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Can frugal be sexy?

Some are leery of dating people described as 'frugal,' but they like savers. How do you show you're financially smart but not stingy?

By Teresa Mears Aug 23, 2010 3:59PM

You may want a frugal mate, but do you want a frugal date?


Nearly half of you apparently do not. Asked which words came to mind when contemplating a blind date with someone described as "frugal," 27% answered "stingy" and another 15% picked "boring." Only 3.7% found frugal to be the new sexy, Ron Lieber reported in The New York Times, citing a study by ING Direct.


On the bright side, 56% of men and 42% of women did equate frugal with "smart." Women seem to be a bit more leery of the frugal label, with 33% of women equating it with stingy, compared with only 20% of men.


As Lieber notes, these findings present a quandary for frugal daters, even those who are looking for another frugalista:

If your frugality has the potential to turn off nearly half of the mating pool, it raises a question: How best to broadcast your financial values and seek significant others who share your approach without coming off as a tightwad or a gold digger?

Or, as Steve, a reader of Get Rich Slowly, put it when asking about how to impress a potential date: "The hard part is trying to live your whole life frugally without seeming a) cheap, or b) a loser."

One thing we found interesting in the Times story is that personals ads in the past were very clear about their money expectations of a mate. Here's one from 1860:

A young lady, rather good looking, and of good address, desires the acquaintance of a gentleman of wealth (none other need apply), with a view to matrimony.

Today's personal ads (or first dates with people you meet other ways) require a bit more subtlety, especially if you want to communicate financial responsibility but not stinginess.


As Steve wrote to Get Rich Slowly:

Like it or not, first impressions count and first impressions are often based on superficialities, even by nice and otherwise deep people.
Yes, there is always the rare person who will not care if you drive an old car or live in a cheap apartment, but other people don't see old cars and cheap apartments as choices for a well-thought-out philosophy, but as indicators that someone does not have his life together.

Therein lies the rub: Frugal daters have the challenge of showing that they're smart, not cheap.


"Earthnut," who described herself as "a financially secure woman," made this comment at Get Rich Slowly:

People should always be themselves. This is true. But as a woman in her 30s, it was very important to me to find someone who was financially responsible AND who was financially secure. So, someone who only wanted to go to the park or who drove a wreck would've raised a red flag. You can be frugal and still be classy and interesting. But you will definitely have to try harder. Most importantly, women don't want to think you're living paycheck to paycheck and have no money in the bank. These are hard times, and we want to be with someone who isn't going to be a financial burden on us.

"Nana" expressed similar sentiments in a comment to the Times' Bucks blog:

So in a relationship I looked for a partner -- one who can support himself and who will let me support myself. Luckily I found one. But although financial prudence is desirable, a man who chooses to advertise himself as "frugal" seems to me to be trying to turn being cheap into a virtue. There is a lot more to financial stability than refusing to spend money. I have no intention of owning a very old car with a 50-50 chance of breaking down merely in the name of frugality, but I am perfectly happy with a series of Hyundais or Toyotas.

Dating is about putting on a bit of a show. If that show for the man involves creativity in selecting activities at low cost or for a woman a thrift-shop wardrobe that looks great, presumably in the dating arena those people will find each other. If a guy wants to date a tricked-out woman with fancy underwear and an expensive body wax, he should be prepared to ante up for the entertainment.

Daters and experts interviewed by Lieber suggested some subtle signals to convey financial responsibility without actually discussing money:

  • Talk about how you like to find a bargain.
  • Mention the joy of discovering the latest cheap eats, to convey both a love of quality and a respect for value.
  • Include a favorite investing book among the list of things you've read recently.

The commenters at Get Rich Slowly also pointed out that no amount of frugality excuses rumpled clothes or a dirty car and pointed out the strength of a few well-chosen quality possessions, maintained well.

Will, who runs the website Cheap Date Ideas in Toronto, has put together a frugal dating etiquette guide. Among his advice:

NEVER EVER bring coupons on a first date. I know the urge to save money can be irresistible sometimes, but when you're on a date. Don't. Just. Don't. While it's great that you're taking initiative to save money, being seen as cheap or thrifty is not an attractive trait and will definitely put you a few steps backward rather than neutral. If you've dated for a while and both of you are frugally conscious, then it should be OK. However, having a gift certificate is permissible as it is a cash equivalent and if you got a discount on the gift certificate, your date won't even know.

There is some good news. At the request of the Times, the online dating site EHarmony did some analysis and found that both men and women who identified themselves as savers rather than spenders were 25% more likely to get responses from their ads.


How do you evaluate whether your date is stingy or smart? What information in an online profile would attract you and what would turn you off? And have you ever found being frugal a handicap in dating? Would you bring coupons on a first date?


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