Planning an effective date is both an art and a science. It is a science because successful planning requires both an understanding of your partner and an understanding of where you are in your relationship. It is an art because it must be creative and at times innovative. Moreover, a successful date must be planned but it also must allow for spontaneity.
While it is not always easy to plan the perfect date activity, it is possible to plan dates that do not require you to break the bank and still not seem cheap. There are far more than you probably have imagined. As you read through them, pay heed to the following advice:
Not all dates are appropriate for a first date: In particular, it is generally not a good idea to invite your potential significant other to your home for an intimate dinner on day 1. Especially if you are a guy, your potential date will feel intimidated if you are trying to get her back to your nest so quickly. Stick with public places.
Any date that will bring you into contact with your partner’s family or friends should be avoided until you know that he or she really likes you: You do not want to have your partner’s mind changed by a family member or friend who questions why anyone would want to date you. You cannot avoid roommates so just be cordial with them and avoid topics of conversation that can turn them against you.
Get to know your date’s likes and dislikes as quickly as possible: If you are dating a woman who hates sports, don’t take her to a football game. If you are dating a guy who is a vegetarian, don’t take him to a steakhouse.
For those that are looking for dates that are a bit out of the ordinary, you might want to try something like thrift shop date or a scavenger hunt date. For those that are looking for everyday dates that don’t cost a lot, here are 101 more “cheap date” ideas:
1) Go to the gym together: If your partner belongs to your gym, you can both go to the gym and spot for each other in the weight room (if that is possible given your relative strengths) or you can take classes together. Men should not be afraid to try a yoga or pilates class. Women should not be reluctant to go into the weight room. If you do not belong to the same gym, your gym will probably give you a free guest pass so that you can bring your date along for free.
2) Go to a high school sporting event together: If your date has a sibling or niece or nephew playing a high school sport, take your date to see a high school game. You will look supportive of her family and score points with her. You should never do this if your date is under about 25 years of age because it is generally not a great idea to take him/her back to see his/her high school friends and potentially rekindle an old high school relationship.
3) Go hiking: Chances are, you live a short drive from an area where you can hike. You can pack a lunch and wander in the woods. If you really want to be impressive, you can study up on the local birds and try to point out the birds as you spot them.
4) Go cycling: If you both own a bike, a cycling trip is great fun and great exercise. Make sure you plan a round trip route that is well within your partner’s endurance levels and check the weather before you go.
5) Go to the beach: Although this may not be truly athletic, there are plenty of sports that can be played on the beach (Frisbee anyone?) and, for the non-athletic, there are plenty of rays to be absorbed. Make sure you pack plenty of drinks and sunscreen and be sure to bring towels for two.
6) Go to a driving range: Even if you or your date has never hit a golf ball, a driving range is a great place to get to know someone and how they deal with both embarrassment and stress. If you are not a golfer, let your partner teach you. If you are a golfer, you can teach your partner. If neither of you are golfers, please stand far, far away from the other people at the driving range.
7) Go for a run: If you and your partner are both runners, you can plan a running route that both of you can handle. If you are both serious runners, consider entering a 5K race, but make sure you run with your partner, at least for the first race that you enter together.
8 ) Play a game of HORSE: Chances are good that you have access to a basketball hoop at your gym or at a nearby recreation center. You may have a hoop in your driveway if you own a home. Every kid on the schoolyard knows how to play HORSE and it is usually a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Have plenty of iced tea at the court and start shooting.
9) Go for a walk: Just about everyone can take a walk. You can be anywhere at any time. Just put on your walking shoes and get going. You can make the walk more special by driving to a pretty location or an interesting small town.
10) Go ice skating: Make sure the pond is thick enough or go to a municipal rink and have fun gliding across the ice. If your partner needs help learning how to skate and you are proficient, that is all the better. Of course, you will need to have skates already for this to be a “cheap” date. (Many rinks also have inexpensive skate rentals.)
11) Go cross-country skiing: If you have the skis, this is a great way to spend an afternoon. Find a golf course that is covered with snow and burn off the calories. Then proceed to date 57 (hot chocolate by the fire).
