Hola, mis amigos. How has your last fortnight been? I want to hear all about it, but first let me hit you with some romantic knowledge.
There’s nothing more embarrassing than being labeled a “cheap date,” especially early in a relationship. No one wants to go out with someone that tips five percent. That’s ugly. Don’t be that person.
I have never been that person because I am perfect in every way, but also because I’ve been a server and know how hard it is to make money. Stingy tipping is a huge red flag for me — see ya later, cheap-ass mo’fo.
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But what do you do when you’re genuinely broke, and can’t afford fancy meals out to impress that someone special? You want to wine and dine that other person so badly, but your bank account has actual bats flying out of it and cobwebs clogging up the corners. Eesh.
First of all, get it out of your head that a good date means an expensive date. Untrue! One of the best dates I ever had was a treasure hunt in Prospect Park that lasted the entire day, and cost approximately zero dollars (more on that after these short messages).
I’ve compiled a list of cheap date ideas (and even some free ones) that are better than a cinema trip, anyway. Seriously, who goes to the movies on a first date anymore? Nothing more fun than sitting in silence with a total stranger for two hours. Step ya game up, world.
1. A Picnic
Ah, stop. This is the cutest thing you could do for a date in the early days because you literally have no choice but to talk to each other over homemade sandwiches and a flask of tea. While obviously weather dependent, this is a great opportunity to find out whether or not you actually like each other.
This is also a prime time to discover if the other person has some horrendous character flaws, like finding out they are a vegan or vegetarian as you reveal your meaty mcmeat hero with extra salami from the picnic basket. Oops.
2. Explore Your Local Hipster Village
In New York, a great spot for this would be St. Mark’s Place in the East Village. Walking is so much more fun when you have someone to do it with, and these areas provide the perfect backdrop for some intense questions like “Yeah, but do you really understand Rick and Morty?” while some hipsters sip craft beer in the background. It shouldn’t be too hard to find your East Village, no matter where you live.
Remember that treasure hunt I mentioned earlier? This is it! Real-life maps of real-life locations with real-life “treasure” to be found. It’s a scavenger hunt in the real world, forcing you to use your intellect and navigation skills.
What a way to get to know your date, inside and out. Do they get frustrated if you find a geocache first? Imagine what they’ll be like when you try to name your first child!
You can find out more about geocaching the official website.
4. Staten Island Hike
Even just the free ferry over to the island can be romantic enough at times, especially at sunset. Just ignore the dozens of tourists fighting to get a good picture of Lady Liberty and the commuters’ casual disinterest in everything around them. So romantic.
Now that you’re off the ferry, try actually leaving the port and exploring Staten Island — there are so many hikes, ranging from short to terrifying.
And if you’re not in NYC, check out the free or cheap alternatives in your city or town. There’s an amazing list on BudgetTravel that shows you some cheap ferry rides you can take all over the States.
5. Rock Climbing
Check Groupon for deals on this date classic. I found some day passes for as little as $19 as I was sitting here writing this article. Put some effort into it.
Nothing sexier than watching your date struggle for breath as they frantically grasp at rocks too far away for them to gain purchase on.
Ah, the joys of dating. Unsure if they like you. Unsure if you like them. Unsure if your foot will hold on this rock. Bliss.
6. Pottery Painting
This right here is the cutest shit. Can you imagine taking your significant other to a pottery class and hand painting some damn pottery for them? Adorable AF. I can’t cope.
Groupon may help you out here, too, with deals for one person (loser, lol) or two (the goal here). Seriously — the Groupon dating strategy is a thing.
Your date may be from an aquatic family and already own a kayak or two, or you may have met someone in your life who knows someone else who owns a kayak shop. Ask around. You never know.
I love the idea of kayaking with a date, as you may see some amazing sights you'd never see from the land. Totes romantic.
8. Movie Night in With Takeout
This may be for a slightly later stage of dating, but a movie night in is cheap, fun, and flirty. It doesn’t all have to be Netflix and chill. It can be Amazon Prime and wine. Who knows? Possibilities are endless.
Besides, ordering your favorite takeout will let you know whether or not you can marry this person. I mean, what if they don’t like Thai food? Absolute nightmarish deal breaker.
You’ll know early on if they’re marriage material if they screw up eggs, of all things. Better safe than sorry, right? It will also save you hell of a lot of money on expensive restaurants. Just go to the 99 cent store and buy some atmospheric candles instead.
Oh, and ask your roommates if they wouldn’t mind making themselves scarce for the evening. That might help.
10. Go Fishing
Sitting in a boat on a lake for hours in silence, waiting to brutally murder a fish? Ideal first date. You’ll even have something to eat that night. As Ron Swanson once said, “Fishing relaxes me. It’s like yoga, except I get to kill something.”
Bring out your partner’s murderous side.
11. Play Board Games
A game of Connect Four or Guess Who will show your date’s true colors.
No one can lose a game of Connect Four gracefully. No one.
It’s also a great way to get around that whole “talking” thing. If your date makes you nervous, challenge them to a board game duel so you have something to distract you from the fear of making an ass of yourself. Or play strip poker.
12. Bake Together
Is there anything cuter than that stereotypical movie scene in which you have a little flour fight and end up bopping the other person on the nose so their face is all covered? Aw.
That’s not what it’ll be like in real life, though. It might actually devolve into an argument about the amount of sugar you really need in that cake. But at the end of it, there’s cake, so it’s a win-win.
13. Play Mini Golf
Nothing makes me more attracted to a guy than when I kick his ass at mini golf. It’s even better if he’s a sore loser so I get to gloat and feel good about it because he can’t handle getting beaten by a girl. I swear I’m not talking about any time in particular. Lol.
But it’s a relatively cheap date idea, and will create some cute rivalry between you, on a mini scale.
14. ’Tis the Season
Is it Christmas? Decorate the tree or visit the markets together with some mulled wine. Is it Halloween? Carve a pumpkin together. Easter? Egg hunt. New Year’s? Get blind drunk and miss the midnight kiss because you’re too busy puking. Take advantage of the time of year, and embrace all it has to offer.
Final Thoughts on Cheap Date Ideas
One suggestion I came across was working out together. I could think of nothing more horrifying than a potential partner seeing the color my face goes when I sweat. No thanks. Next.
But it did remind me: Make sure you read your date. If they seem like the type of person who would start crying at the mention of a hike (. . . me), maybe it’s not such a good idea.
If they’re lactose intolerant, drinking milk straight from the cow’s udder on a farm might not be the best. Is your date vegan? Don’t take them hunting. You get the idea.
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There are so many things you can do that will help you get to know your date without spending a small fortune, and some of them are so much more worthwhile than splashing out hundreds on a fancy meal. Who knew?
P.S. Big thanks to my friend Dylan for helping me with some of these cheap date ideas!