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Cheap Date Ideas

Updated on July 28, 2011

Art Gallery Research:

Recession Romance

The recession has hit and most people are feeling it. Not to fret, there are several ways to make your date exciting, romantic and inexpensive (or free!). If you are going on a first date, or taking out your partner on your 'weekly date day', or even trying to revive the spark, but are finding yourself on a budget or in a stale routine, These handy money-saving romantic ideas are for you! :

1. Take your ipod and your date to Starbucks: Oh, Starbucks...Clean, friendly, free bathrooms and you can stay as long as you like. Grab a cup of coffee/tea, sit back with a splitter and two pairs of headphones (plugged into the same ipod!), sit back and listen to your favorite new music or a podcast together. There's a lot of free podcasts that you can download on itunes. I've been listening to "This American Life" or late night shows that otherwise I would have been in bed and missed. For first dates, comedy or storytelling is the best. Watch out for anything political early on, unless you know for sure you want a good debate or your date is already on the same page with you. A note about music - A sampling of a bunch of different tunes may be the best. It wouldn't be fun if you were heavily into hip hop and your date was into classical.

2. Free lectures or performances at Universities: Look up the university nearest you, and check out what they have going on at the museum. Oftentimes, Universities - especially those with a good budget, will invest in bringing either talented performers or interesting lecturers to their museums. This can be a very impressive first date. You get to dress up and engage in something smart that you can talk about after watching.

3. See an Author Read at a Bookstore: Obviously the big one, Barnes and Noble, has authors scheduled often to come in and read an excerpt from their newly published book that they're promoting, but the smaller book stores also get very interesting writers in from time to time. Inquire with a salesperson at any bookstore (usually selling new books), for a schedule of authors coming to read. And, check out what the book is about as well. You may not want to take your date to something controversial (Politics or Gender Issues), or perhaps you do? And, at the end of the reading, if you both loved it, buy the book, support the author's work and have them sign it - and you'll have a great memento of your date!

4. Art Galleries and Gallery openings - Always free. Gallery openings usually take place the third Thursday of the month in the evening. And, usually openings serve wine and some snacks. Check and see if your town/city has a "gallery guide" and make sure of the date for their next opening before you go. Most larger towns have a 'gallery crawl', where several galleries in the same vicinity will have openings on the same night and you can just walk from one to another. Gallery openings are a great place to socialize and are fun to dress up for (though you aren't required to). Also, during the day is a great time to actually view the art! Many wonderful conversations begin with the phrase, "What do you think the artist meant by that?". Also, if you haven't been to a gallery before and know nothing about art, it helps to check out a few websites before you go to learn a little bit about art terms. A note about drinks and snacks at the gallery - Don't wedge yourself as a permanent fixture at the drink table, or you'll be considered a bottom feeder - not attractive!

5. Free museum nights - An elegant way to spend an evening or all day! Check out your local museums to see if they sponsor a free evening. New Yorkers are very lucky, the Museum of Modern Art, has a free night (Tickets are usually $20.) on Fridays from 4-8pm. Dress up or dress down, they have beautiful art, clean bathrooms and air conditioning (heat in the winter), an easy place to hang out on a free date for 4 hours! And, something most people don't know about the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, although the ticket prices are listed as $20 a ticket, you can offer a donation at the counter, as many locals and artists on a budget do. You choose your price from a quarter to a couple of bucks. And, the people at the ticket counter never give a dirty or judgmental look. They're happy that people are coming to view the art!

Gift Ideas - Journals and Sketchbooks

Gifts - Some Cookbook ideas

5. The Hotel Lobby - One of my favorite places to hang out for a quiet talk. Most nicer hotels have a little lobby area with comfy furniture set up to be lounged in by guests. There is also usually an area to hang out in the lobby where you can get a coffee or cocktail, if you want. If you're looking for a serene and beautiful atmosphere to hang out and talk with your date, this may be the perfect temporary getaway. In the really large hotels, you may be able to get away with bringing a deck of cards and playing a few rounds of gin. (Be careful of loud poker matches - it may get you kicked out!)

6. Window Shopping - This works best during the evening. Maybe starting off with a dessert or a hot apple cider somewhere, venture out into the downtown area or shopping district to see what the window dressers are up to. If its cold, plan on bundling up. This is a perfect time for hand holding! And, finding out what each other likes and dislikes in the world of shopping.

