Money may be tight right now, but life and love go on. Tightening your belt doesn’t have to mean putting your happiness on hold.
In fact, this may be all for the best: if you’re trying to impress someone by spending lots of cash, or you’re the kind of person that’s impressed by this, chances are that you’re not on track to finding a fulfilling relationship. What you do for entertainment shouldn’t be the main attraction on any date.
Forget everything you think you know about the dating scene: this is the time for creativity and charm to shine over flashy spending. Cheap date ideas are everywhere once you go looking for them – we’ve collected thirty of the most interesting and arranged them by how well you already know your intended lover, so grab a notepad and pencil and see which spark your enthusiasm.
Table of Contents
- 1 First Dates: The Beginning of Something Magical
- 2 Hanging Out: Starting to Grow on One Another
- 3 Building a Stronger Relationship
- 3.1 Take a Train or Bus to…Anywhere at All
- 3.2 Attend Open House Events
- 3.3 Plan a Massage Night
- 3.4 Rediscover Board Games
- 3.5 Create a Drive-In Theater in Your Backyard and Have a Picnic
- 3.6 Happy Hour Is Here Again
- 3.7 Enjoy a Staycation Weekend
- 3.8 Organize an Autobiographical Tour
- 3.9 Teach Each Other Your Hobbies
- 3.10 Have a Photoshoot
- 4 Stay Creative, Stay in Love
First Dates: The Beginning of Something Magical
Starting to talk to someone you’re interested in is always full of excitement and uncertainty. Will they make the first move? Will they say yes if you get up the nerve first? Could this be the first date of the rest of your life?
Opening night jitters may make you feel awkward, but they’re part and parcel of the way dating leads to romance. In fact, psychologists claim that getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing a little adrenaline rush is a driving force behind the process of falling in love.
The key to a great first date is therefore often to think of something that’s a little hair-raising, but not actually scary. It’s also a good idea to come up with something both of you will enjoy whatever happens: if the two of you simply don’t click, your time together still won’t have been wasted.
Assuming both of you are in good shape, something physical is rarely a bad idea for a first date: exercise releases feel-good hormones, and your date will associate this pleasant glowy feeling with being in your company.
Crossfit is one option: many groups will be happy to see you try a first round for free. Conventional gyms often do the same to attract new customers, or you can simply go and swim laps at your local public pool (and just happen to see them in swimwear).
See a Stand-Up Comedy Show
Along with love, laughter is at the heart of every successful relationship. Start off on the right foot by chasing some giggles – laughing, too, makes your brain produce chemicals that make you feel happy.
Take a Walking Tour at Night
Horror movies are fine for those who enjoy that kind of thing, but being in an unfamiliar, dark place is definitely a different kind of spooky. Did you know that many zoos offer guided night tours? The cost is generally about $20, you’ll learn and see quite a bit (many animals don’t keep human schedules) and wandering around with nothing but a flashlight while strange, somber trees loom overhead is bound to get the juices flowing.
In many cities, you can also find ghost tours. These aren’t at all like a fairground haunted house: you’ll be shown the sites of murders, battles, prisons and many other sinister places where the dead are said to roam. Boo!
Organize a Retro Videogames Night
Old-style gaming consoles with pixelated graphics and audio effects that sound a lot like a microwave were a staple of many childhood weekends. Did you know that these are still on sale and cost next to nothing?
They’re also a huge amount of fun to play, especially against a partner or in a larger group. If you don’t want to spend even a penny (except on snacks, which are of course mandatory) you can even use your computer and play online. As this kind of event often runs into the early hours of the morning, you can also organize it as a slumber party, which is far from the worst kind of date to have.
Have you ever wondered how fast your dusty little Honda really can go? Many smaller racetracks have open days occasionally, during which members of the public can see how their lap times compare to those of the professionals (using their own cars, of course).
With any event of this type, safety is a huge concern. Your car insurance has to be up to date, and with covering the costs of driver training, vehicle inspections, on-site medical assistance and so forth, you should expect to pay at least $200 per car per day for this kind of entertainment. On the other hand, it can certainly be an unforgettable experience, one not easily compared to a single go-kart race easily costing $25 or more. Another part of the fun is that you can take turns being the co-driver – i.e. terrified guy in the passenger seat.
