating simply to lead on guys and to get things paid for….wow.

    • L Bee
      October 17, 2012 at 1:57 pm

      I think it happens more in big cities where there are plenty of people and money can get tight for young adults. That’s just my observation.

  • Edward
    October 16, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    As a single guy, I agree with Kyle–no way dinner on the first night unless I really know you. Coffee or drinks only. That said, although I would always pay for the first dinner (even if she did the ask me), if she wanted to go out again and again, we’d have to work some sort of split out soon. I want feelings and finances in a relationship to be reciprocal.

    On that subject–I think that if a woman has no romantic (or friendship) interest in a guy whatsoever and agrees to several dates for the free dinners, she is surely leading him on. She’s using her time and talents to get something of monetary value. (So it’s basically the same as a job.) That certainly doesn’t make her a prostitute, but whether or not she acknowledges it, she’s either… a fasle-pretense escort or a paid (with barter) companion? Personally, I’d be really upset (and pissed) if I found out a girl was dating me just to get free dinners.

    • L Bee
      October 17, 2012 at 1:56 pm

      I could buy the argument for paid escort or companion. Thanks for commenting Edward!

  • AverageJoe
    October 16, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    I always offered to pay. If she wanted to split it, the first time I’d insist. After that, I was okay with splitting (while pretending I really didn’t want to….I’m not made of money but I like to appear like I really wanted to pay for the whole thing).

    I usually dropped the relationship if she DIDN’T offer to pay at some point. There were times I felt like I was being used because I was a nice guy.

  • Veronica @ Pelican on Money
    October 16, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with expecting men to pay for the first date. If the guy you’re with doesn’t offer then he’s not worth a 2nd date. It’s been the rule for decades, what’s changed now? A gentleman is only a gentleman when he has manners. Not offering to pay for dinner first day = no manners. Ditch the guy on the spot, save yourself the troubles down the line.

  • Bobbie @bogofdebt
    October 16, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    I haven’t dated in what feels like forever but first dates always seemed better when the guy paid for them if they asked me out. Granted, I never asked out anyone but if I had, I’d have paid for the first date. After that, I liked to pay every other time or at least half.

  • Callie
    October 16, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    i love everything about this post and agree with you wholeheartedly. as many commenters have said, i knew going in that my now-boyfriend was very traditional. our first date was at a bowling alley with a group of friends, so i didn’t hesitate to let him buy my drinks. or pay for dinner on our first real date (although in the week between those two occasions, we each took turns cooking for each other too!). he wouldn’t have let me pay if i’d offered.

    since then, obviously we take turns paying. if we’re going to dinner before drinks and a movie, one will pay for dinner, the other will pay for the other activities. if we’re going out on both a friday and a saturday night with the intention of spending heavily (i.e. bday parties, double dates, etc.), we alternate who pays. it just makes sense and is the most fair way, IMO. 🙂

    love your blog! xo.

  • Savvy Scot
    October 16, 2012 at 8:54 am

    Haha! This post is incredible… I have to visit your blog then decide if I can read your latest post at work or not 😛 !

    I am 100% behind the idea that men should pay for the first few dates. Although I am frugal etc. I would never consider not paying. Now that I am married, we share everything (IMO that’s what married couples should do), but to begin with I paid for everything. It was my way of saying ‘I am going to take care of you forever’! I might get slagged for saying this, but any guy who expects to half the bill on a first date is a total cheapskate and doesn’t deserve a girlfriend…

    • L Bee
      October 17, 2012 at 1:52 pm

      Haha. Sorry for setting off the spam filters at your workplace, but I’m glad you think enough of me to read in your spare time too 😉

      It may be old fashioned and anti-feminist, but I seriously discount a guy as a potential life partner if he doesn’t offer to pay on the first date. I’m from the south though, so maybe that’s just the way I’ve been raised. But I would never expect a husband to take care of the entire household on his own.

      What’s wrong with a little courtship?

  • Kim@Eyesonthedollar
    October 16, 2012 at 3:25 am

    I haven’t been on a date in so long I can’t really relate, but I think the guy should pay if he asked you out. Otherwise, he is probably cheap. Frugal is good, but cheap might not work out.

    • L Bee
      October 17, 2012 at 1:50 pm

      Kyle makes a very good argument on why guys shouldn’t pay over on his blog, but I’m inclined to agree with you!

