How I Saved Grocery Money By Dating (Yes, Really)
The truth behind @YourRichBFF’s viral video.
With 2.2 million TikTok followers, a history on Wall Street, and a spot in Forbes 30 Under 30, Vivian Tu, 28, has made a name for herself and her approachable financial advice. But in her early 20s, Tu, aka @YourRichBFF, stumbled upon an interesting money-saving hack: going on multiple dates a week was saving her grocery money. A video she posted about the experience went viral on TikTok, with some commenters praising her as a “girlboss” and others calling the strategy “borderline unethical.” In this as-told-to below, the TikTok star shares what really happened and gives some less flirty advice for saving money post-college.
To be honest, when I first moved to New York, I wasn’t looking to date. I just wanted to be free and independent. Slowly though, I started warming up to the dating pool until I was going on a couple of dates per week — usually one to two, never more than three. I was 22-23 at the time, dating around and seeing who I clicked with. You have to kiss a few frogs, right? Your girl was on Bumble and Hinge, but a lot of the time I would just meet people out. I would be at a bar. I would buy myself a drink, and I would meet someone. Often, it led to, "Hey, let's go get dinner sometime this weekend or next weekend."
Something surprising happened when I decided to start dating: the amount of money I was spending on food went down. At the time, I thought, "If I'm going out two times per week now on dates, shouldn't my budget have gone up?" That’s what prompted this video. Jokingly, I posted on TikTok, “When they say women are bad with money, but you used to go on six dates a week to avoid paying for groceries." It was very glib of me — even if the comments section took me at my word.
Back then, I was working as an equity trader and making $95,000, but my expenses were very high. I was living in Manhattan and paying rent for my apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. It wasn’t that easy to get groceries. The market closest to my apartment was incredibly expensive, so I never felt comfortable shopping there. Instead, I would haul my butt on the subway 15 blocks to Trader Joe's and grab all that I could carry. It wasn’t easy, and I really had to think strategically about what I was buying — usually their turkey corn dogs and supreme frozen pizza. (To say I “cooked” would be generous, but I did love my toaster oven.)
I can go to a fun tapas restaurant for (probably) free, or I can spend my own money on food at the grocery store.
To clarify once and for all, I didn’t start going on dates just for food. In my opinion, deliberately going on dates for a free meal isn’t a great idea. I am very much in the camp that you're dating to find love. But if the thought is like, "Oh, I can go to a fun tapas restaurant for (probably) free, or I can spend my own money on food at the grocery store that I still need to cook. And it’s probably not going to taste as good," there's obviously subconscious thinking that goes into it.
After actively dating for a while, I knew that for a certain percentage of dates I went on, I wouldn’t be paying. It’s just financial forecasting. (Sometimes we did split the check — so be warned, that can happen — but most of the time they would not let me pay, and I’d get to take home the leftovers.) I realized that by going on dates, I was saving about $50 to $100 per week. Added together over time, it amounted to thousands of dollars I did not have before — discretionary income I could spend on other things, like savings, investing, and a black Prada bag to replace my tattered Longchamp tote.
Still, it wasn’t like every date was a dream. I went on a 90-minute date once with someone who literally did not ask me a single question about myself. Instead, he filibustered about how amazing he was and how much money he made... and then he let me split the bill with him.
There are definitely more strategic ways to save your money. I could have just pre-gamed at my apartment a little bit more and spent less on booze at the bar. I could have been smarter with our utilities. I could have called the Wi-Fi company and threatened to switch to another company for a lower rate. At the end of the day, building a budget is really, really healthy and something you should be reassessing every few months. (If you don't know where to start, just use the 50/30/20 method: 50% of your costs are needs, 30% are wants, and 20% are saving and investing.)
Of course, it's fun to date, but using this as a money-saving strategy may not work for everybody — and it’s probably bad karma, to boot. But realistically, the worst-case scenario is that you split the bill — something I always offered to do regardless. And even if you do put your card down, it’s still a win: You get to say you went somewhere new, ate great food, and made a new connection — or, at least, practiced your small talk.