10 New Ideas for Fun and Cheap Dates

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Is it date night tonight? I hope so. Every relationship benefits from special, dedicated time together. However, finding the money for typical “dates” can sometimes be a challenge, whether you’re a strapped college student or a couple of parents on a strict budget. Movies and nice dinners out get more expensive all the time, and if you have children, paying for babysitting can really add up. (When the cost or logistics of a sitter is holding you back, check out this list of at-home dates for parents.)

But don’t resign yourselves to watching TV on the couch and staring at your phones. There are plenty of ways the two of you can connect and have fun without spending a mint. Check out these ten new and different suggestions for inexpensive and interesting dates.

1. Have an adventure with a “penny date”

Try this: first, pack a picnic or some snacks, or just a thermos of coffee. Then, have your date pick a number between 5 and 20. Now get in the car (bring your penny!), or set out on foot from an interesting location. Each time you get to an intersection, flip your penny. Heads is right, tails is left. When you reach your predetermined number of turns, stop and scout for a place to sit down and enjoy your picnic or snacks. You’re bound to see someplace you’ve never seen before (and if you get lost, your phone can get you home, right?)

2. Go fruit picking and enjoy the bounty

This one is made for a beautiful fall or spring day. Visit PickYourOwn to find out what’s available in your area, but remember not to get carried away.  You might think about a plan for the “fruits” of your labor—apple pie, anyone?

3. Try geocaching—a real-life “treasure hunt”

This immensely fun and addictive hobby just requires a phone with GPS and a few small, inexpensive items for trade (and this is optional). You’ll be on a “treasure hunt” of sorts for hidden boxes and other items placed by other cachers. Once you find them, you can sign a logbook and take a small souvenir (if you like). There are caches absolutely everywhere—you’ll be amazed! Visit Geocaching.com to get started.

4. Cheer for your town at a local sports event

Is there a college or high school in town? Check into the local sports schedule. Many events will be free or very cheap to attend, and it can be really fun to get into the hometown spirit.

5. Have your own drive-in movie night

Pick a movie available streaming or on DVD, bring the laptop or tablet, and drive to a scenic spot. Snuggle up in the backseat with snacks and a blanket and watch your own “drive-in.” Or get out of the car and try this in a scenic spot with pillows and blankets.

6. Experience the joy of yard saling

Is there something the two of you need for the house, or does anyone have a collection? Scope out the classifieds and Craigslist and get going early on a Saturday or Sunday morning with travel mugs in tow. Set a spending limit ahead of time. For an even more interesting experience, try estate saling (but watch your wallet!)

7. Laugh and learn by going contra or salsa dancing

Even if you think you have two left feet, group dancing events or dancing lessons with your date can be a lot of fun. Many larger communities have free or inexpensive ($5-10 per person) group classes and dance events. Visit Contradance links or Social Dancing Meetup  to find a dance in your area.

8. Appreciate the beauty of the night sky…and each other

Want romance? Nothing beats going out on a clear night, finding a dark, open field, and looking up at the stars. Star map apps make it easy to figure out what you’re looking at, and there are amazing astronomical events (like meteor showers) at certain times of year. You can also look for a local astronomy club or a college or university that hosts events with telescopes. Visit this directory from Sky and Telescope to find one in your area.

9. Buy each other a secret gift at a thrift store

Got a big flea market or inexpensive antique or thrift store in your area? Try this: head out to the store with $10 in your pocket and take some time browsing. Then each person gets a five to spend on the other (and that’s it). Keep your purchase a secret and reveal later (with fanfare).

10. Fall in love…using this checklist

Are you ready for something a little more intense? Believe it or not, there’s some scientific evidence that answering this questionnaire with someone can bring you closer or even cause you to fall in love. (There’s also an app.) Just remember--use it prudently!

Enjoy your dates…and the knowledge that most of your money stayed in your wallet!

By Carol Church, lead writer, SMART Couples, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida