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22 Unique First Date Ideas – What to Do on a Budget

By Heather Levin

guy gives girl flowerWhen I think back to the first date I had with my husband, what surprises me is how ordinary it was. We simply met at his house, and talked from our hearts for an entire rainy afternoon.

If, that is, you could call that a date at all. Some might contest the term. However, some version of that conversation has been going on for 13 years now, and that first date ended up leading to the rest of my life. Who knew?

What Makes a Great First Date?

So what makes a great first date? Is it what you do that counts? Who you’re with? What you talk about? How you act?

I think it’s a combination of all those things. You might not be able to wine and dine the date of your dreams. But if you act from your heart and leave yourself open to adventure, a picnic with budget wine, crusty bread, and olives might enable you to make the kind of connection you simply can’t sitting in a fancy restaurant or a high-priced musical show.

That being said, however, I do think it’s important to try to come up with fun and creative ideas for your first date. Being limited by your budget often forces you to come up with ideas that are original and, even better, a lot of fun. And approaching your first date with a desire to make a real connection with the other person is, I think, just as important as what you decide to do.

So, let’s focus on the to-do side of the date. If you need some creative and, most importantly, cheap ideas for your next first date, then hopefully you can find some inspiration in these ideas.

22 Great First Date Ideas on a Budget

1. Visit an Art Museum
If you’re into art, then you can save big if you buy a membership to your art museum. For instance, we pay $60 per year to be members of the Detroit Institute of Art. But we get in free, and get tickets to all the special events. This can pay for itself in no time. Even if you don’t buy a membership, art museum entry fees are usually cheap anyway.

2. Go See a Community Theater Play
Community theater is incredibly fun, and incredibly cheap. Follow this one up with dinner from a local diner and you’ve got a budget date in the making.

3. Do Art Together
Do you have clay? Crayons? Paint? If you have art supplies, why not hang out at your house or apartment and make some art together? Buy some cheap take out, put on some great music, and make a night of it.

4. Watch Cartoons Together
If you’re a child of the ’70s or ’80s, then you remember Looney Tunes. In fact, I have 6 DVDs full of those old Looney Tunes cartoons. They just don’t make them like that anymore.

If you love cartoons, why not hang out at your house, in your pajamas, and watch cartoons together? Don’t forget, plenty of those old Looney Tunes cartoons are up on YouTube.

5. Walk Dogs at the Humane Society
If it’s nice out, why not volunteer to take shelter dogs out for a walk? They never get personal walks like that, and doling out love to a needy dog is a wonderful activity to do with someone.

6. Go Inner Tubing
Live near a river? Is it summer? Go inner tubing!

7. Make Homemade Pizza
Instead of going out, why not make your own pizza at home? Yes, this includes making the dough as well. You might be surprised at how much better homemade pizza is!

8. Wii Olympics
Tag teaming on the Nintendo Wii is a fun and free way to spend time together. This works especially well for double dates.

9. Go Thrifting
Each of you has a budget of $5 or $10 to spend at a thrift store. The challenge? See who can find the most outrageous or hideous outfit. The crux? You have to change into the outfit and take pictures.

10. Go to Chuck-E-Cheese
My husband’s last birthday party was at Chuck E. Cheese’s. One word: skeeball. Chuck E. Cheese’s can be a super fun place to go on a first date, if the other person doesn’t mind the lights and noise.

11. Go Rollerskating
You can often save big on rollerskating if you go during the week. Also, do a search for coupons; many rinks offer discounts in the local paper or parent’s magazine. Of course you can always skate outside for free in the park as well.

roller blading couple

12. Go to a Carnival
Carnivals can get pricey. But in terms of people watching and down-home fun, they can’t be beat. You can also forgo the rides in favor of elephant ears, and a blanket for people watching.

13. Go Stargazing
If it’s a clear, warm night, then why not go stargazing? Bring a blanket, bug spray, and a telescope if you have one.

14. Face Paint
Water-based face paint is cheap, especially if you have any left over from Halloween. Paint each other’s faces, and then walk around showing off your creations.

15. Go to a Comedy Club
Comedy clubs can either be a blast, or a dud. Either way, it’s sure to be an experience! You could also go see an improv group, which can be incredibly fun as well.

16. Go Rock Climbing
If you live near a climbing gym, this can be a super fun activity to do on a first date. Rates are cheaper during the week, and if your date is afraid of heights, just stick to bouldering!

17. Play Games in the Park
Pack a picnic, your UNO cards, and a blanket. You’re set for the afternoon.

18. Play at Target
I love doing this. Head over to Target (or any other retail store) later in the evening. Play with the toys, peruse the books, and play hide-and-seek.

19. Walk Dogs
Do you have a dog? Does your date have a dog? Go walk your dogs! Finish up at a local coffee shop for a treat.

20. Go on a Movie Marathon
Pick a theme on Netflix: horror movies, adventure movies, movies starring Sean Connery, whatever. Make a huge tub of popcorn and start your movie marathon.

21. Play Night Games
I can remember all too well playing ghosts in the graveyard and capture the flag at night when I was a kid. And yes, I’m only 32 so it’s not like these games are ancient history. They’re super fun! If you have a group of fun-loving friends, and your date seems to be adventurous as well, night games are a blast. End of story.

