Some dates are extremely formal: your best clothes, a swell restaurant, a show or concert, and a nightcap at a classy bar. But few people can can afford to do that every Saturday night.
You don’t have to give up fun even if you’re on a super-tight budget. You just have to get creative. Try these cheap date ideas to have a great — and potentially romantic — time without breaking your budget or even without spending any money at all.
1. Attend movie screenings. Sites like AdvanceScreenings.com and Gofobo.com let you search for free movie previews by zip code. Volunteer to be the one who goes early to get in line.
2. Have a picnic. Meet your date with a basketful of goodies at a park, the city square or your own yard. Bonus date points if you shop for ingredients and prepare the food together.
3. Pay what you can. Do an online search for “pay what you can” or “pay what you will” and you can find theaters, museums or comedy clubs open at certain times for whatever you feel like offering to pay.
4. Go to a gallery opening. All over the country, art galleries collaborate on special monthly events that don’t charge admission, such as art walks on the first Friday or third Thursday of every month. These events are superb, low-cost dates because you get to look cultured and sometimes free food is served. Some art walk events feature musicians performing for free as well.
5. Learn something. Head to a lecture at a nearby museum or university or sign up for a free DIY clinic at a home improvement store. Watch a how-to video on YouTube and attempt a craft, sewing repair or other project together. Take the first lesson in an online language course together and vow to continue the lessons on your own; on subsequent dates, you can try conversing in that language.
6. Find a group interest. Social networking sites like Meetup.com and GroupSpaces.com let like-minded folks get together for games, hikes, music or whatever strikes them as fun. Look for something your date already loves to do or something neither of you has ever tried.
7. Host a wine tasting. Invite a few mutual friends to bring their favorite cheap wines to your house for a fun evening. Provide an inexpensive vino of your own plus some inexpensive snacks. Everybody gets to learn about new brands that are both tasty and affordable. Make sure no one drives home tipsy, though.
8. Take a walk. Stroll through an interesting part of your town or a nearby city and discover things together, or join a nature walk or MeetUp.com hiking group. This free date idea needs to be arranged in advance so that your date doesn’t wear shoes or clothing that are impractical for long walks.
9. Get on the Megabus. Tickets for this double-decker bus line, Megabus.com, start at just $1. Take a day trip from Philly to New York City or from Sacramento to San Francisco. Try this travel service for a date at a specific event like a concert or just to explore a new place. You can save a lot of money by not having to pay for parking and other car-related expenses.
10. Hit the bookstore. A used-book store is a great cheap date idea because it’s so affordable. Search the store for the works of your date’s favorite author or pick a subject about which you know very little and browse that section. Read interesting bits out loud (but softly!) to each other; bonus romance points if you pick love poetry or short stories.
11. Pay less for vouchers. Secondary market sites like CoupFlip.com and CoupRecoup.com make Groupon and other social media deals available for as much as 95 percent off. You could find a great dinner or entertainment offer at a super-low price.
12. Binge-watch something. Agree on a show neither of you has ever seen or revisit an old favorite on Netflix or Hulu. You probably won’t get through an entire season unless you start really early on a weekend, but maybe you’ll have so much fun getting reacquainted with the David Tennant version of “Doctor Who” that you’ll spend the entire day and most of the evening together.
13. Cook something. Pick a dish you both love but have never cooked. Or, check the contents of your cupboard and fridge and plug those ingredients into a search engine, e.g., “recipes with ramen, peanut butter and lemon juice.” If you’re more skilled over a fire than a stove, meet at a park that has grills and picnic tables and sizzle up some hot dogs.
14. Listen to the writer. Keep an eye out for author talks at bookstores. You don’t have to buy a copy to hear an author read an excerpt of his bestseller and discuss the book.
15. Suggest a “volunteer date.” Join a creek cleanup, hand out Gatorade at a 10K or answer phones at the public radio station’s fundraiser. If your date is one of those, “Why should I want to help people I don’t even know?” individuals, better to learn it now.
16. Get free films. Borrow movies from the library, such as the other person’s favorite, titles both of you missed during their initial release, or just whatever sounds good. Frugal snack tip: Go to Popcorn.org for recipes to match your movies, such as Madras Curry Coconut for a Bollywood film fest or Spicy Italian for “Moonstruck.”
17. Find talent showcases. “Open mic” nights at coffeehouses, bookstores and comedy clubs can be really good — or so bad they’re good. Either way, they’re really free. Maybe you’ll luck out and hear the next big star before he gets famous.
18. Make cupcakes. Bake cupcakes from scratch or from a mix and have fun frosting and decorating them together. Enjoy eating them together, with friends, or deliver them to a local fire station or the employees of an assisted-living home.
19. Hit the water. Look for public pools or public beaches, and don’t forget the sunscreen. Frugal tip: Open swim times at local high school pools can be really cheap.
20. Plant something. Shop for flower or vegetable seeds, soil and a container for a windowsill or deck. You can get seeds for as little as 25 cents at a dollar store. Or, find out if a local greenhouse is trying to clear out “orphan plants” at a great discount. If you or your date owns property or has an understanding landlord, you could even try growing vegetables and enjoy the literal fruits of your labor together later in the year.
21. Go fly a kite. Hit the dollar store for a kite and indulge your inner child. Have a snow cone afterward.
Sometimes the simplest things are the most satisfying. You can get to know your date and have a lot of fun doing something that is free or inexpensive if you keep and open mind and keep an eye out for interesting ways to make the most of what your area has to offer.