You can’t put a price on love (but here’s one anyway)

Money can’t buy you love, but that doesn’t mean romance is cheap. For South Africans looking for that special someone, there is some good news: a date costs a lot less in Jozi or Cape Town than in many other great cities around the world.

According to a new report from Deutsche Bank, Zurich is the most expensive city in the world to go on a date. A casual night out in the Swiss financial centre will cost an eye-watering $195.90 (a little more than R2 500).

Things are only a little easier in Tokyo ($163), but you’ll get more bang for your buck in New York, where your date will cost $129.50 (about R1 667).  

That amount is calculated according to a basket of goods that includes cab rides, a pub dinner for two, a pair of beers and soft drinks and two movie tickets.

How does South Africa compare? According to the report, this ‘cheap date’ will cost about R840 ($65) in Johannesburg. Cape Town is a little more affordable, coming in at around R680 ($52.40).

Now this may raise a few questions. What kind of a cheap date costs over R600? The high price could reveal some distortions in the way prices are aggregated across countries, but it is also sobering to consider how much the cost of living has risen in recent years.

When we consider that an ordinary movie ticket costs around R70 at most major malls, and a pizza with a Coke easily comes to around R100, we’re at R340 for two people before we’ve even thought about transport or liquor. Throw in two ice cold Castles at R30 each, and R60 each way for a cab (no driving after those beers) and we’re just about breaking R500. Watching your movie is in 3D and treating yourself to a craft beer will push up the price even further.

The price disparity between Joburg and Cape Town is also curious. The calculation is based on averaged prices that won’t necessarily account for regional variation within a city. For example, drinks and a light meal on the Atlantic Seaboard will tend to cost more than in the Cape Town suburbs.

In other words, it’s probably better to take big picture lessons from the report than use it as a practical guide to dining out.

One lesson is that dating is expensive. Bloomberg wryly comments that “Deutsche Bank’s Jim Reid and Sukanto Chanda advised Zurich residents to choose their dates carefully, and marry young. It’ll be cheaper that way.”

In the age of Tinder and dating websites, that hardly seems like practical advice.

Much more useful is to take the report as a snapshot of how far our currency goes. The fact that a night out in Sandton costs far fewer dollars than a night in Manhattan says something about the cost of goods, but it also says something about the relative strength of the rand.

If entertainment in South Africa is affordable in dollar terms, that’s great news for tourists, but doesn’t guarantee great quality of life for those of us who get paid in rands.  

As with The Economist’s famous Big Mac Index, the lesson to be drawn from comparing a basket of goods across borders isn’t necessarily that South Africa is affordable for locals so much as that our currency is underperforming.

The good news is that our purchasing power is stronger than many comparable cities. Salaries in dollar terms are considerably higher in Johannesburg ($1 650) and Cape Town ($1 210) than in Istanbul ($683) or Mumbai ($788), two incredible cities that offer globally competitive date nights.

The upshot is that if you were planning to take your date on a romantic weekend to Zurich or Tokyo, your bank manager will thank you for choosing the Cape Winelands instead. On the other hand, there’s no need to travel all the way to India or Turkey to find great food and entertainment at a price that won’t break the bank.

It turns out that if you’re looking for love on a budget, South Africa is a pretty great place to be.