Updated on 09.17.14

Frugal Living: A Guide to a Romantic Frugal Date

Trent Hamm

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.

Date and Walnut Pie and Ice Cream by kspoddar on Flickr!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.

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  1. Ben Dinsmore says:

    “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.”

    There are other (non-financial) advantages of hosting a dinner date in the privacy of your own home as well ;)

  2. Daniel says:

    I swear by the home-cooked meal idea. That’s a good one.

    Back when we were both broke grad students, my wife and I got into the habit of cooking dinner for each other at home as our idea of a date. The only thing we’d (occasionally) splurge on was a bottle of cheap wine.

    The best part is that over the following few years, we both got good enough at cooking that we began to prefer it to eating out! The extra savings was just a bonus. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving.

    Great idea for a post, Trent.


  3. bethh says:

    I like the follow-up suggestions a lot. I had a date email me a goofy little picture he drew of us on our date (using Paint, and not a lot of skill) – it was super charming and very memorable (that was 8 years ago!).

  4. Rachel says:

    Great ideas! Hubby and I are stuck in the dinner-and-a-movie rut, so we’ll definitely have to give some of these creative, money-saving ideas a try!

  5. Betsy says:

    As far as “prepare a meal” goes, I don’t know a lot of women who will go to a guy’s house on the first couple of dates, but I know a ton of women who would enjoy a picnic that the guy prepared.

    One of my favorite dates — with my husband, in fact — was when we went out for a drive and he produced a huge thermos of stew that he’d made from scratch, with sourdough bread and a bottle of wine. It was a total win.

  6. Ryan McLean says:

    I am just about to get married so keeping the relationship fresh is right on my mind. Thanks for these tips because I will need them in the first couple of years of marriage as we will not be rolling in cash…that is until my entrepreneur blog starts making loads of money :)

  7. BonzoGal says:

    My husband wooed me by videotaping a cable TV show I couldn’t get at my place and inviting me over to watch. (It was MST3K.) We ate ice cream and laughed our butts off. It was a thoughtful (and funny) way to win me!

  8. Eric Hollins says:

    In response to the TV show, I’m interested in a girl right now and we’ve been hanging out watching TV. I set my DVR to record True Blood and Californication. It was nice because she dropped by unexpectedly. I was drinking a glass of wine so we split the rest of the bottle while we watched TV. She laid her head in my lap while I played with her hair and we just chilled for 2 hours like that. It was quite nice and we are doing it again tonight!

  9. sara says:

    You’re totally right. It’s cliche, but for a lady, its the thought that counts. Even if the cooking’s bad, the flowers wilted or the activity didn’t work out as planned, just seeing that the guy put thought and care into the preparation touches my heart. (and having a good attitude about it when things are less than perfect)

    another fun date activity- looking through the kids section at barnes and noble, and re-reading favorite books from your childhood.

  10. Chris de Vidal says:

    It must not be overlooked that it is an incredible act of selflessness to have a date night with your wife, in an age when the love of many grows cold (Matthew 24:12).

    Thank you for your good example as a husband.

  11. Money Maus says:

    Fantastic post! These are all great ideas for the frugal dater. I’ve done the “dessert only” date before (paired with a home-cooked dinner prior) and it’s wonderful :)

  12. Buffalo says:

    My wife and I just celebrated our 10th anniversary last week. For our special night out, we split a dinner and an appetizer. Most portions are large enough to split.

    The real money saver, though, was having our kids sleep over at another couple’s house. Waking up late to a quite house was quite a treat… among other benefits of course. Next month we’ll reciprocate and have the other couple’s kids at our home for an over night.

  13. Emily says:

    I completely second the dessert idea! Some really nice restaurants have absolutely incredible slices of cake…I think it’s fun to eat a frugal dinner at home and then go out for the fancy schmancy dessert you would never normally allow yourself. People who are good in the kitchen can make entrees that rival those at certain restaurants, but not everybody has the skills of a professional pastry chef!