  • My Money Design
    October 16, 2012 at 1:46 am

    This whole article is incredibly interesting and making me very glad I’ve been married for 10 years, so I don’t have to put up with these types of games anymore. But if I was dating, regardless of the circumstances, I’d probably pay because I’m old fashioned.

    • L Bee
      October 17, 2012 at 1:49 pm

      I think so many guys continue to pay in these “modern” times because they learn that from their fathers! It’s not old fashioned, it’s called being a gentleman.

  • femmefrugality
    October 15, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    I think there’s a fine but definite moral separation between chivalry and prostitution. To expect a guy to pay on dates is to expect chivalry.

    To actively seek out a guy, any guy, to pay for a steak dinner for you is well on the way to becoming a lady of the night.

    So it’s about motives. But the expectations are usually the same. You can call chivalry an antiquated concept, but it’s still romantic. And to your guy friend…we may not be making 1/3 of your salary, but we are still generally paid less than you for doing the same exact job.

  • Emily @ evolvingPF
    October 15, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    I had never heard of “dating for dinner.” This entire post makes me really glad my husband and I got together in college when neither of us had much money available! We did a lot more hanging out around campus doing free-to-us things like eating together in the dining hall and playing ping pong in the activity center than going out on “dates.”

  • Bridget
    October 15, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    Even thought I’m very much all of equality between the sexes (after all, I wrote that awesome Your Spouse Is Not An Alternative Income Stream post), I find a lot of people throwing out the sex-worker accusations neglect how often the guy WANTS to pay on the first few dates. They don’t even let you go halfsies!

    I average 2-4 dates per week (I know, I know) and I’ll admit it cuts my grocery budget in half. I ALWAYS OFFER TO PAY. I even get my wallet out, put cash out on the table… and it gets picked up and shoved back into my hand with “no, no I’ve got this”. After a few dates, if he still has never let me pay, I like to be cute and sneak off to bathroom but actually go find our server and pay the bill before it even gets to the table.

    After two or three dates, I don’t like the guy always paying. It makes me uncomfortable — especially if I make more money than him, I just think it’s unfair.

    All this said, a while ago I went out with a guy that I have a huuuuge crush on, and when the bill came, we split it evenly. A few days later when we were hanging out again, he said that me paying on our first date actually confused him and made him think it was us just hanging out as friends and not on a date! So sometimes the guy picking up the tab is part of defining the outing =\

    • Kyle
      October 15, 2012 at 8:25 pm

      My perspective on that is this: the guy usually doesn’t really WANT to pay. He just thinks it’s some kind of test and feels like if he takes you up on your offer, he’ll somehow “fail.” I know girls don’t think of it that way, but this is the kind of thing going through our heads. If you insist and say “no really, I want to pay because I prefer 50/50” he will probably let you. You also score extra double bonus points and avoid the whole confusion thing.

  • Jennifer Lynn @ Broke-Ass Mommy
    October 15, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    During our first few months dating, my significant other loved splurging on fancy outings and always insisted on paying. Of course, I now realize it is because he just didn’t give a hoot about watching over his pennies and dimes. Now I handle all of our bills. ;P

  • Holly@ClubThrifty
    October 15, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with te guy paying personally. When I was single, I went on lots of dates and I never paid. The guy always insisted. Even when I started dating Greg he insisted on paying for everything even though he was broke. After we started getting serious and I realized that he was broke, I started paying for stuff and we worked on getting both of our finances in good shape.

    However, I would NEVER go on a date just for a free dinner. I’m not that cheap!

    • L Bee
      October 17, 2012 at 1:45 pm

      Yeah, having to pretend like you are interested in someone that you’re not is entirely too exhausting. It’s not worth the price of dinner. In my experience anyway…

  • RichUncle EL
    October 15, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    I agree that men should pay for the first meal out, and see how it goes from there. I do not like when a girl is invited out and she doesn’t adhere to the plans of the night. For example: If the place is not to her liking or she wants to add another expensive experience on top of the dinner, clubbing or a movie. Begging tactics like these are uncalled for in my opinion.

  • Anne @ Unique Gifter
    October 15, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    I take the other side… if a guy doesn’t accept my offer to pay for at least my half (I also offer to pay the entire bill), I worry that their self esteem is too tied to money, they have a need to be “flashy” or they feel strongly that men are financially in charge. None of those things work for me.
    Thankfully this hasn’t been a concern in awhile!

