Dating is hard. Finding that person whose quirks you find charming—or, better yet, finding that person who finds your quirks charming—is no easy feat. But just because dating is hard doesn’t mean it has to be hard on the wallet. A lavish, six-course dinner with wine pairings or a weekend getaway to Noosa are all certainly lovely date ideas, but let’s face it: Most of us are not rolling in cash. In fact, many of us are just downright cheap. And that’s okay: Cheap bastards deserve love, too.
“Whether you are on a budget, or you are just cheap, there are plenty of date ideas that can be both engaging and affordable,” says Brittney Smiejek, a matchmaker with the dating website Three Day Rule.
Plus, here’s a little secret: when you meet the right person, it’s not going to matter how much you spend on your time together. What matters is that you're spending time together in the first place. Here are 20 date night ideas that you can pull off on a budget.
Explore a new neighbourhood.
We get so comfortable in our surroundings that it can be fun to just go somewhere new and walk around, says Laurie Davis Edwards, a professional relationship coach and founder of eFlirt. Her husband, Thomas Edwards, founder of The Professional Wingman, planned one of these outings for Davis Edwards when they were first dating and she loved it.
“I heard about a place that was pretty cool for dinner in a neighbourhood that was new to both of us and decided to make a whole day out of it and just explore,” he says. “Just placing yourself in a different environment, you get an entirely new experience you get to share together. When you’re in ‘exploring mode, it’s a fun place to be as a couple or as people who are developing a relationship."
Sure, you might have to shell out for petrol money, but a beach date is the perfect, low-budget opportunity to strike up some romance. (Don't live on the coast? A lake or a pond will do just fine.)
“Bring snacks, get ice cream, play in the sand and water. While you're at the beach, work your way out to the water,” says Brian Begin, a men's success coach and co-founder of thefearlessman.com.“Take your shoes off, splash eat other, make each other laugh and enjoy the moment. Make it spontaneous.”
See a movie in the park.
Even if it's too cold to unfurl your blanket on the grass, you can probably find lots of other free events in your town that day or weekend, says Wendy Newman, author of 101 First Dates. Try an app like EventBrite, All Events in City, or simply Google “free events near me” to see what crops up. Even your local library might have author Q&A's and cooking classes going on.
Test drive a car you can't afford.
“There’s no cost, it’s low-risk, and dealerships know that you’re going to be shopping around, so they’re likely going to be less stringent on why you’re looking to take a car out for a spin. Just have fun and experience something that you may rarely get a chance to drive,” Edwards says.
Make s'mores together.
Simply pick up graham crackers, milk chocolate, large marshmallows, and sticks for roasting, Davis Edwards says. "So much of a date is the ambience that’s created, which is why places like wine bars are so popular," she adds. But you certainly don't need overpriced Merlot to create ambience.
Play card games or board games.
“We were recently visiting a niece and playing Uno with her when Laurie and I realised how much we liked it," Edwards says. “So I went to the store and got a pack and we’ve been playing a lot ever since."
Many bars offer games like Jenga, too, so you don’t you have to be a homebody. "You're enjoying something with a childlike spirit and competitive nature while [also being] nostalgic,” he says.
Rent bikes and go sightseeing.
Many major cities have bikes that you can rent by the hour or even for 15 to 30 minutes and use to get around the city, Davis Edwards says. Or you can simply rent bikes from a bike rental shop. “It’s a new way to explore and be playful,” she says. "The view from behind your handlebars is always so different, and it creates a different kind of interaction between the two of you because you’re doing something active, but it’s not as taxing as a workout."
Play games at an arcade.
Get $10 to $20 worth of 20c coins and you can easily stretch the fun out for hours, Edwards says. You'll experience the nostalgic aspect of games you played when you were younger, enjoy some friendly competition, and possibly even win a prize for your partner, he says.
This one might be obvious, but let’s mention it anyway, shall we? You don't have to go out for a dinner date, nor do you necessarily have to resort to takeout (though Netflix and Chill is a classic for a reason).
