Valentine's Day coming up: The cost of love

Love isn’t cheap, but are some people taking on more debt than they can handle for the sake of romance?

While some are fast to cut back on romance to make ends meet, it seems others are getting into debt buying presents and surprises for their spouse or partner.

European credit management company Intrum asked more than 24,000 people across Europe about their finances and how they interact with their love lives.

Cutting back on love?

Almost a third of those questioned (31 per cent) said romantic surprises or date nights are one of the first things to go when they need to cut back on spending. In Portugal, almost half (48 per cent) agreed, while in Greece, Romania, Spain and Ireland respondents are also quick to limit their romantic extravagance when times are tough.

ECPR data graphs

Estonian consumers are least likely to cut back on romantic expenditure – only 13 per cent said they would, while those in Denmark, Norway, Austria, Finland and Germany also said they’d be reluctant to cut such spending.

Age makes a difference though. Millennials, likely to have less established finances than their Boomer parents and grandparents, are more likely to cut back on this spending when times are tough – 37 per cent said it is one of the first things to go, but only 24 per cent of boomers agreed. 

Spending to secure affection

Those most likely to get into debt spending money on their spouse or partner are consumers in the UK and Ireland. In both countries, 24 per cent said buying these treats was the most common reason they went into debt, against a European average of 15 per cent. They were followed by lovers in Romania, Spain and Greece.

Least likely to get themselves into financial trouble over love are Estonia consumers – only five per cent said they would find themselves in this predicament, followed by those in Austria, Hungary and Latvia.

Young love can also prove expensive. A fifth of millennials (21 per cent) said their spending on gifts pushes them into credit card debt, compared with six per cent of Boomers. Millennials also felt their partner was more likely to leave them if they didn’t keep up the spending – 19 per cent said this; only four per cent of boomers felt the same.

It’s unfortunate that pressure to spend money on romance is so high for some, as we see first-hand the effects problem debt can have on relationships and mental health. As Valentine’s Day approaches, many will be searching for the perfect gift for their loved one, and using credit card debt to finance it, but no-one should be putting themselves in financial stress for love.

Losing love

Some are certainly feeling the pressure to keep up their spending. Almost a quarter of consumers in the UK and Ireland (22 and 21 per cent respectively) said they believed their partner would leave them within a year if they didn’t spend as much money on treats and presents for them. Spanish, Romanian and Polish respondents weren’t far behind.

The Estonians are again most secure in their affections – only five per cent believed their partner would leave them if they reduced their spending on romance.

However, overall men are feeling more pressure than women to spend money on treats and gifts – 18 per cent said this is the main reason they go into credit card debt, compared with 12 per cent of women. Likewise, 16 per cent of men said if they didn’t spend as much their partner would leave them, compared with 10 per cent of women.

Coming together in a crisis

But, more positively, there is evidence that the financial stress of the Covid-19 crisis has brought people together. Overall, a quarter of respondents said ultimately this has been the result. In Romania, the figure was particularly high: 43 per cent agreed this was the case. At the other end of the scale, only 17 per cent of Norwegians said the financial pressure had been a uniting factor.

Younger consumers are more likely to say this adversity has been a bonding experience. Almost a third (31 per cent) of millennials said Covid had brought them closer to their partner, compared with 17 per cent of Boomers. Men also believed this to be the case more than women – 28 per cent said this compared with 23 per cent of women.

At Intrum, we believe talking openly about debt and financial stress is the best way to tackle the problem and reduce worry.

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The article is based on insights from the European Consumer Payment Report 2021. The report contains an analysis of European consumers ability to manage their personal finances. A total of 24,012 consumers participated to the 2021 edition of the survey, which was conducted between 21st of July and 26th of August, 2021.