7. A Cafe at Off Hours - Its not free, yet can be cheap. This dating trick looks amazingly decadent! A whole cafe/restaurant that is all yours. Off-times are considered between the lunch and dinner crowds (about 3pm-5:30pm). Make sure ahead of time that the cafe is actually open and doesn't close between lunch and dinner. This is also usually a time when cafes and restaurants offer 'happy hour' on drinks.

8. Picnic in the Park - Bring a frisbee and/or go to a local wine warehouse and get a bottle of their cheapest and best wine (You can get a fantastic wine for about $10-$15, and the staff is usually very friendly and eager to share their vast knowledge with you.) Don't forget to bring the corkscrew. Or, alcohol free, bring a thermos of tea or some water bottles. Make up some sandwiches or finger food, remember the sunscreen and a blanket and find a perfect patch of grass to people watch.

9. Yoga Classes - This is a bit more personal of a date. If neither you or your date have ever been to a yoga class, look them up online in your area. Most classes are about $15. Sometimes, they're free or on donation. Wear loose fitting clothing and plan on going barefoot - so clean your feet and trim your nails! This can be an amazing and strange way to bond on a first date, or encouragement to stay healthy once you're in a relationship. Since Yoga is non-competitive, there's no worry that you'll get laughed at during or after the class. Only do what you can do comfortably. (No showing off, please! Or, you may have the added expense of a medical bill.) However, if your date is already a professional pretzel, you may want to reserve this for a bit later on in the relationship and perhaps ask if they'll introduce you to one of their classes. (Its always romantic to take an interest in what your partner enjoys!)

10. Cooking class - This is very popular among travelers outside of the US. Most cities have restaurants that offer a cooking class for a day. Type it in your search engine and see what comes up. Obviously, hotels that offer day long cooking classes are going to be much more expensive than a local restaurant that does the same. There are also places that specialize in nutritional cooking classes, or raw food classes. Though you may not make the recipes after you leave, the experience of cooking and learning with someone you enjoy being around makes it all worthwhile.

11. Bicycle Trails/ Hiking Trails - Trails will never go out of fashion or become boring. Riding or walking through nature will always be romantic and perfect. If you have a park nearby, then you must also have a nature trail of some sort. Get a couple of bottles of water, some trail mix or nuts and fruit and head out. If you're going to a "look out" point for sunset, make sure you can easily get back to a main road before it gets too dark. Otherwise, it could be a recipe for disaster!

12. Farmer's Market - Most towns have a farmer's market of some kind. This is were local farmers get together, usually one day a week and sell their produce. Typically, this produce is much fresher and healthier than what you can get at any grocery store. Oftentimes, they'll sell apple cider or baked goods they made from their produce. Its a really beautiful way to spend a portion of the afternoon. If you plan on cooking dinner for your date, why not bring them along to pick out the ingredients? This is also a good way to find out what they like to eat and what they don't like to eat. Also, make sure to taste test any "unusual" samples they have out - you may be surprised how much you like that strange looking fruit!

13.Singer/Songwriter night - Watch live musicians sing original music. Most often singer/songwriter nights are one or two people on acoustic guitars, (not usually a band, though you may want to check it out before going). Most venues that hold these are bars, though they usually offer non-alcoholic beverages too (cheaper and healthier). Some bars will ask for a two drink minimum, while others are happy you came to support live/local music. Keep in mind, its rude to talk while a performer is singing with their guitar, since usually its about the lyrics. So, don't plan on being chatty with your date unless it's in between songs or after the set.

14. Moveable Feast - This is best enjoyed in a town that has several small food stands or ethnic shops. I've enjoyed this type of date in NYC, parts of Europe and in Thailand. It must be a place where basic food shops/stalls are within easy walking distance of one another. Start at one for appetizers (either sit and eat, or eat and walk toward the next place). Then, go to another shop for either another appetizer or an item that would be considered a main course. Continue until you've had enough and have to end it on a dessert of some kind. This moveable feast can take up to hours and is incredible fun if you're in an area that also has strange shops to step in and out of. You never know what you'll find. I find that this type of feast works well with Middle Eastern food/ Indian food or Thai/Chinese food, where they have small portions and you're supposed to try several flavors in one meal. Not recommended for Italian! (which is best eaten at one sitting at a table.) This is also highly recommended for double dates.