“Pick up some produce at a farmer’s market or try something more recipe-based, like Blue Apron,” suggests Smiejek. “Here’s a tip: light some candles. They'll think it’s romantic and adorable.”
Walk on the wild side.
You don’t have to trek the Appalachian Trail (though, I mean, I guess you could), but going for a hike can be a great way to spend time with someone. If you really want to be bold and use it as a bonding experience, pick a trail with limited cell service—or better yet, turn off your phone entirely and just enjoy each other’s company.
Go to IKEA (yes, really).
OK, so this might not be a great idea for a first date, and it's probably better for couples who have been dating for a while. But even though IKEA has a reputation as a relationship-killer, it can actually be a great bonding opportunity for you and your date.
“This is a fun spot when you put your imagination and creativity to work. You can play house, explore, and create dream scenarios of your potential future with this person,” Begin says. “After your walk-through and playtime in the different rooms, the Ikea Cafe is a great spot for food.” And if you do end up buying something, the date can continue into the evening as you try to assemble it over a bottle of wine.
Do a themed Happy Hour bar crawl.
Happy Hour is a casual, convenient date idea, but that doesn’t mean that it's lazy.
“Happy hour is the perfect time to meet up for a few drinks while not spending a fortune. Search for the best deals at your local restaurant/bars and meet up for a drink once you have wrapped up the work day,” Smiejek says.
If your date really likes martinis, jazz music, or dive bars, make a roundup of those types of bars in your city with happy hour specials and plan a customized, cost-effective bar crawl.
Wander a museum.
Museums and galleries are a great way to strike up an interesting conversation, and, most importantly, keep costs low.
“Museums are an incredible place to go. There is always a free night at the museum, so do the research to find one in our around your area,” Begin says. Many museums charge ‘suggested’ rates, which means you can actually pay whatever you want.
Skip the overpriced brunch cocktails and eggs benny. Instead, hit the farmer’s market or the meat & cheese section of your grocery store, grab a baguette, and pick a spot with a nice view. "Pack a picnic with a few snacks, maybe a bottle of wine and spend time chatting and soaking up the sunshine,” Smiejek says.
You don’t have to be a great dancer to have a dance date. In fact, for this one, it’s probably better if you don’t know how to dance. Dance classes for beginners at your local YMCA are cheap (or free!), easy, and are a fun way to feel a little foolish in front of each other.
“Whether it is a class or an open night, if you find the right place that has a sexy environment, dance instructors can teach the both of you the proper techniques,” Begin says. “Or you can learn a little bit of the basics of certain dances, so you can take the lead.”
Most of us are so busy that it seems like a waste of time to go sightseeing in your home city. That said, hitting up famous attractions in your hometown is a great idea for a fun, kitschy date. “There are many different options for exploring that don’t cost a dime,” Smiejek says. “Go for a scenic bike ride, or make it as simple as exploring a new neighbourhood.”
Plan a Potluck Double Date.
“Invite your favourite couple to hang out ask them to bring a dish to share while you and your partner make one to share, too,” suggests Dori Gatter, Psy.D., LPC, a licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert. “This creates closeness—doing things together forges a stronger bond." For an added twist, try setting a theme like “favourite foods from childhood."
Find somewhere to volunteer.
Working at a food pantry, making sandwiches for the homeless, picking up trash in a park, or taking your pet to visit the elderly are all great ways to experience something together while giving back, suggests online dating coach Andi Forness.
Hit the driving range.
Whether you're going for a party vibe at a sleek chain like Top Golf or a more low-key, Caddyshack-style public driving range, a golf date is a great way to kill a few hours, and a bucket of balls can go for as little as a few bucks, says online dating expert Julie Spira.
Take a spin class together.
Spira remembers the first time she took her boyfriend to a Pilates class. “He was a good sport about going, and we wound up liking it so much that we continued to go together. Eventually, we started taking a private duet class with just us and the trainer.