12) Go swimming: Whether it is in a pool or in a lake, a river or an ocean, you can get refreshed and cool off together on a hot summer day.
13) Go fishing: If your partner likes to fish, and you have rods and tackle, all you need to do is dig for some worms and you will have a fun morning, afternoon or evening.
14) Go to an NFL football training camp: Training camps are free. If you live near one and your date is a football fan, you can get a few autographs and enjoy the pre-season.
15) Play tennis: There are free outdoor courts at many schools and they are available on the weekend. Many communities also have free courts. This also lends itself to double dating.
16) Go to a lecture: Many college departments have regular lectures for the benefit of their student body. Often they are open to the public. When I was in college I attended many lectures and enjoyed them a great deal. If your date likes politics or history or art or film or any other liberal art, chances are good that there is a college near you that can offer a lecture that your date will want to attend.
17) Go to a classical music performance: Many museums and colleges offer free music. You will not get to see Coldplay for free but you can very often find classical or jazz performances that are either free or very inexpensive. If you live near a town with a bandstand in its park, chances are good that you can also go to free outdoor concerts and pack a picnic lunch.
18) Go to see a local band: Local bands perform in bars and similarly small venues. Unless you live in NYC or LA, the cover charge is likely to be minimal. You can hear them before they are household names.
19) Take a class together: Your local library or community center probably offers a lot of classes which you can take for free. If your date mentions a burning desire to learn to use PhotoShop, check to determine whether these venues offer any classes.
20) Teach your date how to do something: If you feel that you do not need to take a class in order to learn how to do something that you date wants to learn, consider teaching your date how to do it.
21) Go to an art gallery: It does not cost anything to browse. If you live in a city, chances are good that there are art galleries that you can wander for an afternoon. Even if you cannot afford to buy the art, you can still enjoy it and discuss it.
22) Go to a museum: Most museums allow visitors to come in for free for at least a few hours each week. Even if they do not have such policies (usually tied to federal grant funding, as I understand it), many museums are very inexpensive. My wife and I regularly go to the Morse Museum in Winter Park, Florida. On Fridays in the winter, admission is free after 4pm and they usually have a musical performance as well. It is a great value and I am sure you can find other values that are just as great.
23) Go to a historic cemetery: This may not be for everyone, but if you live in one of the thirteen original colonies, you will find a lot of history in your cemeteries. I used to wander among the headstones at the Granary Burial Ground in Boston and marvel at the names I read. (Disclaimer: My wife is not a fan of the cemetery date, but I am still convinced it is a good idea)
24) Tour a historic house: Historic houses usually do not cost much to visit and very often a docent will give you a guided tour. I used to work at the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem, MA and they have some of the best historic houses I know. We visited Dwight David Eisenhower’s child hood home last month in the middle of Kansas. Wherever you live, there is probably a historic property nearby and open to the public.
25) Go to a night of storytelling: Coffeehouses and parks (as well as other similar venues)often offer very inexpensive or free nights of storytelling for adults. Before we had TV and radio, we had storytellers.
26) Read to your date: If your date enjoys both the sound of your voice and a good book, you can entertain your date by reading a chapter or two. I have a book of poetry that has been read aloud many a night.
27) Watch a political debate on TV or in person: As long as you know that you and your date are not completely different in your political views, and as long as your date has political views, you can share a lot by debating the merits of a political debate.
28) Go to a community play: Local talent can be very good and the price is always much better than you would expect. You are also supporting local arts, and that is always good.
29) Write a short story together: This is not for everyone, but my wife and I both like to write so this was a natural for us. We were actually writing together even before we started dating.
30) Go to church together: Even if you go to a different church or follow a different faith, all paths lead to the same place. Share the experience and learn a bit more about your partner.
31) Share in a charitable activity: If your partner volunteers with a specific charity, offer to join your partner on a date to help at the charity. You may enjoy the experience and want to do it again. Even if you do not, your partner will appreciate that you tried.
32) Visit the grave of someone your partner has lost: If your partner is grieving the loss of a loved one or just remembering a friend who died too young, you can suggest a visit to the grave site to leave flowers and to reflect. Not all dates have to be romantic. By being sensitive to your partner’s sadness and sharing in it, you will come closer. Of course, you should not refer to this as a date, but it is still an activity that you can do together.