Borrow a Dog and Take that Good Boy on an Adventure
Stray dogs living on the street certainly have it rough. Once they’re taken to a shelter, they’re at least assured of medical care and having enough to eat, but stress and boredom are often driving them up the wall.
Many animal shelters are therefore only too pleased to have people come forward and help their boys and girls get some fresh air. You can take them around the block, to the park or anywhere they’re allowed, and they’ll provide all the entertainment you need. Note that these aren’t feral, aggressive dogs: many of them were well-trained housepets until they were lost or abandoned. Just be careful not to fall in love with someone other than your two-legged date: many people end up refusing to return the doggo they checked out.
Paintball or Laser Tag
A little bit of friendly competition never hurt anyone, and excitement is the name of the game when you’re trying to shoot someone who’s about to return the favor. If you shop around and are willing to go on a weekday, you can pay as little as $30 each for about half an hour of fun – or buy your own laser tag kit and use it as often and wherever you like.
This kind of activity doesn’t lend itself to deep conversation, but you can always chat while you’re relaxing afterwards or between games. Someone may even utter the dreaded phrase: “You got beaten by a GUUURL!”.
Tour a Factory
No, we’re not suggesting that you take anyone to visit a steel mill, and you certainly don’t want to see how sausages are made. On the other hand, many companies that produce food and other products are happy to open their doors to the public. Large corporations see this as marketing, while more artisanal operations are often all too happy to show off their craft: either way, these tours tend to be cheap.
Vineyards and breweries are certainly good choices, as is anything to do with chocolate. Some fruit and vegetable farms welcome visitors, too: spending time together in the fresh air never hurts, it’s often interesting to learn where your food comes from and you may even be allowed to pick it yourself.
Get Sweaty at a Pop-Up Disco
Clubbing is ridiculously expensive, not to mention not really that pleasant: with long lines, people trying to show off and the wrong kind of music played too loudly. You have some pretty interesting options when you stop following the crowds, though: one-time themed events held either in an existing bar or a location like an empty warehouse – even outdoors!
It’s impossible to predict when and where events like these are going to happen, but by keeping an ear to the ground and booking in advance, you can learn about cheap date nights that are bound to please.
Try a Bucket List Swap
A great way to ask someone on a date is to start with “I’ve always wanted to…”. This shows that something is important to you, maybe even important enough to wait for the right person to join you, and that you’ve chosen them specifically.
If you’ve always wanted to go bowling or rock climbing, but never found the time or the nerve, this could be a great opportunity. The catch is this: if they go with you, your partner has to come up with something they’ve been dying to try, thus almost guaranteeing a second date doing something meaningful with them.
Hanging Out: Starting to Grow on One Another
The first couple of dates’ main purpose is to weed out the stupid, the crazy, people with bad table manners and those who – while they might be great to have as a friend – just aren’t boyfriend or girlfriend material. You may have to kiss a lot of frogs along the way, but eventually you’re sure to find your prince or princess. By now, you have a spark that will hopefully be nurtured into a flame. Both of you have let your guard down a little: dates are less about putting your best foot forward and more about getting to know each other.
Ordinary conversation, of course, is an essential part of this. But you also want to see how they behave in situations that are a little out of the ordinary and discover new aspects of their personality – all while keeping things interesting. Let’s talk about some cheap date ideas that can help you do exactly that:
Visit an Art Gallery
Making friends with starving artists is not something most people set out to do. That scene just isn’t for everyone, and to each their own. Chances are, though, that you know someone who knows someone who paints a little; why not give them a call?
One major advantage of hanging with the arty crowd, or even being on its fringes, is that they always know which local exhibitions are generating (or hoping for) a word-of-mouth buzz, which aren’t worth going to and which you shouldn’t miss. Entry is often free or only a few dollars (and there’s usually free wine at exhibition openings, though these usually require an invitation). You don’t need to be any sort of culture vulture to enjoy an experience like this, just be open to new experiences and willing to learn.
Go Searching for Treasure in Thrift Stores
They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and thrift stores are living proof of that. Just spending a Saturday morning browsing through one of these, along with estate and garage sales, antique stores and flea markets, already makes for a cheap yet engaging date. You can also challenge each other to a kind of whimsical scavenger hunt: find something borrowed, something blue, another thing for me and something for you. Alternatively, you can compete to find the best gifts for each other without spending more than $20, or make up stories about each item’s history and former owners.
