When you’re dating someone, it may be tempting to pull out all the stops. After all, dating in today’s world requires fancy dinners, bottles of expensive wine, flowers, and candy – right?
If you believe everything you see on TV, that may be the case – but if you’re a smart consumer with an eye for experiences that you and your significant other can really bond over, you can still be romantic when you’re strapped for cash or are trying to save money. Even better, affordable and fun dates can help you save up enough cash to purchase an engagement ring. If you’re ready to reduce costs while not sacrificing any romance, take a look at these ways to show a woman you love her.
Affordable Date Ideas
1. Go on a Wine Tasting Tour
You don’t have to live near Napa Valley to visit a romantic winery. There are countless small vineyards all over the country – and probably one or two near you. Do some research on the Internet to find a winery that offers regular tastings and is relatively close to home.
Since wine tastings are free, your only expenses for the day should be gas and food. If you pack a lunch and have a picnic on the winery grounds, you can save even more cash. Call ahead and ask if there is a place to sit and snack. If so, bring a blanket, some cheese, and admire the vines and hills while you dine.
Visiting the winery doesn’t have to be your only goal for the day – try to take a scenic route and make some stops along the way. Many wineries are in a relatively rural area, so try to take a route that passes farm stands, rural markets, or antique shops. You may be able to make an entire day of it, stopping by quaint coffee shops, buying fresh strawberries, and chatting with locals.
If your budget allows, purchase a bottle of wine you both like at the end of the day.
2. Visit a Museum During an Admission-Free Day
Many museums across the country have a “free day” (or night) when admission fees are waived for all. Depending how much museum admission normally costs, this can represent an enormous savings.
For example, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City charges $25 per person, so before you’ve even purchased a drink or meal, you’ve already spent $50 on your date. However, on Friday nights from 4pm until 8pm, the MoMA is free for all. Likewise, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles is ordinarily a $12 per person admission, but on Thursdays from 5pm until 8pm, it’s admission-free. Some museums, such as the Leanin Tree Museum and Sculpture Garden of Western Art in Boulder, Colorado and the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama, are always free to visit.
Since your free day or night at the museum is a date that costs essentially nothing, it’s easy to take it to the next level without breaking the bank. Many museums have a bar, a food court, or a small café where you can grab food or a drink, and toast to getting a good bargain on arts and culture.
3. Try a Matinee and Happy Hour
This is simply a more affordable twist on the quintessential “dinner and a movie.” During any weekend (or workday when you’re able to leave the office early), you can head to your local theater for a matinee. Although prices and times for matinees vary across the country, many theaters consider matinee times to be from 11am until 4pm, and prices average from $6 to $11. Since tickets to a regular prime-time movie can cost $15, a matinee represents a substantial savings. Check out your local movie theater for exact times and pricing.
Skip the pricey concessions, and after the credits roll, head over to your favorite bar for happy hour, where drinks and appetizers are frequently either half-price or buy-one-get-one-free. If you don’t immediately know of any bars that offer these deals, just do a quick Internet search. You may even find some bars with great discounts within walking distance of the movie theater. Note that it’s not only sports bars that offer happy hour discounts – bars that are a “cut above” (for example, those attached to a nice restaurant or hotel) also offer happy hour specials.
This type of date may be ideal if you or your partner have children. Hiring an after-school babysitter for a few hours is cheaper than reserving one for an entire Saturday night, and since you’re going to return home before it gets too late, the children’s routine won’t be thrown off.
4. Try an Outdoor Experience
Honestly, how long has it been since you got outside and spent a day with no TV, no Starbucks, and no smartphone? Maybe you don’t have to leave your phone at home – you might need directions or want to take pictures – but why not try to leave everything else behind and embrace a little nature?
If you’ve got a pair of binoculars and some walking shoes, you can instantly become a birdwatcher. Any park or area with a decent amount of wooded greenery is perfect for birdwatching. If you normally just take a quick stroll through the park, you may have only noticed pigeons – but if you take time to stand or sit quietly and wait, you may be amazed at the different types of birds you find. You can even pick up a bag of birdseed at your local pet store and see which kinds of feathered friends you can attract.
If you live near a body of water, give canoeing, tubing, or a day at the beach a try. Generally, canoe rentals range in price from $18 to $30. While there may be an additional fee for an extra person or life vests, the full rental experience should cost no more than $40. If you live near a brook, river, or stream that’s not too deep or treacherous, you may be able to rent a tube and go for a relaxing float down the river. Not only is it relaxing, it’s one of the cheapest outdoor activities around. Tube rentals often cost between $8 and $12. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, you may wish to try stand up paddle boarding.
Depending on where you live, you may also be interested in hiking, biking, or stargazing if you’d like to get outside. In all cases, your cost investment should be minimal if you’re visiting public lands. You may have to pay a small amount for parking or admission, but beyond that your personal budget shouldn’t take a hit.
Remember to take a picnic lunch wherever you go. Not only does a packed lunch save you money, it also enables you to enjoy a full day of the great outdoors without having to get back in your car and find (likely unhealthy) fast food on the road.
5. Spend the Day Walking Around
When was the last time you acted as a tourist in your own town, or in a nearby town? You’ve probably driven past a new boutique, bookstore, or coffee shop and thought to yourself, “That’s cute – I’d like to check that out.” Why not plan a “walking tour” as a fun and affordable date with your partner? Not only do you get exercise – you can also have a chance to explore the neighborhood, interact with locals, and hopefully find a few hidden gems along the way.