  14. Trent,

    Wonderful ideas. My fav was going to the place personally important to you. Me and husband have many times talked about going to the place where we first stayed when we came to US. He also wants to go to the restaurant where we met in India.

    I would also like to add something that we did recently. Kite flying – A decent kite would cost you about 5 bucks but its enormous fun…at least it was for us. Here’s my post on the experience.

    And the kite can be used time and again so its not even $5 for a date.

    Another idea that I’d read somewhere in the blogsphere but don’t remember where, was to go to different places in your city and take pictures of each other in different locations, from different angles etc. Although we have never tried this but considering how excited and eager both of us get whenever we go somewhere to view the pics, I think its a brilliant idea.

  15. Nick says:

    Have you ever tried restaurant.com? I clicked the link and found deals that seemed too good to be true.

    Thanks for the article.

  16. Daniel M. says:

    I’ve been following your articles for quite sometime now, but this gotta be the most useful article for me so far.


  17. shahrul azwad says:

    I knew I should have learned to cook! Girls love that :)

  18. Jack says:

    Great post! I love all of these, as well as your frugal gift ideas. It’s become so hard in this day and age to show that you care without breaking the bank.

    I especially like the entertainment ideas, as I am a complete wreck in bars and clubs (can’t dance, hate crowds, hate loud music, can’t get bartenders to pay attention to me).

  19. Ranganathan says:

    Very good tips. Will work even while meeting close friends after a long gap.

    And, “Play board games: My wife and I do this all the time after the kids go to bed.” .. WOW !! I would consider myself as the luckiest man if I get a wife who plays board games. You are lucky indeed.

  20. Stacy says:

    I love these ideas, especially Teach Something.

    But I don’t think I’d bust out a discount coupon until I’d dated the person for a while….!

  21. Kevin says:

    Good list, Trent.

    Another good one I like is if you know the date will be up early one morning – bring her a coffee or donut or something. Or make it a date and go garage saleing.

  22. Lise says:

    How ironic that this appeared on my husband’s and my four-year anniversary. Are you stalking us, Trent? ;)

    This year we did dine out at the restaurant where we got married (that was a frugal bit of wedding-ry, itself), but last year I was doing a one-month break from restaurants, and my husband cooked dinner at home. I almost wish we’d done the same thing this year–the veal saltimbocca that my husband made at home last year was better than the one I had at the restaurant last night!

  23. kz says:

    @ Betsy:

    Maybe I’m too trusting or something, but I went to my date’s house for our third date, where he made me dinner and then we ‘watched’ TV shows we both liked (I say ‘watched’ because I’m pretty sure we talked through two hours of TV and had no idea what had happened in any of the shows that were on!). Three and a half years later, he’s my husband.

    Of course, I was the kind of date who wouldn’t bother going out with someone again if I got a weird vibe about them on the first. So I wouldn’t go on a *first* date to a guy’s house, but I would (and did) certainly go on subsequent dates.

    So the moral of the story – guys, invite the ladies over for dinner. If she’s not impressed (or at least appreciative), I’ll be surprised :)

  24. Good ideas! Sometimes my husband and I leave the kid with someone else and have a “date” here at home. We always say it doesn’t really matter where we are or what we’re doing…it’s about being together, just the two of us.

  25. Excellent article… If you like this one, then you may also enjoy my website and the posting I wrote called: “The Frugal Father In-Law”. Check it out and tell me what you think…


  26. Buffalo says:

    Another good time for a date at home is while the kids are at school. This assumes you have flexible work hours.

  27. JvW says:

    @ Nick

    I have used Restaurant.com many times, and it has always worked perfectly. The only caveat is that the git certificates cannot be used on alcohol. Other than that, it’s our preferred choice to go out to eat! Every restaurant that we had tried from Restaurant.com was fantastic food to boot!

