Given all the dating I’ve been doing (#player), a reader asked if I’d share some ways to have frugal dates.
Honestly, I tend to stick to a couple of tried and true things. But I’ve tried to expand the list to include some other ideas of cheap dates.
The fact is that you can date without spending a lot of money. You may just need to be a little creative.
This is my favorite first date activity.
If the conversation falters, you can focus on the game itself. And of course, you technically only have to pay for the table. If you go to a bar where the tables use quarters — rather than pool halls that tend to have an hourly rate — you could spend very little indeed. Especially if neither of you is very good and the games last a while. All in all, a great frugal date.
That said, pool for me usually involves drinks. So I choose well drinks (my go-to being a vodka tonic) to keep my — or if he’s a gentleman, my date’s — bill down.
Even with drinks the cost is generally under $30, which is (sad to say) a pretty affordable date these days. But again, if you just stick to pool then you could be out as little as a few bucks.
All in all, it can be a very frugal date.
Now, I know this sounds pricey. After all, non-matinee tickets are generally $10+ a person. But.
If you’re an AMC Stubs member, you can get into movies for $5 on Tuesdays. It’s only $15 a year to become a Stubs member, and there are other benefits too, like a free large popcorn and drink in your birthday month. That alone is about the cost of the membership.
So yeah, movies are a little pricey normally. But with a yearly $15 outlay, you could get two people in for $10 plus tax four times a month. I’d call that pretty frugal!
Another option (or one to pair with the $5 movies) is to use discounted gift cards from sites like Raise or CardCash. These sites sell GCs for less than their face value. I’ve seen AMC Theatres gift cards for as much as 13% off.
Check out Gift Card Granny to find the site offering the site offering the best deal.
Also, Costco or Sam’s Club may also have movie theater GCs at a discount.
Granted, to keep the movie experience truly affordable it’s best to skip the popcorn and drink (which is less fun in my humble opinion). But even if you indulge in that, you’re once again getting away with a date for under $30.
Of course, movies mean you’re sitting around not talking to each other. Not the best way to get to know the other person, which is why I generally eschew that activity on first dates. So a meal is generally a good alternative. The only problem? It can be a little pricey.
I’ve only been out to a meal for a date once. I ended up paying because it was the guy’s birthday, so I stopped him as he was grabbing the bill. The meals weren’t cheap — a total of $38.25 after tax and tip — but I suppose it could have been a lot worse.
Chain restaurants are generally going to be your go-to if you want to keep the meal under $40 (after tax and tip).
Still, that’s not quite a frugal date is it? Here’s how to lower the cost:
One benefit of chain restaurants is that discounted GCs are once again an option. You should be able to get at least 10% off. Heck, I’ve seen gift cards marked down as much as 60%, though obviously that’s rare. Some gift cards are electronic. This is handy because it means you could buy the GC right before the date (if you’re a real procrastinator).
So yeah, chain restaurants are good. But if you know a great local place that’s more affordable, why not suggest that instead? You could save some real money and introduce the person to a cool local joint.
Don’t forget to check Entertainment.com to see if there are BOGO coupons. The site lets you check by city to see which companies are listed. It may be worth the cost (which decreases as the year wears on) to get the book for the coupon. Don’t forget to go through Mr. Rebates for 8% cash back.
Now I know that these tactics (discounted gift cards, cheap restaurant, coupons) can be a little iffy. First impressions are important, and you don’t want to look like a cheapskate.
On the other hand, do you want to date a person who’s going to care that their meal was under $15? Someone like that probably won’t have financial values that align with your frugal instincts (or just your budget — you should never have to go broke just to date someone).
If a meal is out of your price range, take the person out for ice cream (or fro-yo as one of my dates did).
Most people love dessert, so they’ll be relaxed and happy while eating. It’s a good time to bond, though it does mean the date could end a little quickly. So be prepared to keep the conversation going by having lots of questions to ask about the other person: Do they come from a big family, where did they grow up, what do they do for fun, etc.
This gives you not just a frugal date, but also a way to actually get to know the person and see what his/her personality is like.
Cheaper than drinks (or a movie or a meal or potentially even dessert), coffee is a tried and true way to get to know someone without spending that much money.
Just make sure that the other person drinks coffee. It’s rare that someone doesn’t, but I’m one of the exceptions. Granted, I’d still go and just get a hot chocolate, but once I met a guy for coffee only to find out that neither of us drink the stuff. That was a little awkward.
Like dessert, the coffee could go quickly, so be sure you’re ready to keep the conversation going. Starbucks doesn’t mind if you dawdle there, and dawdling after coffee is a very frugal date.
You can always try to time the date to coincide with a museum’s free day (there’s usually one a month). Some credit cards will get you in the door for free too, so check your card’s benefits.
Alternatively, some cities’ libraries carry culture passes, letting you and a guest get into museums and, in the case of Phoenix, the botanical garden for free.