  • Budget & the Beach
    October 15, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    I like a lot of women also feel a guy should pay for the first date, but like you said, after that I always try to split costs. I do feel it’s pretty questionable behavior on her part. I feel like it kind of does give us a reputation for being gold-diggers, but most importantly it’s just not right to treat other people as objects, even if you feel women in general are not treated as equals, like in the workforce. 2 wrongs don’t make a right. And then to flaunt it for everyone to read about. But I do like to keep my side of the street clean, so everyone has to choose to make their own decision about their life. I’m sure I’ve done my own questionable behavior at some point.

  • Michelle @ See Debt Run
    October 15, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    What you said; so glad I’m not single anymore! The games! The white lies! The making sure my legs are shaved all the time!…Oh, you didn’t say that part? Anyway, I’m very grateful that I never have to worry about that anymore. I will be raising my boys to be gentlemen. They already do open and hold the doors for us and for strangers (both men and women–being a gentleman doesn’t equate to being a sexist) and that’s good for now. As for who should pay? I don’t think the man should have to, but I always thought it was nice when they insisted! I’ve never asked a man on a date, but I have asked girlfriends out for dinner and in those cases–I paid!

    • L Bee
      October 15, 2012 at 4:22 pm

      Oh you pay for your girl friends too? Is that a thing that happens once you are married with kids? I went and visited a married friend and she paid for my dinner too!

  • Jordann @ My Alternate Life
    October 15, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    I haven’t been single in a long ass time, so I can’t really weigh in on who should pay for the first date except for my gut instinct: They should split it. I dunno if it makes me an ultra-feminist, but I don’t think I could stomach the idea of a guy paying for my meals, let alone expect him to. But then again, like I said, I haven’t had to face that dilemma since before the dawn of time.

  • Kyle
    October 15, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    I usually don’t pay for first dates and even if I did, I wouldn’t take a girl to dinner, especially if it’s an online date. That’s just asking to be taken advantage of. If it’s somebody I’ve known for a while through other means, I might consider it (but probably not).

    Believe it or not, I haven’t noticed this policy having any impact whatsoever on the number of second dates I get. Most people are all talk about this kind of thing but when it comes down to it, a guy who doesn’t pay isn’t a dealbreaker to the vast majority of women. They say it is, but then they go out with you again anyway.

  • John S @ Frugal Rules
    October 15, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    I think it’s simple courtesy for the man to pay for the first date. If you’re not prepared to do so as a man, then I’d have to wonder what was going on behind the scenes. Once my wife and I got to know each other and felt like it was going somewhere then we’d split everyonce in a while.

  • Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies
    October 15, 2012 at 11:27 am

    Before we started dating, I knew Mr. PoP was “traditional”, so I didn’t put up a fuss and insist on paying my fair share for the first couple of dates. But as soon as it was clear it was serious, we started alternating on who picked up the check when we went out. I’ll never forget Mr. PoP’s words when I picked up a check fairly early into our relationship, “It’s so nice to have a girl who’s gainfully employed!”
    The queasiness for me is when people start to associate paying for a date with holding the power in the relationship or being “owed” something by the other party. I think that’s a bad dynamic to start a relationship with.

  • Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank
    October 15, 2012 at 8:30 am

    I 100% completely agree with you – I hate the games that come with dating!
    If I ever was to split with my wife I think it would just stay single just to avoid all the stupid games that go on in the beginning of a relationship.

    I never understood the whole texting back business, I’m a habitual anti-texter. I always leave my phone on silent and only really check it before going to bed. Unfortunately by that point some of my more neurotic ex’s would have called and texted 10-20 times in the space of a couple of hours wondering why I didn’t get back to them immediately.

  • Pauline
    October 15, 2012 at 8:12 am

    I always offer to pay my share on the first date, specially if I feel that the guy just wants to hookup, so I don’t “owe” him anything. But I think, like you, that they should pay for the first date, if they don’t it is unlikely they get a second one. Then I always take turns paying for things when dating and split equally when getting serious.

    • L Bee
      October 15, 2012 at 4:18 pm

      Well yeah, I always offer so it doesn’t seem like I expect something. I also hate how a lot of guys feel like paying makes them entitled to other “favors”…grrr…

  • Sean @ One Smart Dollar
    October 15, 2012 at 4:31 am

    I paid for dinner the first few times that my wife and I went out and then it just turned into us both paying or just alternating who picked up the check. I always tried to pay, but she wouldn’t let me.

    • L Bee
      October 15, 2012 at 4:18 pm

      Good for her-sounds like your wife is really empowered~!

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