Image: Couple toasting champagne glasses at restaurant table © Chris Ryan, OJO Images, Getty Images

Love does more than lift the heart -- it may also raise your net worth. Marriage usually means two incomes but just one housing payment, pooled resources for financial goals and fewer nights on the town.

But, oh, the cost of getting to couplehood. Dating services alone set U.S. residents back $928 million in 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Maybe you'll meet your mate the old-fashioned (and cheap) way -- at a church social, in the produce section or during a volunteer project. Those who aren't that lucky may resort to blind dates, the singles scene or those dating services.

How much does it cost to get from singlehood to marriage? Maybe not much (see "church social," above). Maybe up to $146,000 over five years, based on some numbers I ran.

That's money that you might otherwise spend on:

  • A nice down payment or maybe the outright purchase of a home.
  • Time off to have a baby, get a graduate degree or backpack around the world.
  • Investments that could turn into as much as $352,110 after 20 years, assuming a 6% annual return and a 25% tax bracket. (This figure also assumes waiting until you have the entire $146,000 in hand before investing it.)

Image: Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman

Or picture those expenditures as the best investment you'll ever make. Love is grand, remember?

Read on for how I arrived at those somewhat tongue-in-cheek amounts. Location and personal priorities will affect total costs, obviously. If you're a broke grad student who shops at thrift stores, cooks stir-fry for your date and takes him or her to free campus events, you're not spending much on romance.

But if you're a young professional in an expensive area and feel you must wear the latest fashions or drive a hot car to get noticed, love is going to be a lot more expensive.

It's up to you to decide how much you're willing to shell out to become one-half of a couple. Fair warning: If you project a pricey, high-maintenance image, you're likely to wind up with an expensive partner.

Finding Mr. or Ms. Right

Happy hours, hot new restaurants, popular clubs -- you've got to go where the singles are, right? Singles probably aren't adding up the costs, certified financial planner Scott Halliwell says.

"They just get caught up in the lifestyle. It ends up, over the course of a year, being thousands of dollars," says Halliwell, who works for USAA in San Antonio.

Some singles sign up with dating services at the same time to improve their chances. Expect to pay $20 to $60 per month. You can cut initial costs through cash-back shopping; sites such as Mr. Rebates, and offer rebates of 30% or more on dating services.

Personalized matchmakers will sharply hone your quest for love. You might pay $75 an hour, but you could pay a lot more. Suzanna Matthews, aka "the Date Maven," charges $3,500 a month for her work with Midwestern clients. Another matchmaker she knows gets as much as $10,000 a month to focus exclusively on one person.

Both in-person and online services require great photographs. No, a webcam snap won't cut it. Be prepared to spend as much as $250 for a professional shoot, says April Masini, the author of "Think and Date Like a Man."

"A good photo will get you interest. A less-than-flattering photo will land you home alone," says Masini, who also writes the Ask April advice site.

Potential annual costs: restaurants, average of $1,927 for men and $1,289 for women; alcohol, average of $518 for men and $234 for women; dating services, $40 to $120 for memberships at two websites (assuming one month's worth of introductions keep you dating all year); matchmakers, $750 for 10 hours a year (excluding the higher-end matchmakers). Total: up to $3,565, including $250 for a one-time photo expense.

Looking good isn't cheap

You'll want great hair for that great shot. According to American Salon magazine's annual survey, a cut, style and blow-dry costs an average of about $56 for women and $42 for men. Plus tips, of course.

Your hair is just the beginning. Some other potential costs of outward beauty:

  • Gym membership. Factor in at least a few hundred dollars for good athletic shoes and nice-looking workout gear. Let's face it: Gyms are often just sweaty singles bars.
  • Spa stuff. A manicure-pedicure every two weeks, $40. Bimonthly facials, $43 to $75; waxing three body areas, $100 per month. Guys can shell out $25 to $60 for "manscaping" of unwanted body hair.
  • Makeup and fragrance.
  • Clothes. Single men can expect to spend, on average, nearly $900 a year and single women $1,000 a year. Your mileage may vary, especially if you frequent consignment shops or "flash sale" sites such as HauteLook and Gilt.
  • Dating self-help books -- yes, really. Date Maven Matthews advises her clients to read them, because self-confidence adds to attraction. That's an additional $120 a year unless you use the public library or book swap sites.
  • A hot car. Flashy wheels turn heads. A 2012 Lexus IS 250 convertible could set you back $32,145, or $611 a month at 5.3% interest. That's not counting your higher insurance payments. (Read "Which cars cost more to insure?")
  • Putting yourself out there. Join a wine-tasting class. Go to author readings or to coffeehouses outside your neighborhood. Leave your cozy book club or ditch your weekly poker game to attend events where the opposite sex will be (car shows and garden shows, for instance). Matthews calls it "the expense of having an interesting life." Some of it is free. Most isn't.

Potential annual costs: gym, $350 to $1,500 for a membership and $300 for workout duds and shoes; hairstyling, $252 to $356 (assuming a salon visit every other month); spa stuff, up to $2,690 (plus tips); makeup/fragrance, $500 to $1,000; clothes, $900 to $1,000; dating self-help books, $120; car, $7,332. Total: up to about $14,000.

Pairing up

Your eyes have met. You've exchanged phone numbers. Now what?

Money, honey. Maybe a lot of it.