Selfishness is rarely an attractive quality, and it’s certainly not something you want in a romantic relationship. Now might be a good time to show your special someone that you’re a caring person (and perhaps find out if they are, too). Nursing homes, nature conservation groups and soup kitchens all need a helping hand.
Some of the tasks done by volunteers aren’t exactly fun in the traditional sense, but you’ll find that good company and the right attitude makes all the difference. Also, when you’re relaxing together afterwards, you’ll both know that you’ve made the world a slightly better place.
Cook for Them at Home
Hear me out: spending time and effort, rather than just money, on cooking dinner for your crush is sure to impress. This is equally true whether you’re a man or a woman. Everyone wants to be with someone who can take care of them, and serving a meal that doesn’t come out of styrofoam is definitely part of that.
Can’t boil water without triggering the smoke alarm? Never fear, there are some gorgeous recipes out there even an ape can figure out. Just remember that details matter: don’t try to be Gordon Ramsey, but do take a little time to make each plate look pretty. And, for goodness’ sake, use real napkins instead of a roll of paper towels.
Boxing for Couples
Be honest, you may love them most of the time, but the thought of knocking them senseless has definitely crossed your mind at least once. This is perfectly normal as long as the impulse isn’t acted on. Still, why not give in to that dark urge…a little bit?
Throwing punches at each other may seem insane, but nobody needs to get hurt and you’ll both probably have loads of fun while getting rid of some built-up tension (and logging some cardio to boot).
Invite Them on a Hike
This isn’t something you want to suggest for a first date – luring someone to the middle of nowhere gives off serious serial killer vibes. Once the person you have your eye on realizes that you’re not going to kill them and wear their skin as a hat, though, it may be time to see what kind of person they become when they’re tired, sweaty and out of snacks. Your relationship is certainly going to come under strain some day – it’s best to see if you can still work as a team when that happens.
Have an At-Home Cocktail Event
You may not be the world’s finest mixologist or have money for a cabinet full of top-shelf booze, but neither is a requirement for having a wonderful evening. For no more than the price of two cocktails each at a restaurant, you can assemble everything you need to make a whole range of fancy drinks and laugh the night away.
You can easily combine this with making pizzas with your favorite toppings together. Bonus points for dressing up like you’re attending a party at a foreign embassy, even if it’s just the two of you.
Pretend You’re Teenagers Again
Why not spend a night doing mini golf, game arcades, greasy hamburgers at a drive-in movie and finish by eating ice cream cones as you walk hand in hand? Rediscover your early romantic memories on a highschooler’s budget.
Rent a Classic Movie
Netflix has a lot of things going for it, but a complete selection isn’t one of those. Here’s a thought: you don’t have to restrict yourself to The Office and superhero movies when relaxing together. Video rental stores still exist, some of them specializing in obscure, critically acclaimed movies, or you can hunt a copy down yourself.
Watching a thought-provoking movie together often leads to interesting, meaningful conversations. You can even kick the culture factor up a notch by streaming a stage play at the same time it’s being performed
Rent a VR Headset for the Night
Assuming that you already have a fairly capable computer or smartphone, you can experience virtual reality in your living room for as little as $50 per day. The possibilities are endless: fight off zombies, explore a fantasy world or create digital artworks together. This may not be the very cheapest of cheap date night ideas, but the amount of sheer fun you’ll have makes it much more worthwhile than going out for overpriced tacos.
Building a Stronger Relationship
Sharing fun experiences doesn’t stop being important once you’ve gotten over the initial nervousness, or in fact after you’ve gotten married. Doing laundry together, talking about how bored you both are at work and arguing about what to watch on TV do not a relationship make.
After a while, you may start running out of inexpensive date night ideas that are fun enough to keep the spark alive. Don’t give up, though: there’s plenty of fun stuff you can do on any weekend without blowing your grocery budget.
Take a Train or Bus to…Anywhere at All
One thing you learn as a tourist is that all cities are really pretty much the same: there are roads between the buildings, cars riding on those roads, and people who are probably very similar to you driving those cars. You can find Italian restaurants in Seoul, German beer in Argentina and British-themed pubs in Baltimore.
Yet, somehow, travel remains exciting and fun. What you may not have considered is that this is almost as true when you visit a city a few dozen miles away, or even go exploring the other side of town. It’s easy to become bored in your familiar surroundings, but an impromptu excursion of even a few hours can open your eyes to the small wonders that are really always surrounding us. Becoming a tourist is all about your attitude and not your bank balance.