22. Play Paper Dolls
Before you roll your eyes at this one, let me say this: playing paper dolls with my friends is one of our favorite things to do. And this group includes an equal mix of guys and gals. The focus is on high-fashion, couture paper dolls, not kiddy paper dolls. Many of our dolls look more like works of art.

What do we do? We’ve downloaded and cut out templates of paper dolls. Then, we cut out images from fashion magazines and use fabric scraps and other materials we’ve collected to “dress up” our paper dolls. By the end, the dolls look more like outrageous runway models.

One of my friends brought her first date to one of our paper doll making sessions just a few weeks ago. This guy was your typical “guys guy” – he worked on motorcycles and had tattoos. And yet he fell into making his paper doll with excitement and a sense of fun. And you know what? His paper doll was the coolest one of the night, and he said he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had so much fun. So don’t underestimate this idea; it can be really fun, even for a first date.

Final Word

Don’t some of these ideas sound super fun? Best of all, they don’t cost very much. If you’re still looking to go out to eat or find a cheap unique experience for your date, be sure to check out group buying daily deals sites like Groupon or Living Social. There are also plenty of places to search for retaurant discounts and coupons in your area.

What are some of your favorite ideas for a first date?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a freelance writer based in Detroit, MI. She's passionately committed to living green, saving money, and helping others do the same in their life.

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  • http://www.investitwisely.com Kevin@InvestItWisely

    Call me cheap, but our first “date” was a $1 movie. In my defense, it was her idea :P

    • David Bakke

      Hey man,

      You can’t be called cheap if it was her idea.

      Sounds like she is a “keeper”.

      Thanks for chiming in…

  • http://www.youngandthrifty.ca youngandthrifty

    Great tips =) Yeah, the major thing is to make sure you don’t come off as “cheap”, but I think going to dinner (especially fancy dinners) for the first date can be really awkward.

    Going out for coffee or tea is also good too. You can leave easily and can stay as long as you want (if you are hitting it off).

    • David Bakke

      Yep, not coming off cheap is the major thing, but the second major thing is to not spend a bunch of money unnecessarily.

      I love your ideas on coffee and tea.

      That really minimizes the expense, and definitely provides for a quick getaway if you need it.

      And hey, if you hit it off, you can always “wow” her on date #2.

      Thanks for commenting!

  • http://stretchyourdollarwaukesha.wordpress.com/ Skirnir Hamilton

    I have to say that a nature walk for the first date seems a tad unsafe to me. I will not go somewhere secluded with an unknown male and I don’t think that is a good first date. I like the other ideas.

    • David Bakke

      Skirnir

      You bring up a very valid point.

      I guess I wouldn’t want my first date to fell like that either, so if I were to suggest a walk in the park, I’d make sure it was a very public park and the walk would be during daylight hours.

      Thanks for joining us in the conversation!

  • http://thefrugalbuzz.com Mary S.

    Right on re: that fine line between coming off cheap, but many appreciate the extra thought and ‘uniqueness’ of a date more than its monetary value. If my date took the time to pack a picnic lunch or bring a kite or even bubbles to add that little extra to the nature walk or free concert, etc. I would find that more impressive than heading to the standard dinner and drinks date. I also like the outdoor movies a lot of neighborhoods show during the summer months. Most important – any person you want to date should be on the same page as you financially & you’ll get a good idea if this is true or not if you plan & stick with a date/dates in line with who you are & in lines with what you can afford, etc. If your date likes extravagance & you’re thrifty – it’s probably not gonna work.

    • David Bakke

      Mary

      Right on to you too.

      And I can’t emphasize enough the need for an assessment of both person’s viewpoint on money.

      It can really destroy a relationship–even a marriage.

      Thanks for commenting

  • http://twitter.com/BlogandSave Savings.com Blog

    homemade pizza is a great idea. i find that cooking together brings people closer. and it’s way cheaper than dining out.

    • Onward Thruthe Fog

      I had a lot of fun on a date when we went to a grocery store and bought a bunch of weird fruit so we could bring them back to the house to sample stuff we had never eaten before.

  • http://humbleville.com Mayor of Humbleville

    Hi Heather,
    Great ideas! I especially love the idea of two adults going on a date to Chuck-E-Cheese, something my hubby and I would totally do. I know we’re long last our first date, but it’s still good to keep some ideas in my back pocket for the random date night!
    Humbly Yours,
    The Mayor

  • http://twitter.com/#!/Justinhaugens Justin Haugens

    You can NOT get into Chuck-E-Cheese without a child in tow… We’ve tried and they gave us a funny look.

  • Pick up artist

    Yeah, “ask her to come to your house” to “watch cartoons” on the first date if you want her to think you are a creep.

    Whoever is advising here has no idea what goes on in the woman’s mind.

    • Aressian

      Actually, that’s what my boyfriend and I did for out first date, more or less. It all depends on the people involved I think. (Though, I will admit that could be pretty creepy under the right circumstances).

    • Fire engine guy

      Haha…actually, that was one of her ideas. We had met previously from a dating site. So our first interaction was more of a meet and greet. Our first planned date was to make home made pizza, try a few different wines and watch a marathon of cartoons. Date was awesome.

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