There's only one thing worse than being skint, and that's being skint and single. If you're a cash strapped couple, at least you can spend evenings cuddled up on the sofa or weekends in the bedroom. But when it's only me, a bottle of cheap red and a Jackie Collins bonkbuster before bedtime - well, that's just rubbish. Worse still is being asked on a date when my bank account is in a dreadful state like it is now. If a man asks me out, chances are he'll pick up the bill, but I like to at least offer to go Dutch. Secondly, the key to a hot date is in the preparation: a new outfit, a haircut - hell even a new pair of shoes if I'm feeling really hopeful. Finally, what if I need a get out clause? There's nothing worse than being stuck on a date-from-hell in a remote country pub without enough cash for an emergency cab home. Trust me, I've been there for four hours and it wasn't pleasant.
I'm not against budget dates - some of my favourites have been low-cost picnics in the park or strolls on the beach. But I've learnt that scrimping on a first date can be a recipe for disaster. Like the time I agreed to go on a blind date set up by a mate: Date Boy told me excitedly beforehand, 'There's this amazing Chinese restaurant I'd like to take you to.' Brilliant, I thought, as I headed to meet him with an empty tummy and a head full of expectation. But when we arrived at a cafe-cum-kebab-house, with neon signs screaming 'Two courses and a drink for under £5!' I half expected Ashton Kutcher to jump out and tell me I'd been 'punk'd' (if only). I spent the next two hours sitting in a plastic chair, eating chow mein out of a polystyrene dish, wishing I'd worn my jeans instead of my best frock. And sadly, my date turned out to be more bland than my sweet-and-sour chicken balls.
The thing is, I don't expect to be whisked away to Paris in a chartered helicopter for a first date (although that would be cool). It's just that cutting corners from the start doesn't bode well for the future. Like my date with Ian, another guy I met on a singles website. Minutes after spotting him and before I could say 'Hi', he piped up with 'Just so you know I'm in the middle of buying a house right now so I only have £10 left in the world. How does it feel that I'm spending my last tenner on you?'
Actually, it felt really uncomfortable. All I could mutter was a meek 'Er, shall I buy this round?', followed by some tedious small talk before he told me at 9pm that he'd 'let me go'. Thanks, I thought, after nursing a glass of red wine (bought by me) for two of the longest hours of my life.
You see, I think first dates should be seen as a long-term investment. We devote time, energy and money to building a great shoe collection, or saving the deposit for a flat. So why not put the same expenditure into your love life? JLo might insist that Love Don't Cost A Thing, but I beg to differ. When it comes to relationships, you get out what you put in. And I like to think I'm worth slightly more than a handful of change.