Emily Power is the author of ‘How to Buy a Home’. In this extract, she details how, when she was getting her debt under control and her savings back on track, dating derailed her savings plans.
Dating costs a fortune: drinks on a Friday night, dinner on Saturday and, if that last date went well, brunch on Sunday.
What’s more, as I discovered, revealing that your parents are the gatekeepers of your finances in your 30s is as awkward as the first kiss.
I didn’t tell the man I dated shortly after I enacted the plan about my restricted cash flow. Looming over the thrill of flirty texts and making plans was the savings spectre. I was ashamed to admit to him I had such weak financial self-control that I was yet to trust myself with access to all of my salary.
My secret niggled at me, and there were nights out in his company when I worried whether I had enough in my account to pay for another round of drinks. The nerves of wondering ‘Does he like me?’ had nothing on the heart-racing moments of tapping my debit card at the bar, in front of him, and sweating to see if it would beep and read, ‘Declined’.
I frequently excused myself on our rendezvous to go to the bathroom, not to touch up my lipstick and ruffle my hair, but to fossick privately in my purse to count the slim wad of notes and stray coins, calculating the likely duration of the date versus my remaining dollars. He must have thought me vain instead of mingy. Was it too soon to suggest leaving the bar and retiring to my apartment for a coffee or a glass of Aldi wine?
In dating land, the invitation to your place means something else entirely, though going home is a lot cheaper than staying out. Were we ready to sleep over, if that’s how he interpreted the invitation? Not yet, but I was running out of money, and it was either ‘Back to mine?’ or calling it a night, and sending a signal that I was just not that interested. The internal war of a singleton saver.
I searched online for budget dating ideas. A women’s magazine suggested a tandem bike ride, applying face masks together at home, riding a ferry and going antiquing. I do not own a bike, I don’t want to date a man who is more into beauty products than I am, the nearest ferry I could find was the Spirit of Tasmania, and a spot of Antiques Roadshowing was more likely to kickstart my parents’ hormones than his and mine.
Instead I reverted to lying to my dates. On one occasion, I shamefully fibbed to this first fella that, when I didn’t have enough money for a night out, I had lost my wallet, and asked to reschedule. I should have suggested a frozen pizza on the couch at home, but can anybody like – or love – a cheapskate?
The IMF: Intimacy Monetary Fund
A little extra cash each week is sometimes necessary for getting acquainted with a sexy suitor because, during those giddy early days, it is hard to avoid socialising more. For me, that meant upping the budget by $50 to make it $250 a week, which wouldn’t derail my goal. That extra cash comfortably allowed for a few extra wines.
I needn’t have worried. For most singles, unanswered texts and ghosting – when dates vanish without explanation – are cause for angst. But when it happened with him during my early days of extreme saving, I was comforted by the slow slide into silence that defines the end of many modern relationships. I was free again to be frugal, and lopped my budget back to $200 a week.
The next man I went out with received full disclosure but – mea culpa – not until a few weeks in. At the point he entered my life – we locked eyes at an auction I was reporting on and soon after re-matched on Tinder, thanks to low-range GPS, and recognised each other following an earlier encounter on the app – I had written the Pocket Money Savings Plan column that appears in this book’s introduction.
After several dates, I explained to him my unusual financial set-up, a conversation that was nudged along by the fact his friend had researched me online, as all good mates should do, and reported her findings to him. She’d read the column. He rolled over one morning and asked me about it out of the blue. There was nowhere to hide, except for under the doona, and I contemplated doing that.
It had been too early, and yet too late, for a money talk.
No matter how much you save, you probably won’t be able to afford these homes… Post continues.
When I started the savings plan, I had estimated I could live on $700 a fortnight, but had cut back enough that I was doing well on $400 a fortnight. I liked him, so I upped my pocket money to the allowed $350 a week so I could pay my way.
During that romantic interlude, I decided to tell my parents I would be taking control of the account, all in a bid to prove to myself that I was responsible girlfriend material.
I joked to Mum and Dad that it hinged on the hope that they hadn’t siphoned off a portion of my salary to pay for a baby boomer cruise around the Caribbean, but the reality was much more serious. I felt the time was right for me to take control of my finances, so I could show the bank the savings were my own. This was my first true test since I’d started the plan about 18 months before.
I soon discovered that I was in an infatuation bubble, and was far from ready.
In a little over a week, I chewed through almost $1000 buying clothes and splashing out on dates that were above my budget by requesting extra pocket money from my parents. They intensely quizzed me as to why I needed the additional funds, but I can now see they were letting me learn the hard way.
The point of the Pocket Money Savings Plan is to enforce good money habits, no matter what the circumstances, and I had failed a crucial early test.
The guilt I felt after that binge was more painful than the inevitable break-up with the guy. He broke it off, citing ‘the money thing’.
With my heart in a vice, I promptly put the squeeze, just as hard, back on my budget.
I found that healing solo over a tub of ice-cream and rented movies is a cheap night in, and I was soon back on track, mentally and financially.
After that, I was immediately upfront with gentlemen about my savings plan of attack.
One said he admired my conviction and offered to cook for me when pocket money was low. The next was unperturbed, and went halves with me in a spaghetti marinara for lunch.
It was a lesson in honesty.