If you think dating is expensive, you’re probably doing it wrong. For special occasions, it’s fine to go all out at a Michelin restaurant or indulge in a Broadway play, but for the most part the best dates cost under $50 and many are totally free. However, you do need to engage your creative side and take into account what your date likes. With the right knowledge and a touch of whimsy, your next Saturday night could be the best one yet.
Just like giving a gift, think about your date’s interests, what he’s said is on his bucket list, or what she keeps mentioning in passing. These are great clues for putting together a date that will never be forgotten. You don’t have to spend much money at all to make it memorable. Here are nine affordable date ideas that are sure to wow.
1. Ice skating in the winter
Call it mushy or cheesy if you like, but there’s something about ice skating in the winter that’s so romantic it can’t be beat. If possible find an outdoor rink, but there are many beautiful indoor options around the country, too. Pack a thermos of hot cocoa or coffee, and for an even more romantic gesture give your date a cushy scarf which can be found for a steal at a farmer’s market (or make it yourself if you’re crafty). If one or both of you are newbies, it’s the perfect excuse to cling a little tighter, too.
2. Go on a food cart tour
Food carts are quickly outpacing stuffy restaurants and there are great “pods” around the country. For lunch or dinner, choose a food cart rich area and sample/share as much as possible. Food cart entrees can easily be found for $5 and less, so if you spend all $50 you’ll both be pretty stuffed. Plus, the outdoor setting encourages romantic strolls, picnics or staking out a bench to call your own.
3. Visit the local planetarium
Most major cities have a planetarium; when’s the last time you visited yours? Often found in science museums, you can usually visit the planetarium separately and for a lower price than a combo package. If you want to watch the stars in comfort and snuggle a little closer, this is a great option and it’s likely your date has never been before. Brush up on your astronomical skills before heading there, and see if you can find both of your zodiac symbols in the sky.
4. Mini road trips to obscure attractions
Whether it’s a weird donut shop that’s 100 miles away, the world’s biggest something, or you live a couple of hours from a beach town, a road trip is an intimate journey where you can learn a lot about each other. All you need is gas money, a great play list, and a final destination that’s free or cheap. There’s probably somewhere nearby that both of you have always wanted to check out; why not do it together?
5. Take a dance class
Dance classes in studios are really expensive, and they can also be awkward. However, most Latin clubs offer free dance classes before the clubs get busy often only for the price of a low cover charge. Plus, the environments are much friendlier and you can indulge in a cocktail or two afterwards while showing off your new moves. Ditch the stuffy studios and save a ton of money by taking advantage of the free lessons.
6. Cook at home
Set a budget for supplies and take turns cooking each other your favorite dishes, or one person can do the entrée and the other dessert. This is your time to shine, share tips, and give each other romantic tastings. Top it off with a bottle of wine (there are plenty of delicious bargain options) and a board game on the balcony or in front of the fire. There’s something incredibly intimate about cooking for one another, but make sure you leave the dishes for the next day.
7. Volunteer together
Do you two share a passion, such as helping homeless animals or cleaning up park trails? Non-profits are always in need of volunteers and there are often group projects days where you can sign up for a one-time position. This is a great way to do good while getting to see each other in action. There’s nothing more attractive than a man or woman helping the community, and seeing each other in this light is a must.
8. Dessert hopping
Dinners out may be costly, but desserts are usually very reasonable. Make it a dessert date and go to places known for their sweets that neither of you have been. End it at a new coffee house, and you’ll probably still come in well under the $50 mark. Plus, chocolates are aphrodisiacs, so this is a surefire way to heat things up while sating your cravings.
9. Find a local fair
Whether it’s a carnival passing through or a city festival, the cost of entry and two limitless ride bracelets will fit in a $50 budget. Remember when you were a kid and you thought how romantic it would be to ride a carousel with your paramour or get an adrenaline rush on the Zipper? Go back to your childhood and do it all now. You may even have enough left over to share an elephant ear.
Take advantage of all the freebies your city has to offer, from free museum days (most places have them) to perusing farmer’s markets and checking out gallery openings. You can spend as much or as little as you’d like on a date, and dropping hundreds on a single night doesn’t guarantee a good time. Instead, focus on discovering more about your date and your city at the same time so you’ll never be disappointed. By forcing yourself to look beyond your comfort zone, you’ll more easily get to know each other and help get your finances in check at the same time.