Of course, this requires you to be comfortable suggesting a free date. But again, if the person’s values align with yours, they won’t care or might even actively approve of the fact that you’re trying to have a frugal date.
Another way to take in some culture is your city’s monthly art walk. They’re increasingly common, so if you live in a major metropolis, there’s probably one.
The one caveat is that, if your city’s art walk is anything like Phoenix’s, it’s too loud to hold much of a conversation. It’s more like a street fair. A noisy, noisy street fair.
Still, there are a lot of things to look at and admire — many of which can spark conversation. Assuming you can hear each other talk.
Plays tend to have preview nights that are often pay-what-you-can. That is, you get decide how much to fork over. This could be a great way to inject some culture into your date without paying a small fortune for tickets.
If you can’t find a preview night, check Groupon and Goldstar. Both often have heavily discounted tickets for plays — or even concerts. (Don’t forget that Groupon is on Mr. Rebates at 6% cash back.)
Of course, like the movie date, a play means you two are sitting in the dark not talking. But unlike a movie, you do have intermission to chat.
You should be able to get away with a play for under $25, perhaps significantly less. This is a great way to seem cultured and still have a frugal date.
Of course, as we get further into fall, this may not be tenable. But if you’re reading this in the spring or summer, consider a picnic. All you need is a blanket, some good bread, cheese and fruit (and any other nibbly bits you want to bring).
Put the food (carefully) into a backpack, grab a blanket and head to the nearest park. It’s easily something you can do for $20 or less.
Hiking (or a walk)
Despite Arizona temperatures, people seem to love to hike here. Personally, I don’t get it, but I admit that for some people this is a good date. Not one that I’d recommend as a first date, since you’re asking someone to go out into the wilderness alone with a relative stranger.
So if it’s a first date, maybe start with a walk in a park. Most places have plenty of beautiful parks, most of which have paths to stroll on. Some even have lakes or other water you can circle while you chat.
Talking is free, so this is a very, very frugal date.
It’s goofy fun, and it’s affordable at about $10 per person. ‘Nuff said.
Check Groupon for affordable, interesting options. One friend took a date to an ice bar. Here in Phoenix, there are offerings for comedy clubs, trampoline parks, rock climbing, escape rooms, mini-amusement parks, restaurants, water slides, concerts, plays and more.
Going to Groupon not only gets you a good deal, you may get some innovative ideas for dates. Yes, you have to be comfortable pulling out a Groupon, but once again, do you really want someone who would look down their nose at a frugal date?
Get a mall pretzel
Like the park, a mall is a safe, public environment. But there’s more to see and do, which might make the date easier.
You can get a pretzel (or DQ Blizzard or whatever) and roam. You can people watch or look in some of the weirder stores (there are always a couple) and examine the merchandise together.
Admittedly, this one runs you the risk of looking a little odd/like a cheapskate. But the right person will find it fun and be able to appreciate the buttery goodness that is a mall pretzel.
I wouldn’t recommend this for a first date. At all.
I’m a big believer in meeting in public the first time out, especially with dating apps. You won’t know what kind of vibes the person is putting off just by chatting online.
But once you feel comfortable with guy or gal, a movie at home (maybe with some microwave popcorn) should be an enjoyable, frugal date.
Again, not a good first date option. But once you have a sense of the person, consider having them over for board games. You’ll learn important things like whether they’re a good sport — a gracious winner or a good-humored loser.
If things are going particularly well with the person, you can always invite friends over too and make it a big game night. That way you also get to see how your date interacts with your friends, which can be a big factor in whether you decide to keep dating.
A little dating etiquette
Caution: Heteronormativity ahead. I’m assuming a date between a man and a woman. But really, the advice can work for either sex, depending on their roles (asker vs askee).
A note to the women out there: Don’t be takers. If the guy pays for a date or two, be sure to pony up some money of your own the next time around.
For first and maybe second dates, I generally go by the rule of whoever did the asking pays. And let’s face it, the guy usually asks. But if it’s a third date and the guy has paid both of the other times, I pay.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to save money by having someone else cover the bill. But there’s a difference between frugal and cheap. So unless you’re broke, cough up some dough!
Also, please please please don’t go out with a guy just for a night out. Bucks and Cents ran into women who just accepted the date to get a free meal. That’s just tacky. If the guy is going to shell out money, then you’d better think there’s at least a chance you’re attracted to him.
To be crystal clear: I’m not saying that his paying for a meal or drinks means that you somehow owe him something. You absolutely do not.
However, you shouldn’t use someone for a night out if you already know that you have no actual interest in the person.
But let’s not let the other gender off the hook either. To all the guys out there: She doesn’t owe you anything, no matter how much you spend on her.
It’s not okay to get belligerent (or even argumentative or petulant) if she doesn’t have sex with you or simply doesn’t want a second date. And you’re an ass if you ask her to pay you half of the money you spent. (Yes, I’ve heard of that actually happening.)
So basically this etiquette advice boils down to: Be decent to each other, treating the other person how you’d want to be treated.
What other frugal date activities can you think of?