15 Frugal Date Nights

Although my wife and I have been married for almost 14 years (and we dated for six-plus years before that), we still put effort into keeping romance alive in our life. We box out time to spend together without our kids. We do things that we both enjoy and sometimes we each do things that the other one primarily enjoys.

We call these our “date nights.” Once or twice a week, we’ll pencil off an evening just to do something together, as soon as the kids are in bed. Usually, we’ll try to do it on a day when we can sleep in so that we can stay up late without crashing, giving us a few hours together.

The key here is that we intentionally wall off periods of time to spend just with each other. What we actually do is less important than the fact that we have this time saved just to spend together. That is the key to making a frugal date night work and the key to making it worthwhile. It’s the time spent together that keeps our marriage strong.

Our “date nights” are usually pretty cheap. We’ve come to realize over the years that the fun in a date night comes from being together, not in doing something expensive. While it’s fun to go to an expensive restaurant every once in a while, most of our best date nights are found doing simpler things together.

Many of our “date nights” are date nights at home. This is because of the constraint of having children. Going out means finding a babysitter for the children (most of the time), which adds an additional cost, plus many activities outside of the home bear a cost as well.

Over the last few years, I’ve kept a list of our “date nights.” What follows are the distinctly different dates that we’ve had over that period. Obviously, we’ve repeated many of these, and many others are just slight variations on these ideas.

These “date nights” keep the magic of our marriage alive and strong. It’s not because each idea is amazing and brilliant and infinitely memorable, but because we spend the time together, focusing on each other.

I hope you’ll find some value from trying the ideas on this list.

We pop a bunch of popcorn and watch a movie or binge-watch a Netflix series under a big blanket together. This is our most common “date night,” simply because it’s so convenient after a long day. One of us will put the kids to bed while the other one finds something to watch and pops a bunch of popcorn and flavors it all up a little bit and gets a blanket or two out so that the other can just run down to the family room, hop on the couch, and we’re cuddled up watching a movie together or a series together.

We go for a long walk under the stars. On nights when the kids are sleeping over at the houses of friends (we usually try to stack such events together), we’ll go on a walk together around the neighborhood and out into the country under the moonlight, just talking about our lives and whatever else comes to mind.

We make some kind of special yummy treat together. We’ll bake cookies together, or we’ll bake bread together, or we’ll make scones together for breakfast the next morning. We’ll get the ingredients out, talk together as we’re assembling the item, bake them in the oven, and perhaps split a portion of it when it comes out of the oven. It’s an excuse to talk and to do something with our hands together and, in the end, we’ve produced something tasty to eat.

We pack a lunch, go to a state park, and hike to a secluded spot for a picnic. This is our “default” date when we don’t have our children in tow. We’ll pack a meal in a backpack in the morning, go to a state park within an hour or so of our home, and head out on a trail. Usually, we’ve done a bit of research to find out if there’s a reasonable spot for a picnic at a nice vantage point, with a table or at least a bench or, at the very least, some open area to spread out on a blanket. We’ll leisurely hike the trail, talking about life and enjoying the scenery, then we’ll reach our destination and share that meal together, and then eventually stroll back.

We work on a big art project together. Not too long ago, we spent an evening together talking about life and drawing a giant city map for a game we’re playing with our kids. We alternated between discussing buildings and locations and layouts with discussion of what was going on in our lives. It was one of the best evenings we’ve spent together in a very long time. We’ve had similar evenings where we painted miniatures and drew pictures, too.

We go to a free concert in the park. Occasionally, there’s a free concert in our town or in a neighboring town. If the opportunity presents itself, we’ll pack up an evening picnic and a blanket in our picnic basket and go to the concert. We’ll eat a picnic dinner together on the blanket and watch the sun go down and the stars come out while musicians play their songs.

We play a board game together, usually while splitting a bottle of wine. If we have a bottle of wine in our wine rack, we’ll often pull out a board game or two and play them while slowly sharing that bottle of wine. We’ll make moves on the board, play cards to the table, talk about life, and get a little goofy together.

We curl up under a blanket together, each of us with a good book in hand. We’re both avid readers, so sometimes a date night just consists of getting out a giant blanket, cuddling up on the couch, and reading our respective books. We’ll get all warm and cozy under the blanket and lose ourselves in our books as we’re cuddled together.

We sit on the back porch with some music playing quietly with a bottle of wine between us. This is akin to our board game night, except with soft music and the stars over our heads instead of a game between us on the table. We talk about life and love and everything else and simply enjoy each other’s company.

We work on a home improvement or repair project together. Sometimes, we’ll identify a small home repair task or other task, like repairing a drywall hole or fixing a child’s toy, and we’ll do it together. This involves us figuring out how to do it, then one of us taking the lead and the other acting as an assistant. We’ve replaced faucets, repaired toys, patched drywall, cleaned up marker disasters, and many other things over the years.

We do something active together, like play tennis. We live fairly close to a very nice park with a tennis court, so more than once we’ve gone over there and played several games of fairly low key tennis, batting the ball back and forth and laughing at each other’s miscues. It’s a friendly game that gets our blood pumping; it’s often connected with a walk under the stars.

We tour expensive homes when they’re having an open house. More than once, we’ve dressed up fairly nicely and went on a tour of a house during an open house, just to see what the nice house was like. Often, it was an excuse for us to end up talking about what aspects of home layouts and designs that we liked, because we’ll eventually end up buying or building a different home.

We go geocaching. This is a “date night” that we end up falling back on if the weather is nice and we wind up having our children along, but sometimes we do it by ourselves. We simply go to Geocaching.com, find a list of a few local geocaches, and then go find them and see what’s there. It’s a great way to go on a little journey together to see a familiar area from a new angle or explore somewhere new.

We build a fire in the backyard and roast marshmallows. We have a fire pit in our backyard, so if we happen to have some extra wood to burn, we’ll start a small fire in the fire pit and roast some marshmallows. We both get involved in getting the fire going, and then we’ll get chairs out and sit side by side, watching the fire crackle and keep us warm in the evening when there’s a touch of chill in the air, and we’ll make a marshmallow or two and eat them together.

We build a giant blanket fort. This sounds absolutely ludicrous, but it’s incredibly fun. We just gathered up every blanket in the house and turned two rooms in our house into a gigantic blanket fort. We hid in there with flashlights, fixed up inevitable repairs, and giggled like little children again.

A “date night” isn’t about spending money, it’s about spending time together. A good relationship thrives on togetherness, not money or stuff. Put each other first, and not only will you have a strong connection, you’ll also have strong finances, too.

Good luck!

Trent Hamm

Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.