Whenever I talk about being married or the six years in which I was dating my wife, people always ask for suggestions on how to put together an interesting, romantic date without blowing a lot of money out on the town.
I’ve been collecting ideas and tips for a while and I’ve come up with some fairly modular options for coming up with a frugal romantic date. Choose one option from the “Dinner” section and the “Entertainment” section and then top it off with one item from the “Follow-Up” section.
Most dates usually involve the participants sharing food in some form or another. Many people immediately equate that to eating dinner at some expensive restaurant, and it’s an image that’s constantly perpetuated in pop culture. I invite you to think outside the box a little on this one. Here are six suggestions for doing things just a bit differently – it’ll make you stand out and save you quite a bit of money.
Just eat dessert instead of a full meal Instead of going out to dinner, go out for dessert – it’s cheaper, can be a big change of pace from the usual dinner routine, and can show that you’re not uptight and trying to create some generic “perfect” date.
Prepare a home-cooked meal There’s a certain intimacy and care that comes from preparing a meal for your date. Dining in someone’s home, eating the food that they’ve worked on, introduces a connection that can’t be replicated in a restaurant. Plus, a wise food preparer can make a delicious meal without a strong financial cost. If you don’t know what you’re doing in the kitchen, stick with something simple – make a simple pasta dish, like spaghetti with a tomato basil sauce along with a salad.
Have a night picnic Another option that my wife and I used to do regularly in our dating days is to simply pack a picnic basket and eat outdoors together. Often, we’d do this at night, preferably out in the country, where we could lean back on our picnic blanket, look up at the stars, and talk about life.
Go to a community festival An evening at a community festival can often be a good way to not only entertain yourself for the evening, but eat on the cheap as well. You can often get a very inexpensive taste of local cultural fare, see a lot of interesting free events, and also have ample opportunity to talk and get to know each other better.
Use Restaurant.com or an Entertainment Book to find a strong discount on a dinner out You can often find heavily discounted gift certificates to restaurants using tools like Restaurant.com, Entertainment Books, local newspapers, and so on. Before you even consider taking your partner out on the town, do the research first and save yourself some significant coinage if you do decide to go out to eat.
Go to an “off the beaten path” place Another tactic for a cheap dinner date is to go to an unusual place far off the beaten path. My wife and I used to love to frequent small ethnic restaurants during our college and early professional years, where the two of us could eat an enormous, delicious ethnic meal for less than $10 – beverages and all.
But what else are you going to do on this date? Dinner’s fun, but going out on the town can be expensive, as can going out for a movie. Not only do they cost money, they can make for pretty boring and repetitive dates. Instead, why not save yourself some money and also step outside the box a little bit for something different? Here are thirteen options to do just that.
Go for a walk in an exciting place … or a romantic place In almost every community, there are areas that have a certain special flavor. Perhaps you have an area that’s particularly romantic at night – fountains, nice views, and some seclusion from noise and bustle. Or perhaps there’s an area with a very lively street culture that turns almost into a festival each night when the lights go down, with people performing in the street and interesting things going on everywhere. Just go for a walk in such an interesting place and enjoy the environment together.
Teach something Is there a skill you’ve acquired that the person you’re dating would love to learn? Spend the date teaching it in a safe and friendly way. Perhaps you’ve got martial arts experience and your date would like to learn some basic self-defense. Perhaps you’re a skilled painter and your partner’s always wanted to pick up a brush. Maybe you’re good with mechanics and your date has always wanted to know how to change the oil in a car. Instead of doing a typical date, teach your date how to do something. It’s intimate, special, and something your date’s not likely to forget.
Have a movie night You don’t even have to go out and rent one. Just mine the DVDs or VHS tapes that either of you own and watch something. Watch your date’s favorite movie – or your own. Have each of you pick out one and watch them both. Watch one you both know very well with the director’s commentary turned on. Pop some popcorn and kick back.
Go to a playground Seriously. Go to a playground in the late evening. Go on the swings. Slide down the slide. Spin on the merry-go-round. It’s a great way to reconnect with your childhood and spontaneously share that with your date.
Go to a place personally important to you This is a great thing to do if you’re starting to genuinely become close to your date and build a string relationship. Just take your date to a place genuinely important to you. Visit your parents, perhaps. Maybe just show your date where you grew up. Take your date to the spot where you spent countless hours reading during your teen years. Take your date to that old pasture out in the country where you used to go on picnics when you were little. Talk about it – open up a little.
Play board games My wife and I do this all the time after the kids go to bed. We just get out a bottle of wine, pour each of us a glass, and play a board game – Scrabble, Puerto Rico, Princes of Florence, Carcassonne, Power Grid, Acquire, or something else. We talk about our day while also hunkering down and really thinking about the game in front of us. It’s a great way to spend an evening and if you’ve already got the game in the closet, it’s basically free.
Go to the beach A nice long walk on the beach provides a great opportunity to get to know each other better in a quiet, peaceful setting. A rocky beach can provide a great opportunity to skip rocks together on the surf, or you can just sit on the sand, sharing stories and truths.
Go for a hike This can be a great activity for a weekend date during the day. Go hiking in a beautiful park area near you, walking to beautiful and secluded natural areas and enjoying the endorphins that the exercise brings forth in you.
Go on a “wandering walk” Another interesting thing to do along these lines is to simply go out your front door and walk in a random direction. If you happen to live in an interesting neighborhood, this can be very interesting, indeed. You can discover interesting things in your own neighborhood together with your date.
Volunteer together If your date has a social consciousness, you can often make an interesting date out of participating in a volunteer activity. One of the first dates I had with my wife was working as a volunteer at a youth lock-in – it was quite fun and it provided a great opportunity for the two of us to get to know each other while also providing a good time for youths.
Go to a poetry, book reading, or lecture Many libraries and other public places will have free public poetry or book readings in the evenings and these can provide intellectually meaty material to share with a date. College campuses are a great place to look for speakers on all topics as well.
Go on a brewery or winery tour This is another great option, particularly for an afternoon spent together. Many breweries and wineries will let you tour their facilities for free and will often cap it with a free sampling of their products. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon – my wife and I do this whenever we get the chance, actually.
Visit a museum, zoo, or historical site in your community Most communities have many such resources that are open to the public, often for free and sometimes open in the evenings, too. Take advantage of it – go take in some of the more interesting cultural aspects of the area in which you live.
Many people follow up on a date with a simple phone call, which is fine, but you can really stand out (in a good way) with just a bit more effort – but not more money.
Follow through on something from the date If you pledged something during your date (like loaning a book or finding some old pictures), keep it in mind and make an effort to follow through with it. Then use that item as an opportunity to touch base with your date – and perhaps secure another one.
Drop off a handwritten note A simple blank notecard that says that you were just thinking of your date and how much you enjoyed it is a great way to keep the communication going in a personal way that only costs pennies.
Hand-pick some flowers When I was in college, I picked some fresh flowers in a field the day after a date, tied them together, and left them at my date’s door with a little note thanking her for a wonderful evening and a note to call me. That’s a lot more effective and personal than sending a note on Facebook. This is also a good way to start off a date as well.
Good luck with your romance! Just remember, it doesn’t have to kill your pocketbook.