If you’re new to the Lifestyle, or just beginning to consider it, you have more than likely thought about — and perhaps discussed with your partner — lots of concerns regarding potential relationship costs and benefits. You may or may not have considered actual cost costs yet. You should.
In an informal survey, we asked the Twitterverse to weigh in about expenses in the LS. We’ve included some of their comments and suggestions along with our own. One late 30s married couple remarked, “There are so many things we didn’t consider regarding cost!” — and that seems to be a prevalent sentiment.
It’s easy to get the impression that the Lifestyle is only accessible to those with a shit-ton of disposable income.
“The Lifestyle is an investment” is something we have heard over and over. It’s true that whether you consider nonmonogamy a primary defining lifestyle or a sexy hobby, it does come with expenses. And, if you follow many of the well-known LSers, it’s easy to get the impression that the Lifestyle is only accessible to those with a shit-ton of disposable income. We don’t think that’s actually the case.
We believe that, like any lifestyle choice or hobby, the degree to which we involve ourselves — and the level of monetary investment we make — is totally up to us. Ess and I have some specific savings goals unrelated to the LS, and we have agreed that those are primary. That, however, is not prohibiting us from entering the LS. What it means is that we make choices about our LS involvement and investments carefully and in consideration of the bigger picture.
As explained in Who are Elle and Ess?, we are a solidly middle-class American couple — neither particularly broke nor very wealthy. This means that the phrase “money is no object” rarely rings true for us. It also means that when we consider our movements within the LS, we consider all angles — including expenditures/costs.
The LS is pretty much a microcosm of society, in that socioeconomic stratification exists. There are bargain-basement wife swappers and highly affluent, opulent lifestylers. There are those who prefer a lot of LS activity as frequently as possible, and are willing to forego quality to have that, and others who seek quality over quantity.
We don’t actually advise anyone to approach the LS in a miserly way. At the same time, we don’t advocate swinging beyond your means.
We trend toward moderation and balance over extremes. We caution against the purely bargain-basement route because the quality of interactions may decrease (and potential for STIs may increase) when you aim for cheap or free all the time. We titled this post “Swinging on a Shoestring” mostly for the fun of word play. We don’t actually advise anyone to approach the LS in a miserly way. At the same time, we don’t advocate swinging beyond your means in a LS attempt to keep up with the Joneses.
That’s easier said than done. There are so, so many exciting opportunities, and listening to others’ experiences can be super enticing. To bear in mind — it’s not a race. No one has to do all of the LS things in the first weeks, months, or even year. Perhaps no one should. We like the idea of leaving some things to grow toward — as individuals, within our relationship, and also financially — as we find our place in the LS.
As in all things, we trend toward moderation and balance over extremes.
So, all that philosophical hoo-ha behind us, let’s get to talking about some of the specific areas the LS can take a bite out of the wallet:
Most folks rely at least in part on dating websites. While many of these offer free membership, the paid level tends to be substantially more effective and useful. Membership fees range, but are typically lower per-month if you sign up for multiple months or a year upfront. Doing this can usually keep a dating site membership cost to less than $15 per month, possibly much less depending on the site and any special offers.
We actually don’t recommend skimping on dating websites by relying on free membership. This is one cost that most LSers seem to agree is a “must have.” There are many reasons: For one, paying for membership opens the most useful features of the site. In addition, a lot of folks in the LS limit their profile interactions to other paid members; in other words, you may not be able to see or fully interact with a lot of great people if you stick with the free membership. And the reason people prefer interacting with only paid members isn’t generally elitism — it’s privacy. The assumption is that anyone paying for membership is probably legitimately interested in participating in the LS, and less likely to be skulking about the site for nefarious reasons.
The reason a lot of people stick to interacting with other paid members isn’t generally elitism — it’s privacy.
Look for promos. Clicking through an affiliate link on a blog will often get you 1-3 months of free “elite” (paid level) membership on a dating site. Another way to get a cut rate on a dating site is to attend an event or club where the site is giving out promotional codes (Alt Playground does this).
Once the gratis time is up, you will probably want to pay to continue. To keep this cost down, we limit ourselves to just 1-2 dating websites, focusing on those that have a lot of members in our geographical region, rather than paying for membership on lots of sites that may have overlap and/or may not connect us to people who can meet in our area.
Also — there are other ways of meeting people that may decrease dependence on website memberships over time. Joining LS communities, attending meet & greet events, and ‘word-of-mouth’ networking may start to pick up where dating sites leave off after you get into the — ahem — swing of things.
Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Events
Remember how expensive dating was back before you were partnered? Yeah, that hasn’t changed. It can get pricey. Maybe pre-LS you and your committed partner didn’t “date” each other very much. Meeting new friends and potential LS playmates will likely change that.
There are club entry fees and sometimes memberships, cover charges, bar tabs, and meal bills. If you decide to go to LS events such as meet & greets or parties, many of them come with a membership and/or event fee. And, if you have littles still at home (we do not), there are sitter fees to consider. Then there are hotel costs, if you can’t or prefer not to host at home.
This can add up.