"A nice meal with tip is $100. Two movie tickets plus Junior Mints, $25. Fuel and miscellaneous costs, $5. It may be $130 for you to date potential Mr. or Ms. Right," says certified financial planner Kimberly Foss of Empyrion Wealth Management in Sacramento, Calif.

But that's not necessarily so, if you live in an area where food is cheap and movie theaters and concert venues are scarce. Too, your idea of a swell time -- a picnic, a bike ride -- might be inexpensive by definition. Remember, however, that the phrase "cheap date" can be pejorative.

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Other potential costs of dating and courtship:

  • Cab fare if the date goes south and you decide to find your own way home.
  • Cab fare the next morning if the date goes well. Maybe brunch, too.
  • Parking ticket (see "if the date goes well," above).
  • Data-plan overage due to multiple "How's it going?" texts from buddies -- or because of your texts asking them for advice and/or a rescue phone call. ("Excuse me, I have to take this. 'What? You want me to come in to work now?' I'm sorry, that was the office, and it's an emergency.")
  • Cards, flowers and gifts. Anywhere from $20 to $35 a year for pictures of cats with ironic captions and as much as $200 for flowers. The cost of presents is limited only by your ability to ask "What am I doing?" before signing a credit card slip.

Potential annual costs: 48 dates a year, $2,400 to $4,800 (some overlap is likely with the above-mentioned restaurant and alcohol totals); cards and flowers, up to $235 a year; gifts, who knows? Total: up to $5,035, not including gifts, cab fare, parking tickets or data-plan overages.

Tying the knot

You asked. She answered. Congratulations! Now open your wallet. The average U.S. wedding costs $27,000, according to the Knot, a wedding planning website.

The diamond industry suggests spending two months' salary on an engagement ring. If you earn $40,000 a year, that means spending almost $7,000 on the ring. Financing it? Allow for interest, too. That's love.

Wedding costs are utterly individual, of course. You might not do an engagement ring at all and opt for plain metal wedding bands versus stones. Maybe her parents have saved for a big wedding. Maybe you'll elope. Don't count on any of this.

Other potential budget dings: an engagement notice in a local paper, a plane ticket so Grandma can attend the wedding, rose petals to throw instead of rice, an extra (i.e., more manly) cake for the groom.

Also, check "8 unexpected wedding costs" for things you might never have dreamed of, like Spanx. At least if you elope you might be able to skip the foundation garments.

Total: one-time expenses of $34,000.

Expensively ever after?

With the wedding included, that puts the cost of five years of singlehood at just under $150,000. And you still won't be done spending money.

Plenty of newlyweds think homeownership is the next logical step. They shop for square footage before the ink on their thank-you notes has dried. (By the way, you can hire a service such as to write and mail those notes for about $4 a pop. Don't tell your mother-in-law.)

The good news is that both interest rates and home prices are dropping. The current median mortgage payment is about $700. But keep your real-estate dreams in step with your financial reality by using MSN Money's homebuying calculator.

Whether buying or renting, you may be able to furnish the new digs by merging your worldly goods. But if your beer signs and her Ikea décor clash too painfully, you might decide to start over. Expect to spend thousands unless you shop at "curb mart" or on the Freecycle Network or Craigslist.

If that rental or home purchase is far from one or both jobs and public transit doesn't cut it, it may be time to buy one or two vehicles. The average price of a new car in the U.S. is $28,400 -- and remember, it costs more to insure a new auto.

Insure yourselves, too, especially if you're planning on a family. Healthy, nonsmoking 31-year-olds seeking $500,000 in coverage might pay between $224 and $339 apiece in annual premiums for 10- or 20-year level term policies, according to

About that family: The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it costs more than $200,000 to raise a child. You might be able to do it for less, depending on where you live. Get a ballpark figure with this calculator.

Planning to go back to work? Child care averages from $4,650 a year in Mississippi to $18,200 in Washington, D.C. But one of you staying home might result in "more debt, less in retirement savings, atrophying job skills and greater vulnerability to economic setbacks," says MSN Money columnist Liz Weston, with lower lifetime earnings and retirement benefits thrown in for good measure.

New ways of spending

In your single days, you might have been willing to nuke a frozen dinner or just eat cereal a couple of nights a week. Or maybe you were a raw vegan who spent hours preparing your food. Now you have to consider someone else's tastes and needs.

"More likely than not, there will be more takeout dinners, more roasted chickens picked up on the way home from work and more restaurant meals," Masini says.

Maybe the two of you could take a class (cost: not cheap) or teach yourselves from books and online cooking sites. It could become a new hobby, with his-and-hers "Kiss the Cook" aprons.

And speaking of hobbies: Are you startled by the costs surrounding your partner's love for golf, quilting, DVDs or role-playing games?

Or what about treats? She likes craft beer and massage; he likes graphic novels and sci-fi conventions. Each secretly resents the amount the other spends on "that stuff."

When does an indulgence become a deal breaker? Only you can answer that. Maybe you're willing to let him/her spend a lot because you think love is worth it.

Within reason, it might be. But I'd like to suggest that a trip to a financial planner makes a very nice date.

Donna Freedman is a freelance writer in Seattle. You can find more of her writing on MSN Money's Frugal Cool blog and at Surviving and Thriving (motto: "Life is short. But it's also wide.").