Don’t drive, however: one of the best parts of taking public transport with a loved one is that you can both relax and talk about whatever comes to mind. Also, look around for walking or bus tours that may show you local treasures you never knew existed, these are often free or really cheap.
Attend Open House Events
Visiting houses for sale is a great opportunity to share your expectations and hopes for the future you may be spending together. Afterwards, you can cuddle up, pretend you’re architects and design your dream home together. Imagination costs nothing, after all.
Plan a Massage Night
Hiring a masseuse for each of you will cost at least $100. Certainly, they’re good at giving backrubs, but you can get better too: just read a book or watch a few videos. Your partner is almost certain to let you practice whenever you want to and even take their turn kneading out your knotted muscles.
Of course, for this to qualify as a date night, it has to be a special event. Turn off the TV, set the phones to do-not-disturb, invest in some sensual aromatherapy oils and fluffy towels, and leave the cares of the world behind for the evening.
Rediscover Board Games
Scrabble and Monopoly are, let’s face it, as boring as plain toast. This doesn’t mean you can’t make Wednesday nights great again: COGZ, Cards Against Humanity and even Dungeons and Dragons for two are all fantastic ways to spend good times together.
You can also switch things up with games meant to help you get to know each other better: the newlywed game or “two truths and a lie” will both help you stay connected.
Create a Drive-In Theater in Your Backyard and Have a Picnic
This is a great idea for couples with kids: find a conveniently white wall or hang up a large sheet, get a digital projector from somewhere, spread out a few picnic blankets and watch a movie under the stars.
The difficult part, of course, is finding a projector for rent at a reasonable price. Try asking at schools, libraries or your workplace if you don’t have a friend who’s willing to let you borrow one.
Happy Hour Is Here Again
Hanging out in bars isn’t normally cheap or even that interesting, but don’t forget that they often host contests and events that can be a blast for couples. Karaoke, trivia quizzes, poker tournaments: you don’t have to be an expert to have a great time. Getting hammered enough to have to take an Uber home is, of course, optional – it may be a good idea to scout out bars that serve cheap appetizers.
Enjoy a Staycation Weekend
A trip into the unknown can easily leave you feeling more stressed than before; even anxious to go back to work. Many couples are choosing to vacation at home instead, where the snacks are cheap and you never have to worry about your luggage getting lost.
For this to work, make sure neither of you have any chores to do, make a rule not to talk about anything that might bring you down and tell your friends (and boss!) that you’ll be unavailable. Dedicate an entire weekend to only your favorite foods and activities, and only those you can enjoy together. Build a pillow fort in your living room, watch every one of the Lord of the Rings movies back to back, hold picnics in the back yard – the rest of the world can get along without you for two days. If you’re friends with some other couple, you can even switch houses for a few days just to experience some new surroundings.
Organize an Autobiographical Tour
You probably know where your spouse went to school, what kind of stuff they used to enjoy but no longer do, and something about their family. But what about those memories that really mean something to them, and how they feel about certain places and events?
One or both of you may no longer be living in your hometown. If you do, though, why not prepare an itinerary of all the places that played a role in your childhoods and early adult life? Stop for a few minutes at each and talk about how you ended up being the people you are.
Teach Each Other Your Hobbies
Whether the thing you enjoy most in the world is transcendental meditation or yelling at baseball umpires, show your significant other something about that world. Also do your best to pay attention when they return the favor next weekend – you may end up finding that you like doing these things together, or at least talking about them.
Have a Photoshoot
You may never win a National Geographic contest, but learning how to take better photographs is certainly within your grasp (and may even become a profitable hobby). What better way to practice than on the person you love?
Everyone likes to feel glamorous and adored. Why not make a date out of this: find a scenic location, pack a few outfits and a picnic lunch and pretend you’re superstars for the day.
Stay Creative, Stay in Love
Really, if you’re running out of cheap date night ideas, you’re simply not trying. Skim the paper looking for free events near you, phone your local library to find out if they have a lecture or poetry reading scheduled, search for a class you’re both interested in or just do something wacky if life is starting to feel monotonous. Compete at a sport you both suck at, consult a psychic and make fun of them afterwards, or cook one dinner a week together. You can even make this a competition: take turns planning and executing dates for under $20.