Popular culture tells us that nothing says “I love you” like a dozen roses followed by dinner at a fancy French restaurant and a bottle of champagne. But when you’re trying to save money or pay down debt, caviar and cocktails might be the furthest thing from you and your significant other’s minds.
When my husband and I were engaged, a friend offered a piece of advice for marital bliss: Make a weekly date night. We’ve tried to adhere to this advice, but now that we’re really serious about living debt-free, we’re trying to cut the price tag.
For those trying to cut back their spending or live a life of frugality, there are plenty of ways to have fun and romance on the cheap. Here are a few to kickstart everyone’s creativity:
1.) Home-style dinner and a movie: Restaurant dining takes it toll on our wallets, so why not make a romantic candlelit dinner at home? You can try a meal you’ve always wanted to try preparing or one with special significance to the two of you (an Italian dish if you spent your honeymoon in Italy, or replicating one you shared on your first date or anniversary), or fix your sweetie’s favorite. (My guy’s a sucker for pizza followed by ice cream sundaes.) Thanks to Netflix and Crackle, hundreds of movies are at available to us within a few clicks. You won’t be able to catch the latest movie that everyone’s raving about, but you can settle for an old favorite, a romantic classic, or simply a film you’ve both always wanted to see but haven’t yet. Add in a bowl of popcorn and your favorite movies candy, and you’re set for a night of snuggling and movie watching.
2.) Picnic in the park: Ants aside, an evening at the park can be just as relaxing and romantic as dinner at the fanciest restaurant in town. If you don’t have time prepare all the fixings, stop by a grocery store or deli to pick up a few favorites and head out to the park to dine and watch the sunset.
3.) Free events: Many cities, especially in the summer, offer a number of free or low-price events for residents. This can be anything from free open-air concerts to low-cost art exhibits or movies in the park—allowing you a great experience without having to bust open your piggybank.
4.) Reconnect over a hobby: Do you and your partner have a shared interest that you really connect over? It could be anything as serious as photography or as silly as laser tag, but hobbies provide us a way to reconnect. If you both love tennis, many community centers offer up their courts for free or at a low cost to residents, for example. The sky is the limit, so use your imagination.
5.) Take a class: Many community centers offer free or low-cost classes on everything from yoga to ballroom dancing to cooking. Taking a class together expands your horizons and gives you a chance to learn something new about yourselves and each other. Plus, think of all the fun you’ll have showing off your newfound dance moves at a wedding or trying out those tasty dishes in your own kitchen.
6.) Take a hike: Or a brisk walk—whichever works for you. Many state and national parks offer well-maintained hiking trails for all skill levels, so put on your sneakers, grab a backpack and your water bottles, and start walking.
7.) Stargazing: Why cough up all that dough for an evening of glitz and glamour when nature has its own nightly spectacle waiting for us? I grew up in the country, and I spent plenty of nights staring up at the sky, trying to identify as many constellations as possible. On a clear, star-filled night, why not grab a star chart, or simply a blanket, and spend a couple hours lying under the stars together?
8.) Complimentary wine or food tastings: Availability varies based on location, but many wine and gourmet food shops offer free tastings. It’s a good way for the businesses to draw in customers, and good for anyone trying to live on the cheap—as long as we don’t leave with armloads full of gourmet goodies. (Please note that I don’t advocate wandering into local merchants’ shops on a regular basis and devouring their free goodies without ever purchasing anything.)
What about you? How do you and your significant other find ways to go on dates together without going broke?