Money and Love: Smart Spending

February 9, 2023, 11:30 am | Carol Ehlers

couple in restaurant having lunch by cherryandbees/, Iowa – According to the National Retail Federation, half of all Americans spent $23.9 billion to celebrate Valentine’s Day last year. In addition to Valentine’s Day, many other “love and money” choices impact our wallets – from weddings to plan, special occasions to celebrate and children to raise, said Carol Ehlers, a human sciences specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
“So how can you be ‘money smart’ to handle all these life expenses? Take a step back and look at the big picture to plan ahead. Knowing in advance how much these special life events might cost and what you can afford will help you prioritize and prepare,” said Ehlers, who specializes in family wellbeing and finance.

Consider three different love life events: Can you guess how much each one could cost?

  1. How much does a first date typically cost? The answer is $77, according to Lending Tree. Millennials spent the most money on a first date ($83) while baby boomers spent the least ($58). Financial planners recommend spending 2% to 10% of your annual income on recreation and personal expenses. “Your budget should be used to purchase things that are important to you, like showing your partner how much you care. Identify those surplus spending areas and reallocate the funds toward going out on a date night,” Ehlers said.
  2. How much is spent on each other for Valentine’s Day? According to the National Retail Federation, on average, men spend $291.15 on Valentine’s Day gifts, while women only spend around $106.22. “If you don’t want to overspend on special occasions, then don’t lead your partner to believe you will. Talk about what you feel an appropriate gift should be. Decide on spending limits as a couple and agree ahead of time,” Ehlers said.
  3. How much does it cost to raise a child? The answer is $233,610, according to the USDA 2015 Expenditures on Children by Families report that does not include college. It’s assuming an average middle-class family will spend roughly $12,350-$13,900 per year per child for food, clothes, daycare and basic education.

When it comes to having a family, Ehlers noted, focus on a few key areas of your finances:

  • Health Insurance. Having the right health insurance in place can end up saving you tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical costs per year.
  • Daycare vs. Family Care. Should one parent stay home and care for the children? Weighing the financial pros and cons of doing so may be worthwhile. See Iowa Childcare Resource and Referral’s daycare costs per county guide online at  
  • Take advantage of a Flexible Spending Account. Get a break on daycare and medical expenses from the IRS with an FSA. This special type of fund enables you to pay yourself tax-free money that can later be used to reimburse yourself for daycare or medical expenses. Find out more at

ISU Extension and Outreach specialists are available for individual financial consultations with Iowans who are working toward financial goals and would like some information, tools or strategies to assist them. Contact Ehlers, at 712-732-5056 or, or visit the Human Sciences Extension and Outreach website for more information or to schedule an individual consultation.

Photo credit: cherryandbees/

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