Start by identifying your town’s most pedestrian-friendly shopping or cultural district, where you can park and find several establishments within walking distance. If you aren’t sure where to begin, do a quick Internet search for coffee shops, bookstores, a brewery, an art gallery, or a restaurant. See what’s nearby, and plan to park in a central location. Spend the day popping in and out of interesting retailers, sipping coffee on a bench, people-watching, snacking, and soaking up the local culture.
If you and your partner are up for a double-date, this is the perfect kind of activity to bring your friends along. You can spend the day chatting and catching up – and they may even know of some hidden gems you’ve forgotten or overlooked.
The day should be very affordable – just resist the temptation to splurge. Ideally, your only costs should be for gas, parking, coffee, and lunch at an affordable deli or diner. If the area has a park, then you can pack your lunch and have a picnic to save even more.
While you’re walking around, keep an eye out for community message boards advertising free art classes, concerts, or events that may be happening at a later date. Coffee shops and community centers often have flyers posted, and you never know what you may find.
6. Volunteer Together
There are few things that bring people together quite as much as a day spent volunteering. Not only can volunteering offer a wonderful chance to find out about your significant other’s passions (does she like animals? Does she enjoy building things? What about feeding the homeless?), it also presents an opportunity for you to work together toward a common goal. Unless you and your partner work together professionally or consider cooking dinner together to be “work,” then volunteering together might open new windows into your relationship and into one another’s personalities.
Note that many volunteer experiences can’t be done at the spur of the moment, and may require criminal background checks. For example, if you wanted to volunteer at an elementary school or retirement home, background checks would almost certainly be essential; furthermore, you would likely be assigned a designated time for your work. Even volunteering at an animal shelter may require a background check to ensure you’ve never been charged with cruelty to animals.
If “traditional” volunteer experiences don’t speak to you, then look at needs within your own families. For example, if your girlfriend’s sister needs a babysitter once a month, offer to take care of the kids while she enjoys a day at the spa. Not only are you donating your time to someone who needs it, you’re also bonding with family.
If you’re interested in a more experiential volunteer experience, then look around for festivals that interest you. Many music, wine, or community festivals admit volunteers for free if they agree to work the festival for a few hours. Once your shift is over, you can enjoy the festival with the paying customers.
7. Go Bowling, Rollerskating, or to an Arcade
How long has it been since you went bowling, rollerskating, or to an arcade? These activities are cheaper than you think, and probably more fun than you remember. Granted, you may have to rent shoes, skates, or Rollerblades, but that should cost no more than $5 per person. If you have your own skates or blades lying around, you won’t even have to pay for that.
Rollerskating is excellent exercise, and at around $8 admission to a rink per person, it really can’t be beat from a cost perspective. You and your significant other can bond during the “couples skate” slow song, and rock out during the up-tempo tunes. Yes, you may be surrounded by preteens, but sometimes it’s fun to be the old folks in the room.
An arcade may be found in your local mall, so you and your partner could easily spend a night playing a few classic video games, doing a little window shopping, and dining at the food court. If you haven’t been on a date like that since middle school, embrace it. It may bring back fond memories for both of you, and you can discuss long-forgotten teenage memories over a milkshake and fries. Although this date should be pretty cheap, watch your costs. Before you go, change $15 into quarters to make sure you don’t overspend.
Lastly, a trip to the local bowling alley is another way to save money and spark fond childhood memories. If you want to spend time chatting with your partner, look to go on a quiet off-night, as weekends can get crazy with large parties. Bowling is usually relatively inexpensive, often around $5 per game or $25 per hour to rent a lane.
8. Stay In
It’s one thing to say, “We’re going to stay in and have a board game night,” but it’s entirely another to actually turn off the TV and do it. If you’re like many couples, you probably have regular movie nights – but how often do you find yourself laughing so hard from your partner’s answer to a trivia question that you can’t stop? There are few things more revealing in a relationship than seeing whether your partner will make up words to try to win at Scrabble.
Before the games begin, prepare a meal together. Depending on your skill level, this can be anything from baking a frozen pizza, to creating a gourmet dish. If you want to cook while you’re playing games, try making something in a Crock-Pot slow cooker that can sit a while, or use the stove top to prepare stew, chili, or spaghetti sauce. All of these items require a good deal of prep time; however, they can be left on the burner in warming mode until you’re ready to eat.
If you or your partner have children, a game night is also a great date option, as long as the games are skewed to the kids’ level (think Candy Land or Operation, rather than Trivial Pursuit). You may even wish to play educational board games for money management.
A game night is definitely more affordable than a dinner out – but the whole point of the evening is that you can get to know your partner (or the whole family) a bit better. If you already own games, the only costs are groceries (though if you need to purchase games, expect to spend between $10 and $50 per game).
Even once you’ve saved for an engagement ring, popped the question, and planned a wedding, keep saving. If you and your partner plan to purchase a home or have children, you need to stick to a budget and make certain you’re smart about day-to-day purchases. While right now it’s wonderful to have the ring as one of your savings goals, don’t lose sight of the bigger picture, which is a happy, financially secure life together. When you commit to your partner, make sure you’ve also committed to spending and saving smart in your “happily ever after.”
What affordable date activities do you enjoy? How did you save up for an engagement ring while still keeping romance alive?