Gifts to give on a first date:
Forget the old flowers and candy routine. There are so many more interesting things to give. Though flowers are nice, it won't make much of an impact on a budget. And, candy, isn't all that healthy and you never know if your date prefers white chocolate or is diabetic. So, here's a list of some inexpensive ideas that have a great impact:

  • Favorite book (used), - Think of your favorite book from your collection. Hopefully, it isn't rare or something you just can't give away. This is a good way to introduce your interests to your date. Also, feel free to inscribe a quote on the inside of it. It makes it all the more romantic.
  • Sketchbook/Journal - If the first date is a possible first day into a long journey, why not give your date something to document it with. And, if it doesn't work out well, they have something to write in about how awful it was and draw a few pictures of you while they're at it. Journals and Sketchbooks always go to good use, and one can never have enough of them!
  • Plant - Find something SMALL and bring it already in a pot. Make sure it's easy to grow and will work well in low light and is low maintainence. (You don't want to give your friend work on the first date, nor make them feel guilty for killing a plant that was impossible to take care of out of a tropical country). Potted herbs are also really good (Rosemary), because they smell good and have alternative uses to just looking pretty.
  • Perrenial Bulbs with a Glass Bulb Vase - No planting necessary! An example of a Perrenial Bulb is a Paperwhite, Narcissus or Hyacinth. They are seasonal flowers (end of winter, start of spring is an easy time to find the bulbs at hardware or specialty gardening shops). Just fill the small glass vase with water, pop the bulb in and put it in a window and watch it grow. It should bloom around the same time as your romance!
  • Cookbook - This should not be a demand that you want your date to cook for you, but rather a suggestion of an activity that you and your date can do together. Again, writing a quote in front of the book is always a wise decision.
  • Scarf, Hat or Gloves - If you're going out on a cold night to either do window shopping or a moveable feast, help keep your date cozy by bringing along an affordable warm accessory. If It goes along with the theme of the date - all the better!

Of course, the suggestions above can be mixed and matched. Even though some of the ideas I have listed above are free, I imagine that there will be some cost involved if you want to get coffee's or snacks, or give a gift (not imperative). I have to add, that if you are in a situation, where you have no finances whatsoever, it would be best to find a way to work a bit and save some money before going out on a date and starting a relationship. It's always a healthy sign when both parties in a relationship can take care of themselves if need be, so no one becomes dependant on the other. Good luck and good dating!


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    • Laura Spector profile image

      Laura Spector 8 years ago from Chiang Mai, Thailand

      Dink96 - I'm so glad you liked it. I hope you guys have an amazing time figuring out which one is best. I'm still a major fan of the ipod date. I was just on an overnight train and listened/watched 3 hours of "The Best of YouTube", very fun and lots to talk about after!

    • Dink96 profile image

      Dink96 8 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

      Great ideas here. I like all of them. My husband and I still enjoy going on "dates," so these will definitely be put to good use. Thanks.

    • Laura Spector profile image

      Laura Spector 8 years ago from Chiang Mai, Thailand

      Christianesk - sounds like loads of fun. Maybe I'll have to include it for part 2..."Creative Dates". Thanks for the idea!

    • christianesk profile image

      christianesk 8 years ago from The Global Hamlet

      Interesting post, Laura. Here's another cheapie, but a good one for your collection: guy plus girl, plus 2 tripods, plus two digital camera kits, plus bottle red (or white - if needs must) wine, plus large baguette, plus cheese, plus tomatoes and 6 hours to kill. Walk around the location of your choice; then shoot it silly for 2 hrs - limit yourself to no more than 2 hrs. Then spend an hour editing through the bumph. Then break out the simple meal (if you haven't already eaten it, and for the last 3 hrs, quaff away as you compare imagery. Replace lens caps so as not to get greasy cheese on your lenses, and, especially after the first glass, be especially careful no to spilll wine on your kit!

    • Laura Spector profile image

      Laura Spector 8 years ago from Chiang Mai, Thailand

      Thank you! It is ashame to wait until the recession hits, but I have to admit, it was fun to come up with these. I hope people find them useful!

    • Miss Match profile image

      Miss Match 8 years ago

      Great tips!Laura Spector, is'nt it a pity that we need a recession to start enjoying the simple things in life again:)