Planning a cheap date night is simply practical these days. Last year, before Americans acutely felt the strain of surging inflation, online dating website Zoosk determined that the average cost of a date in the U.S. was $97.67.
Planning a date, rather than focusing on the cost, is the important thing, according to Stefanie Safran, a matchmaker and dating coach in Chicago, whose business and website is called Stef and the City. The more you plan, the more likely you can control the cost, Safran says. And if you come up with a lot of dating ideas, she says, you’ll come off as prepared and able to offer a slew of suggestions, rather than the usual (and expensive) routine of dinner and a movie.
Plus, Safran says, “you don’t want your date thinking that you didn’t put any effort into your idea for a date.”
[READ: The Best Free Dating Sites.]
If you’re looking for inexpensive date night ideas, we’ve got you covered. Some of these are best suited for established couples, while others may work as first dates.
— Make s’mores at a firepit.
— Visit a museum.
— Have a game night.
— Hold a movie marathon.
— Hit a farmers or flea market.
— Go to a dog park.
— Go for a hike.
— Go fly a kite.
— Play tennis or pickleball.
— Go for a walk.
— Dine by candlelight.
— Attend a trivia night.
— Hold a scavenger hunt.
Prepare a special or gourmet dinner together, recommends Nicole Graham, a District of Columbia-based lifestyle and relationship coach at Womenio.com, a lifestyle blog for women. “Cooking a meal with your significant other is an excellent opportunity to spend quality time together,” Graham says.
“Experiment with a new dish or get some items you don’t regularly purchase,” she says. “Prepare beverages and enjoy them on your terrace. Whatever beverage you want, serving it at home is likely to be far less expensive than purchasing it somewhere.”
Make S’mores at a Firepit
S’mores are yummy, and a fire is romantic. And if you opt for a fire outside, that could be safer and healthier for a first or second date, Safran points out, during the pandemic.
Get outdoors for an affordable and romantic date. “If you live in an area that is not densely populated, you may be able to view a decent quantity of stars in the sky. Take a blanket, raise your eyes and be surprised. That ambiance is unbeatable,” Graham says.
For the ultimate cheap date night, Graham adds that you may not even have to leave your yard.
Tana Williams, a personal finance blogger at DebtFreeForties.com and a resident of Hilliard, Ohio, seconds the idea of watching the skies as a cheap date night. She says her area has a local astronomy park for viewing the stars at night.
“They run programs about twice a month where you can rent one of their telescopes or bring your own. Pack a picnic and a blanket, and it’s a great romantic night to learn, relax and enjoy the skies above,” Williams says.
Visit a Museum
This can be a cheap date night, although many museums aren’t open in the evenings, so it may make more sense as an afternoon outing.
Williams says that there are a lot of ways to save on museums, which otherwise can be pretty costly to visit.
“There are many different ways to save on tickets, such as watching for free or discounted days that you can attend. Bank of America runs a yearly promotion that provides free tickets on a specific weekend if you have one of their credit cards,” Williams says. “You can also get discounted museum entry if you have a military or student ID. However, my favorite creative way to get into a museum free? Check your local library. They often have passes that you can check out, use and return.”
Have a Game Night
It’s a simple, obvious idea — and yet it’s probably not the first thing you think of when contemplating dating ideas. But if you break out Monopoly, Scrabble or your board game of choice, you’ll probably have a blast.
“I love doing this kind of stuff with my husband,” says Sherry Morgan, founder of Petsolino, a website loaded with information about pets, and who is based in Beckley, West Virginia. “You get to bond and have fun by playing board games, and, yes, eating some pizza and chips too. I love playing card games too. This is another really fun thing to do, especially if you’re a competitive one.”
Hold a Movie Marathon
Browse your streaming service for flicks you’d both enjoy. “Who doesn’t love movies?” Morgan asks. “Just have a chill night in your living room or even in your backyard with prepared movies, some chips and drinks.”
Hit a Farmers Market or Flea Market
Set a budget before you go, of course. This is another cheap date to schedule during the day.
“You can enjoy looking around, grab a cup of coffee, hang out and stroll,” Morgan says. “Maybe try some delicious morsels or buy a carrot. It doesn’t matter — it’s fun when you do it together.”
Go to a Dog Park
Safran suggest this for couples who have a dog. A date at the dog park can be a nice way to get your dog some exercise while having a potentially fun and cheap date.
Go for a Hike
This date is also better suited for the daytime. Mike Earl, a partner and director of wealth management at The Wealth Group in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, says he and his wife like to use AllTrails.com to find hiking trails while at home and traveling.
“We have found trails within a 10-minute drive of our home that we had never heard of before. There are a lot of hidden gems out there,” Earl says.
Go Fly a Kite
Safran suggests this, and the way she paints a picture, it does sound appealing. “We have a kite festival in Chicago,” she says, “and there are a lot of areas where you can fly a kite. And if you fly a kite at the park, you’ve also people selling ice cream and snow cones.”
If the weather is beautiful, and you and your date successfully fly a kite and grab some ice cream later, that’s pretty much the definition of an affordable and meaningful date.
Play Tennis or Pickleball
Sports can make for a cheap but fun date. “Outdoor tennis and pickleball courts are easy to find and free to use,” Earl says. “You can buy a new racket on Amazon for about $30, or you can go used for even less.”
For those who don’t know anything about pickleball, it’s basically a sport that’s been around since 1965 but really caught on during the pandemic. It’s a mix of badminton, table tennis and tennis.
Go for a Walk
This is similar to the hiking idea, although a walk can be anywhere — not just the woods. Stroll through your neighborhood or perhaps through a charming downtown or around a lake at a park.
“Walking dates are becoming extremely popular, and dating experts can see why,” says Samantha Moss, an Oakesdale, Washington-based editor and content ambassador at Romantific, a relationship advice website for women.
“Relatively cost-free and casual, going out for a walk has been the choice of first dates for some as it doesn’t put pressure on either person. Walking dates are good for longtime partners too, especially for young parents who want to keep things on a budget,” Moss says.
Dine by Candlelight
Sure, this sounds like cooking, but it could work even if you’re having food delivered and are not planning on doing much for your evening. Candles suddenly give a ho-hum date more gravitas.
As Moss points out, “Any meal can be special with the right ambiance, and with candles lighting the room, you’ll be in a different mood. Soft lighting changes the atmosphere and creates a more romantic and intimate environment.”
“Play soft music and be in the mood for romance and candlelight, even if you’re just eating a home-cooked meal or takeout,” she suggests.
Attend a Trivia Night
Sure, you could both play a game of Trivial Pursuit at home, but your evening will probably seem less trivial if you go to a bar, pub or restaurant that holds a trivia night. You’ll spend a little money — but unless you’re loading up on a lot of drinks, you shouldn’t spend a fortune.
Hold a Scavenger Hunt
This creative date idea would work best if you’ve been dating each other for a little while, and obviously, it only really works if you’re tagging along with your date while looking for items on the scavenger list.
But the main point is that cheap dates work best when the idea is either unique or at least paired with an emotional experience.
“If you go on a date and say, ‘This is where I normally go,’ it doesn’t sound very special,” Safran says. “You don’t want your date to think that they are one of many dates, and that you can’t be bothered to be creative.”
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Update 06/17/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.