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Here’s the thing about money: I hate spending it and I never feel as satisfied as I do on days I manage to spend no money at all. I live for that 30 cent drink discount for bringing your own mug and you can bet I’m always frantically checking Retailmenot dot com in the checkout line to look for coupons. Freelancing’s official crest should say DON’T GET TOO COCKY on it. It’s hard to land on cheap date ideas that aren’t boring when you’re trying to be an ~interesting good dating person~ who can also afford to eat!
Even for non-freelancers, truly who can afford that kind of “money is no object,” Richard Gere-in-Pretty-Woman kind of romance? (Note: I’m assuming in that movie Richard Gere is a very wealthy spare-no-expense type but full disclosure I’ve really only seen the scene where he snaps that ring box on Julia Roberts’ hand and it makes me mad every time.) Anyway, in this economy? Nobody can afford to go big on every date. Luckily, just like Albert Edison said when he was asked his opinion on cute date ideas: “Necessity is the mother of innovation.” Having a budget can inspire that much more creativity, and zero dollar dates can be some of the most memorable! These date ideas prove you can have romance and regular student loan payments in your life. So why not brush off one of these the next time you, like me, want to have a fun time without sweating your bank account.
1. Movie Marathon
Present your date three of your favorite movies and have them pick one so you’re both happy and switch the next time. Or pick a series you both want to commit to and spend a day devoted to it. Lots of opportunities for snugs, and if you’re willing to kick 5 bucks in to make a giant tray of nachos for general grubbing I’d highly recommend it.
2. Park Date
Do a little research and find an underrated park in the area. I’m blessed enough to live in California where there are state beaches and historical sites aplenty, but I guarantee wherever you live there’s a place with a wooded walkway nearby.
3. Random Neighborhood Walk
Drive to a neighborhood you guys find particularly beautiful or interesting for some reason and spend time walking around it! You can turn it into more of a game by pretending to shop for houses.
4. Road Wandering
Go for a drive and have your date tell you whether to go left, right, or straight at intersections until you guys end up somewhere new and interesting.
5. Mall Madness
Go to a mall and spend time picking out outfits for each other. This is a great way to get some free compliments and get to see yourself through your date’s eyes, which can be super interesting.
6. Make a Fort
Get all the blankets/sheets/pillows/chairs in your home and spend an evening building a blanket fort.
7. Get a Little Tipsy
Play a drinking game for just the two or invent one of your own. I once modified a game of Kings so that each card meant you had to tell the other person something about yourself, from “talk about a weird phobia you have” to “say a place you love.” They can be a great opportunity to get to know each other in a new way, plus get tipsy!
8. Visit a Free Museum
Check with the visitor information to see if they have any kind of scavenger hunt or interactive activities (most do for kids). If you guys can get into the spirit, it can be a great way to turn a museum into a game!
9. Pet Shop Date
Go to a pet store or fish store and spend some time looking at the pets on display!
10. Get Sketchy (It’s Not What You Think)
Bring some pens and paper to a park or public place and practice sketching the stuff you see.
11. Collage Night
Grab some free magazines and newspapers from around town and make collages.
Do some Yoga With Adrienne (or the workout YouTube channel of your choice) together! It’s like exercise class but more private and you don’t have to take it so seriously.
13. Bookstore Bonding
Go to a local bookstore and make a stack of whatever books pique your interest. Spend some time sitting together and skimming through your selections. If you’re approaching a holiday or birthday, this can also serve as sneaky intel for potential gifts!
14. Personalized Walking Tour
Research points of interesting history in your town (hopefully in a downtown area so they’re close together) and give your date a personalized walking tour!
15. Plant One On ‘Em
Go to a local nursery/landscaping store and wander around the plants. Cactus stores are objectively best for this but I’m sure you East Coasters will survive.
16. Go Stargazing
Grab a blanket and go stargazing in a park, your backyard, or, for those of you lucky enough to have access, up on your roof!
17. What Does This Loop Mean?
Look up how to analyze handwriting and analyze each other’s writing.
18. Volunteer at an Animal Shelter
Volunteer at an animal shelter together! Nothing like the combo of helping others and petting dogs at the same time.
19. DIY Spa Day
Look up some homemade mask recipes and have a spa day.
20. Puppy Watching
Go to a dog park and spend some time among the good boys.
21. Get Spooky
Read up on local ghost stories and bring your date to a (SAFE) haunted location and tell them the story. Going during the day is completely acceptable and encouraged actually!
22. Free Entry Day Date
See if any of the more expensive museums near you have a free entry day (a lot of them do) and plan ahead for it! This date has the added benefit of showcasing your thriftiness which is one of the sexiest traits according to Science.
23. Treasure Hunting
Go to an estate sale or garage sale. Compete to see who comes up with the better treasures.
24. Dessert Hack
Have a cheap dinner at home and then go to a nicer place just for dessert. You’re basically getting their ambiance at a discount.
25. Off-Brand Game Night
Go to Goodwill or The Dollar Store and pick up whichever weird off-brand board game calls to you. Really challenge yourselves to master it.
26. “House Hunting”
Keep an eye out for open houses in the nicer neighborhoods near you. Get off on the thrill of having no intent whatsoever of actually buying the house.
27. Applebee’s Deals (Not Sponsored, Just Love Them)
Head to Applebee’s to capitalize on their Dollaritas and their 2 for 20 deals. This is not sponsored content; I am just a slave to the deals.
28. Car Wash, Baby
Go to an automated car wash. Maybe not everyone has the deep love of being conveyor-belted through a mass of multicolored suds that I do but it’s a great place to chill, chat, and be like “Woah, what if there weren’t a window here?! We’d be getting so sprayed right now.” Also afterwards you have a clean car!
29. Dive Into Some Q’s
Fill a bowl with delving questions and spend an evening answering them.
30. Slideshow Night
Have each person go through their phone or computer and prepare a slideshow of photos from important events and fun times. Each person gets to share about their past and relive some fun times!
31. Free Show with Your Coffee
Keep an eye out for coffee shops or bars who host musicians and get a show for the price of a latte or lager.
A version of this article was published in 2014.