Torrid Souls offer this bit of wisdom: “Using a LS club as a meet up place can save costs over having drinks at a vanilla bar, then renting a hotel room. Plus you have the added benefit that — if there’s really not enough of a connection — both parties can go off and potentially meet others. Convenient, logical and cost-saving.” If you rely on hotels for playtime because neither you nor your playmates can host at home, consider using accrued travel or credit card points for it. We have a great credit reward program that we use to turn our regular grocery and gasoline expenses into hotel stays. We also try to set up sexy time with people when we’re already traveling somewhere for work or other purposes and will have access to hotel accommodations.
And some new sexy friends of ours (@Line1_n_Line2) remind us that when you meet can impact expense: “Always pick a happy hour for a date option.” Another reader (@mt4morefun) recommends using “dive bars for meet-n-greets. Very fun and good conversation piece.” Ess and I will admit, we just adore a good dive bar; however, that may not be true for everyone.
There’s nothing wrong with a first meeting at a coffee shop or café instead of a bar or restaurant. A cup of coffee or tea with a pastry is a lot less expensive than a couple of cocktails and/or a meal. And there are a lot of fun, funky, low-cost first meeting spots that aren’t bars or restaurants — museums, parks, ice cream shops, art or music studios, outdoor recreation areas. Bonus: meeting in those places allows you to show some personality and explore possible in-common tastes (other than sex) with your new potential playmates. Admittedly, these meet-ups are less likely to turn into first-date playtime than an evening at a pub.
Here’s the thing about this expense category — To save money, the best thing to do is set a budget, plan ahead, and strive to stick to it. Ess and I have set an agreed upon number of LS events or dates per month and we try not to exceed it. We limit (though don’t rule out) expensive, spontaneous LS activities. Budgeting for anything is a lot like dieting — we have to forgive ourselves when we go over (as we inevitably will sometimes) and just get back on track as best we can. And, of course, the budget can be renegotiated.
Here’s the thing about this expense category — To save money, the best thing to do is set an entertainment budget and strive to stick to it.
The other thing to bear in mind is that it’s not a bad idea to look at any existing expenses that can be painlessly swapped out in favor of LS pursuits. Maybe I don’t need a daily Starbucks fix this month, and that wad of cash could go to a cover charge instead? Really, budgeting for LS entertainment isn’t all that different than budgeting for non-LS entertainment.
Clothes, Shoes, Lingerie, Jewelry
A lot of people in the LS enjoy dressing sexy and building a special LS wardrobe. It’s fun to select and buy an enticing outfit for a specific date or event. Clubs or resorts host themed events that call for putting together a hot costume and accessories. And, let’s be honest — wearing sexy lingerie can boost both your confidence and your libido.
The budget advice here is not much different than you’d get in vanilla-world.
It’s super easy to go crazy buying clothes, shoes, jewelry and accessories for the LS. Luckily, it’s also relatively easy to keep this from spiraling out of control. The budget advice here is not much different than you’d get in vanilla-world: Shop sales. Plan ahead and buy when things are at a good price instead of last minute. Set a monthly LS clothing budget and make efforts to stick to it.
Front Porch Swingers offer this: “We don’t buy crazy costumes that will only be worn once. Instead, we go for the cocktail attire that can be worn in many settings. This alone has likely saved us thousands of dollars.” That rings true for us, as well. I remain sort of ever-vigilant for potential LS attire, if I’m honest, and I try to buy nice things that can be worn on multiple occasions, whenever they go on sale.
A reader (@chicpapaya) points out that “theme night/party outfits can be found at Thrift stores, cheap!” For those one-time theme occasions, this is probably sound advice. Though, like Macklemore (“passing up on those moccasins someone else has been walking in”) we’d advise steering clear of second-hand shoes or skivvies of any kind.
The last thing I want is to think about some 12 year old kid sewing sequins on my $18 bargain-barrel merrywidow to help feed his family.
Some cost-cutting methods aren’t worth it to us. There are many inexpensive club-wear and lingerie retailers online. It is possible to order extremely cheap stuff on Amazon or from any of a host of low-budget Internet shops. This may be an area you can call us snobs, with good cause: I’d rather have one or two well-made outfits from credible sources that cost a bit more, over lots and lots of inexpensive ones that may be poorly constructed, use low quality materials, and quite probably rely on sweatshop labor in some developing country. The last thing I want is to think about some 12 year old kid sewing sequins on my $18 bargain-barrel merrywidow to help feed his family. Talk about un-sexy!
For a lot of folks, personal care costs increase upon entering the LS. You may find yourself getting more haircuts, waxing bits of you that you’d never considered waxing before, and wanting to get back to a gym membership you’d let lapse. Returning to dating after being monogamous seems to be accompanied by fresh vanity (we don’t mean that in a bad way) that can result in money spent on manicures and pedicures, hair styling, and more.
Of course, there are also some LS folks who go all-in to spruce themselves up with things like tummy tucks, breast augmentation or other surgical enhancements, Botox injections, hair implants, laser hair removal, and more. Those kinds of costs can go through the roof.
You may find yourself waxing bits of you that you’d never considered waxing before.
