Editor's note: This article was orignially published on Ben Luthi's blog, The Wealth Gospel. It has been reprinted here with permission.
Just two weeks ago, my wife and I celebrated our fourth anniversary. We had just enough in our date budget to share a meal and some strawberry cheesecake before going mini golfing. Although my wife's pregnancy sickness nixed the mini golf, we still had a wonderful evening and were excited to celebrate our marriage. My wife and I have been through a lot in the last four years together, so our marriage bond is one I doubly cherish.
After tying the knot in 2010, one of the things we struggled with was our finances. When we got married, I switched from full-time to part-time work so my wife and I could spend a little time together between work and school. Before that, neither of us needed student loans, but those quickly became a necessity. Every month, we diligently poured over our budget to see how we were doing and how we needed to improve. We vetoed my regular sushi lunches and cut back on her clothes shopping. We lived without air conditioning for almost two years and hit up friends and relatives for free or cheap furniture. But we left the date budget untouched.
I guess to say we left it entirely untouched is inaccurate. Instead of doing a fixed monthly cost, our date budget became variable depending on what our income and other expenses looked like. Still, we never left that category with a $0 balance.
Why a date budget
After you get married, things change. Sweats and no make-up become more commonplace (don't get me wrong — my wife rarely wears make-up and I love it), and burping and farting are no longer completely outlawed (although still not appreciated). But no matter what else changes, it is important that you spend quality time together and keep your courtship going.
My wife and I have put a lot of effort into finding ways to spend time together on the cheap. I even came up with 50 cheap/free date ideas. Still, sometimes we revert back to wanting to do some of the things we enjoyed when we were dating like bowling or going out to eat. And honestly, after working long hours all week, the last thing I want to do is think up some cheap, creative way to spend time together—so we compromise. We keep the date budget low, but we don't make it so low that we're tempted to break it.
When we first got married, we spent a lot of time watching movies together. It got to the point where that's pretty much all we did. All we had to do was walk down to the 7 Eleven to pick up a Redbox and pull our couch up to the 19" TV that came free with our bedroom set. But the more we did that, the harder it was to stay connected to each other.
We still spend time watching TV now. In fact, we're on a Veronica Mars kick and have burned through two seasons in the last few weeks. But we also make it a point to do things that help us stay bonded. Sometimes, we go buy brownie mix and ice cream and play games, or we hit up Groupon and snag a delicious meal. This last weekend, we went to a Texas Rangers game (tickets courtesy of the in-laws, but we paid for parking, so that counts).
The point is, the more time my wife and I have spent _doing_ things together rather than just vegging on the couch, the closer we've become and the more we like each other.
Invest in your relationship
Obviously, everyone is in a different financial position. While we've got debt (click here for the juicy details), there are people out there who are in a lot deeper than we are. I understand that getting out of debt is an emergency, but be reasonable. If your marriage/relationship is a priority in your life, invest in it.
Sometimes our date budget is only $10-$20. I'm usually trying to find ways to score gift cards. But on average, we're sitting anywhere between $50-$75/month. For some of you, that's barely anything. For others, that's a lot. For us, it's just right. Find your own balance, and be reasonable.
And, if you don't have a date budget category, create one. Your relationship is worth investing in, and having an active date budget means you're consciously making your relationship a priority.