By Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman

Jennifer Lopez was lying when she sang, “love don’t cost a thing” — because it does.

While love makes the world go round, it also burns a hole in one’s pocket, because, from courtship to formal relationship, until marriage and family planning, love entails cash. Lots of it.

In a pre-Valentine forum held on Feb. 10 at Quezon City’s Kamuning Bakery, financial experts talked about the stages of love and their costs., a financial comparison web site, spearheaded the forum.

So, how much is your forever?

How much is forever?

Hotels, flower shops, and restaurants emerged victorious in the game of love that was the Valentine’s Day. And the men, oh the men, they ended up with empty pockets; the price they have to pay for a girl’s time or her “yes!”

According to one of the speakers, Burn Gutierrez, a stock market coach and Angat Pilipinas Coalition for Financial Literacy chairman, below is an estimate of a guy’s dating expenses.

• A movie ticket can cost around P300 to P1,500.

• Chocolates, the imported ones, are at least P700.

• To go with the sweets, a nice bouquet of roses costs at least P2,000. (If you’re a persistent suitor, sending flowers every week may cost you P48,000 in six months.)

• A fancy dinner costs at least P1,000.

• And oh, public transportation costs at least P7. (That is, if your lady love lives nearby).

While not every woman is fond of getting flowers and chocolates and balloons (others may prefer books or pens or whatever) still, the main point is, love has a price.

But women aren’t only receivers, they are generous gift-givers, too. A decent polo shirt costs at least P1,000 and a pair of today’s fancy rubber shoes is around P3,000 and above.

“The important thing is to know much money do you make a month. It is important to estimate your expenses… Check your proportion income, costs shouldn’t go beyond your earnings,” said Mr. Gutierrez who used take the lady who would become his wife on dates at the Marikina River Bank. “We’d only buy canned tuna and rice and happily eat together,” he said of those dates.

Alas, the game of love isn’t always about rainbows and butterflies.

“Even heartbreaks are costly, too,” he said.

Based from a Wall Street Journal report, Mr. Gutierrez said that mending a broken heart not only affects a person, but also a company. He said the workplace cost of heartbreak in the US is $75 billion per year because of absenteeism, increased errors, and productivity loss.

“Time is a slow healer. You should do something to surpass the ache. Pursue happiness,” he said.

But then again, it’s almost impossible to pass the time and pursue leisure without breaking the bank. Travels here or abroad for soul-searching are costly. And so is buying a pint of ice cream every day to cheer yourself up.

“I know of a friend’s friend who died from heartbreak. The hidden cost of heartache also includes stress and a weaker immune system,” he added.

In the end, he could only advise lover boys to “Just pray and prepare.”

But are we ever ready for what tomorrow entails, especially when a couple decides to tie the knot?

“We’re never prepared,” said Aya Laraya, a former banker, a teacher at the Ateneo de Manila University, and the founder of Pesos and Sense, a company that promotes financial literacy, “It’s because we’re never taught in school. That’s why when you grow older, you don’t know how to plan a family. Do you need insurance? Do you need to invest in a condo?”

The internet, while a pool for knowledge, is also a tool for “social costs of investing,” he said. Meaning, when you see everyone at the beach or your friends’ new gadgets, the tendency is to spend on these too. The result: Majority of the Filipinos scramble to make ends meet.

“You choose not to prosper when you have a choice because you’re earning. Lahat naman maraming gastos eh. Kung hindi mo alam hawakan ang maliit mong sweldo, hindi mo alam pag lumaki na ito. (Everything has a cost. If you don’t know how to handle your small salary, you’ll never know how to handle it when it grows),” he said.

Mr. Laraya said there are four common misconceptions about nest eggs: Savings are enough; I will start investing when I get rich; “Facebook University”; and the “I’ll do it later because I still have time” mentality.

By Facebook University, he meant people feel like they know everything just because of what they share and see on Facebook.

“Just like when it comes to love, aral muna (study first),” he said.

Invest your time in studying and preparing, be it considering life insurance or a business plan, before deciding to act on it.

“We always want a shortcut, that’s why we make wrong choices. Acquire knowledge first, then decide. It’s part of our culture to blame. We entrust someone our money and say, ‘Oh ikaw na bahala sa pera ko ah’ (‘you take care of my money’). And end up blaming others for wrong decisions,” he explained, when asked if there’s a formula to money-making and investing.

He said there’s no formula and it depends on what one’s goals are.

“It’s not a characteristic of Filipinos to do canvassing. We don’t do this,” added George Siy, president and CEO of the Marie-France Group of Companies.

He said that before couples invest on something, it pays to do some research first, and a lot of thinking after.

“Millionaires spend their time getting educated more by reading books or from other people. One hundred percent of the people who failed spent their time for entertainment and leisure, not for education,” said Mr. Siy, the man behind the beauty companies Marie-France and Facial Care Center.

Keep abreast of your surroundings, and start now, he said. Thanks to the growing economy and the low interest rates, the businessman said today is the best time to invest in a house and lot or take a loan to start a business.

“If you have an idea for a business, then prioritize it because it’s a productive asset. Always productive asset over unproductive asset, but unproductive asset before depreciating asset. Always in that order. You can always commute. When you have a car, you have to pay for its insurance, gas, and maintenance. Plus, the model gets old over time. The moment you want to sell a car, it’s always 20% less than you bought it. But if you’re going to sell a house, the mortgage is bigger,” he said.

But perhaps, the biggest investment one could ever make is on one’s health, agreed the three financial experts. After all, if couples and their children are healthy, they are happier and more productive.

“If we’re looking at a time of life, the middle age should look at possible disasters like health, accident, and death insurances. It’s more expensive to be sick,” said Mr. Siy.

Down the road, the three men agreed that this is the main question one should be prepared to answer before tying the knot and starting a family: Can you support yourself?

Mr. Laraya said: “You have to be complete — including financially — before you get married. Make sure you can start on your own, financially. Can you handle it?”

Because, at the end of the day, after friends turn to lovers and, later, life partners, couples would soon realize that love alone cannot pay the bills.