5 Affordable Date Night Ideas That Won’t Make You Look Cheap

5 Affordable Date Night Ideas That Won’t Make You Look Cheap

Just because your wallet is hurting these days doesn't mean your romantic life should be.  Try out one of these five bargain dates that will not only entertain her, but keep her in the dark about your monetary woes.

By Jesse Bouche

It's Friday (or any other night from Monday through Sunday) and it's date night. You've been hacking away at that credit card balance and student loan for the last four years and somehow all of your well-laid financial plans are being destroyed by a 130-pound demon.

It's not her fault. She doesn't mean to do it. She just wants to have fun, meet up for dinner after work, maybe see a movie, see some friends for drinks, check out a show. That's all. That's all until you log into your online banking and realize that yet again, you'll be dipping into your savings or worse, your credit line.

Here's the hard truth – you have to stop. Say goodbye to dinners out, movies, and after-work drinks. A dinner with drinks followed by a night out can easily run you upwards of $200. And even when you're pulling in that seemingly incredible Junior Merchandiser salary of $42,000 a year, that's not going to fly. Why? Because after taxes, $200 a week spent on dinner, drinks, movies and shows equates to about 30% of your income. That's what you should be spending on housing.

I know, I sound as fun as eating wet bread. But, there is a way. You can still have a good time, impress your lady and save your bank balance. Here's how:

1. Become a Patron of the Art (Opening)

When I was an undergrad, I had a lot of friends who attended the nearby art college and I learned a thing or two from my chronically broke art friends. Most importantly, that drinks and food are usually free at art openings.

This Thursday, get your hands on your city's free alternative weekly and if your town has an arts mag, that's even better. Now, flip to the arts section and look for openings this weekend. Look for one that seems like a good match, maybe check out the gallery online first, and then set a date with your girl.

You've simultaneously eliminated the pre-date drink meetup while impressing her with your interest in the visual arts (and boosted your indie art cred to boot). Cha-ching.

2. Take Her to a Concert

But…but…but concert tickets are more than $100?! Yeah, if you're trying to score tickets to see Britney Spears or Elton John. But, if you're taking her to see someone like Sharon Jones, Feist or Fleet Foxes (all pretty safe “lady” bets in my opinion), tickets may only run you $20 or so a pop.

And if you're taking her to see Cupid's Machete, the shitty local band that plays every other week, you're likely looking at ticket prices ranging from just $5-$10 on the high end.

And when you're watching a show, guess what you're not doing a lot of? Drinking and eating. Sure, people drink at shows, but not as much as when they're just sitting around doing nothing else. Besides, you're there to “take in the music,” right?

3. Set up a “Film Screening” (aka Movie Night)

Renting a couple of DVDs for movie night gets tired after a while, but what if you held a “screening?” Well, la-ti-da and color you fancy.

I'm a fan of the “screening” series, where you “screen” (I have to use quotation marks to demonstrate that as someone whose favorite movie is The Jerk, I don't normally “screen” films) a different movie every week based on a different theme – Palme d'Or winners, movies filmed in your hometown or, my favorite, movies born from television shows.

It doesn't have to be arty, it just has to be an event. You see, once you take something everyday and add a little sheen to it, you've made it interesting. And you've shown her that you put a little effort into it and that's all she wants, just a little effort.

4. Set up a “Tasting” (aka Eating In)

Just because a night has the word “tasting” in it, that doesn't mean you have to stock up on pretentious and often boring wines and cheeses. I once hosted an incredibly successful “Soda Pops From Around the World” tasting event. True, I had to drive 30 miles to a tiny Korean grocer to buy Milkis (a surprisingly tasty milk/pop combination), but it was worth it.

This is more of a group activity, making it a nice (and creative) choice when you're forced into hanging out with other couples. Trust me, it's better than playing Cranium.

Other tasting events I've always wanted to try include Boxed Macaroni & Cheeses, Candies from Mexico, Fruits You've Never Heard Of, Selections From the Dried Chili Aisle and Protein Bar Bonanza. If you get around to doing one of these, please drop me a line to let me know how it goes.

5. Exercise (No, Not that)

Obviously, I'm not talking about planting her in front of the cardio machines or that other form of “exercise” (get your mind out of the gutter). I'm talking about wholesome, outdoor fun.

Tell your lady friend that you've been feeling like an out-of-shape slug lately and you want to do things that are more active, like a walk along the waterfront, a game of Frisbee, a night at the driving range, or an evening at the tennis courts.

Now, watch her reaction. She may resist at first and secretly dislike the idea, but she'll admire you for suggesting it. She'll also think that if she shoots it down, you'll think she's lazy. So, she won't. You come out looking like a responsible, active adult and she goes along with it. On the other hand, she could think you're calling her fat and it could all end horribly. Tread carefully with this one.

You can still go out and you can still have fun, but try to keep your entertainment spending to about 10%-15% of your net income (net income = take home pay) and that's including expenses like cable and Netflix. I know, I know, wet bread. Well, welcome to financial responsibility, enjoy.

Jesse Bouche is a grad student and freelance writer working his way towards a debt-free life. Check out his progress over at http://sixmonthstodebtfree.com.


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  • Reply March 25, 2013


    You know what are two awesome dates in DC? Great Falls ($5 to get in and park) for walking or hiking, and Kennedy Center Millenium Stage (often times free). After the show, grab a coffee and hang out on the balcony overlooking the Potomac. Can’t go wrong with that!


  • Reply June 1, 2013


    Fuck DC

    • Reply October 14, 2014


      Wow, nice and constructive feedback you’ve got going there. I can feel the maturity from here.

  • Reply August 19, 2013


    30% of your income on housing (and only $800/month at that)… wait a minute, I need to stop laughing. Yeah, it sucks, but in a lot of places that’s nowhere near close. In SF getting away with only spending 50% of your income on housing means you’re doing pretty well (or got really lucky on your rent).

    • Reply September 11, 2013


      You can’t just pluck one of the most expensive cities in the nation and then make the claim that everywhere else is like that. Here is a counter point, I live in Denver, about 1/4 mile from downtown and I pay a little less than $800 a month. Sure cites like LA, New York, San Fran, Chicago and Boston will run you a little more, but places like Seattle, Portland, Denver, Austin, Minneapolis, and Charlotte are all much more reasonable. And let us not forget about all the millions of Americans living out their days in the suburbs, where rent is way cheaper.

  • Reply December 30, 2014

    John Doe

    Hey Jesse, sorry have to disagree with your suggestions #2 (Concert) and #3 (Movie). These dates will result in my girl giving a lot of attention to what is happening in front of her instead of giving it to me. Not for me, I want to take her somewhere where I have her full (or next to full) attention, so I can bust out my moves.

  • […] drinks for guests like frozen margaritas or daiquiris..  Or, do make-it-yourself milkshakes as a cheap date dessert and you can both customize your shake just the way you […]

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