  28. Lauren says:

    The first date I went on with my husband involved throwing boomerangs that he had carved himself. Stuff like that really sticks in your mind…

  29. Eddie says:

    Love the ‘just dessert’ idea. More:

    dance lessons, art lessons, water-balloon fight, lazer tag, hiking, cook dinner together, quiz night, sporting match, hookah bar, picnics, people watching, shopping, wine tasting, rock climbing, planetarium, ice skating, bike riding, zoo, arcade, ice skating, vintage clothing store….

  30. Jeff says:

    Restaurant.com is a GREAT website, at least when your near a larger city and have restaurants in your area that participate. One of our favorite restaurants in the Charlotte area was a favorite site that we found by using Restaurant.com and continued to go to whether or not we had a coupon to use.

    Want to make sure your getting the best deal on those coupons? Check out http://www.dealcatcher.com/restaurant-coupons

    For instance, sorry for the short notice… there’s an 80% off coupon that expires today (Oct 15th), but there’s also another coupon that should still be valid for a little longer that seems like it’s 50% off the normally low Restaurant.com prices.

    Stock up and save!

  31. Saver Queen says:

    With working multiple jobs, trying to get a new business off the ground, and maintaining our household, my partner and I work hard all week and on the weekends. Life just gets so serious. Last night my partner spontaneously grabbed me and took me out for a hotdog, hamburger and rings, and followed up with a moonlit walk along the beach, and hot chocolate at home. Not much could beat that!

  32. Tamara says:

    I love the idea of playing games, so I went and looked up on Amazon some of the games mentioned (Settlers of Catan, and Puerto Rico), it said for 3 or more players. Since the point is to get a game that my husband and I can play alone, can someone let me know if this is right?

    These games are pretty expensive to get unless you are pretty sure you will like them and they will meet the need you have.

  33. T says:

    This works better in good weather, but my husband and I sometimes, when we have an entire evening, pick a restaurant 3 or 4 miles away and meander there on foot over an hour or two. It’s surprisingly fun to walk far enough through your own city to see the neighborhoods change, and it’s a pleasant way to talk for a while. Plus, by the time you get to the restaurant, the food tastes even better!

    We’re lucky enough that in our city, we can usually then just take the train back home again – or we can walk again, if we feel like it.

  34. Lenore says:

    A little mystery and anticipation can add to the fun for no extra cost. Give cryptic clues about where you’re taking him/her. Try an unexpected route with some romantic scenery or points of interest along the way. Ask your date to guess whether you should go left, right or straight. If he or she guesses right, give a peck on the cheek or promise a neck massage or foot rub later.

    For the more adventurous, blindfold or “kidnap” your date, only with consent of course.

    Get some cheap but tasty munchies and beverages that can be comfortably consumed in a car. Then go to a drive-in movie or simply park overlooking city lights or a lake at sunset.

    Go fishing, hunting or fruit-picking if your date is into that sort of thing.

    If you have similar musical tastes, make a mixed tape and play it while taking a drive, playing a game or having dinner at home.

    Take a boat ride or hire a horse and carriage.

    Plan a scavenger hunt, possibly with other couples, family or friends. Seek treasures you can get for free like a pink spoon from Baskin Robbins (darn it, you’ll have to taste one of the 31 flavors to get it), a bag from a local grocery store or a mustard packet from a fast food joint. Give the winner a tacky homemade trophy (macaroni, popsicle sticks and glitter anyone?) and perhaps some non-material reward or a $5-$10 gift certificate.

    Park by an airport and watch the planes take off and land. Bring airline food like peanuts, pretzels and canned soda. Have dessert inside the airport if convenient and watch people at the baggage carousel if allowed. Ride the escalators or moving sidewalks.

    One guy got my attention by politely asking for a kiss before the movie while were sitting in his car in a theater parking lot. Let’s just say it got him further during and after the movie than if he hadn’t surprised me with the unexpected.

  35. Janet says:

    I get coupons for 50% off restaurants from http://www.cheaplocaldeals.com which also sends me the fairly large coupons and deals for restaurants and spas and cool things to do in the city. I just printed a $50 coupon to a local spa and it only cost me $5. Its free to sign up and worth the time to see the deals.

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