Whether personal care seriously impacts your spending will depend on what you were already doing. It may not be all that different than your norm. We do want to note that it’s not strictly necessary to do any of this stuff. You can stay fit without an expensive gym membership or personal trainer. You can remove unwanted body hair with an inexpensive razor. You can dye your own hair at home (well, maybe…I’ve never been any good at it, personally). And while everyone feels sexier when smooth and polished, the LS is made up of real people and not — as Swinging Downunder points out — perfect, plastic Ken and Barbie dolls.
Savings tips here are about the same as those for clothing — budget for it! Another tip we liked from Bedhoppers’ recent podcast episode is to plan ahead so that you get full mileage out of a personal care expense. I rarely make an appointment for just some random day; instead, it’s generally calculated to fall just before an event or meet up.
Toys & Supplies
Over and over, our readers told us that one major area NOT to try to save money is sexual safety — quality condoms and lubricant, STI screening, and sex toys that are made of high quality body-safe materials.
One major area NOT to try to save money is sexual safety.
We’re not sure there’s a lot more to be said here. If you buy and use sex toys, they should be safe for everyone using them (see our earlier post about this). Quality, safe sex toys can be a lot more expensive than the many questionable bargain alternatives. If you haven’t, we’d encourage you to learn about sex toy safety before purchasing any (or any more). Also, you should learn the best way to keep your toys clean and spend the cash on cleaners, if needed.
Of course, it’s in everyone’s best interest to not only use condoms but to make sure they are high quality and fit properly (and comfortably). Also, it’s important to go ahead and spend the money on whichever lubricant works the best for you and your partners (you may need to try several and keep more than one on hand). And though it may not be pleasant to think about or discuss, Torrid Souls is correct in telling us that “STI testing is a [legitimate] cost associated with the hobby of being sexually social” — though you may find that cost covered by your insurance or at a free clinic.
There are a lot of amazing LS-friendly resorts, destinations, and cruises. Then there are multi-day LS conventions such as Naughty in N’awlins. We don’t have to tell you that these can come with a hefty price tag. The all-inclusive nature of many of the LS resort or cruise opportunities makes them enticing, but they are still expensive. They come with not only accommodations and airfare, but possibly also sitters and pet-care expenses. And they can exacerbate clothing and personal care expenses, as people generally like to go all-in to make destination events special.
We really only have two main budget-friendly ideas here:
1 | Plan and budget for any LS vacation you want to take in much the same way you would your vanilla travels.
2 | There are sales and special promotions. Watch for them. Follow your favorite destinations and event organizers on social media and take advantage of promos when they post about them. Also, take advantage of any group rates available through LS communities you may follow.
A lot of this is about discussing what you want out of the LS and prioritizing.
One tip we noted this year — resorts and travel destinations have sales at times when other retailers typically do. Check for great room rates during holiday sales time, for example. If you know when sales will occur, you can plan to buy your tickets at the best prices.
A lot of this is about discussing what you want out of the LS and prioritizing. Our friends at Sex Uninterrupted note, “We would rather put our money towards traveling. We usually don’t attend many local clubs or hotel takeovers so that we can afford 3+ LS trips a year.” On the flip side of that, Ess and I aren’t much interested in LS trips — at least not at this point. We currently prioritize short “single-serving” LS experiences in our region over multi-day LS destination events. (There are other reasons for that beyond economics, but we will save that discussion for another post, another time).
We know at least one LS friend who has a fun obsession with collecting pineapple items. Another loves to stock her bar with expensive spirits and mixers, and others have a borderline unhealthy stash of Geeky Sex Toys. My own weakness is stilettos.
Some couples like to buy fun little things like red light bulbs, scented candles or essential oils, or other sensory items to amp up the bedroom mood at play time.
I mean, if you can’t have a little fun with it, it’s not worth pursuing…right?!
There are lots of fun LS add-ons and collectibles that can eat into your budget. No real budget fix here beyond knowing your limits when it comes to spending. I mean, if you can’t have a little fun with it, it’s not worth pursuing…right?!
We asked what “indulgent splurges” our LS friends have made. Aside from resorts and travel, the list includes massage tables for the home, hot tubs (and maintenance), sex swings or sex furniture, and more. Boudoir photography sessions, frequent massages, fetish/kink accoutrements, and sex or relationship seminars/retreats are other add-ons that can come at quite an expense over time. Some good friends renovated their basement into a swinger pad. They are not alone — we’ve learned of quite a few couples who eventually alter their physical living arrangements in significant ways to better accommodate the LS.
As you can imagine, we have zero tips for saving on these things, and that’s as it should be. I mean, they’re called “indulgent splurges” for a reason, amIright?
The bottom line for us, really, is to make the LS our bitch instead of the other way around.
There are probably other expenses we haven’t touched on, but this list got lengthy pretty quickly. If you think of others or have budget-friendly tips, feel free to put them in the comments. The bottom line, for us, is to make the LS our bitch instead of the other way around. That goes for money as well as time invested. Ah, time. That’s an investment too. But it’s gonna have to be another post another day.
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