33) Go to an adult ministry class at your church: If your partner participates in bible study, you can too.
34) Plan a day of spring cleaning: Tell your date that you will arrive at 9am on a Saturday morning and that you will bring muffins or bagels. He or she can provide the coffee and the two of you can take care of whatever spring cleaning needs to be done. Your partner will appreciate it and you will have a sense of accomplishment when you are done.
35) Plan a day of yard work: If your partner owns a house with a yard, plan a day of helping with the yard work. Garden beds can be weeded. Fertilizers can be spread. Things can be planted. You will get some exercise and your partner will appreciate the help.
36) Plan a day of errands: If your partner has lamented that he or she has to return things to the mall, get his or her car tuned up and do any of a host of other possible errands, suggest a day together of getting all of those chores accomplished. It will get you out and about and give you lots of opportunities to talk. Your partner will appreciate the help and you will really get to know one another.
37) Go food shopping and then make dinner together: You have to eat and cooking together is both fun and cost-efficient.
38) Wash your partner’s car together: Car washing alone is a chore. Car washing together is fun, or it can be, if you bring the right attitude.
39) Paint a room together: If your partner has a room that needs a coat of paint, plan a Saturday afternoon of painting. Every time your partner walks into the room, he or she will think of you.
40) Go to a shopping mall and browse: You don’t always have to buy when shop. Wandering a mall can be fun and if you find a bargain, you can always scoop it up.
41) Go to a bookstore: My wife and I love going to bookstores, especially used bookstores that have a café built into them. We can spend a long time wandering together as we look at books and magazines or sip our coffees and watch people.
42) Go to a record store: Do they still have record stores? I guess I should call them CD stores, but the idea is the same. I love used CD stores and if your partner likes music, you can find a lot of common ground by looking through the stacks of CDs. iTunes has its place, but it is not nearly as fun when you are with someone.
43) Go to a vintage clothing store: If your date likes clothing and prefers to create unique looks for himself or herself, look for a vintage clothing store or thrift shop that you can visit.
44) Go to a flea market: If your partner is a collector, you never know what bargains you might find.
Pet Related Dates
45) Take your date (and his or her dog) to a dog park: If your date has a dog or just likes dogs, you can go to a dog park and have fun with the dogs.
46) Walk your dogs together: Even if you do not have a dog park, walking your dogs together can be great fun.
47) Feed the ducks: Every pond I have ever seen that was not frozen has had ducks on it. Gather up some slightly stale bread and take your date to feed the ducks. If you do not have ducks, any bird will do — just remember that unless you are really city dwellers, pigeons just are not nearly as romantic as ducks or swans.
48) Feed the seagulls: Just like the ducks only louder and more likely to drop good luck on you. My wife and I never actually went on a seagull date, but we did take our children to a small beach to do this once. It was great fun. We had the beach to ourselves and our kids really enjoyed it.
49) Go to a petting zoo: There are a lot of cool animals at petting zoos and many of them are inexpensive to feed. Who can resist lambs and ponies?
50) Go to a local zoo: Local zoos are often very inexpensive and, as long as they are well maintained and treat their animals well, can be a very enjoyable outing.
Food and Drink Dates
51) Go to Starbucks: I know. Starbucks can be expensive. That said, I believe Starbucks now offers a bottomless cup of coffee if you are drinking on the premises. If your Starbucks does not offer a bottomless cup of coffee, I am sure there is a place near you that does (my favorite place is Milton’s in Lawrence, Kansas). You can sit and chat and sip and watch. After all, a date should give you a chance to get to know each other better and sitting and sipping is a great way to do it.
52) Go to a winery: Wineries usually offer free admission and tours and you can sample the product of the winery after the tour. We have toured wineries in Virginia and Florida and we have really enjoyed all of them.
53) Go to a working farm: If you live near a working farm with a farm stand, you can have great fun wandering through the farm stand and seeing the animals. My wife and I used to go to a farm somewhere on Cape Ann, in Massachusetts and we still fondly remember the apple donuts and hay rides.
54) Go apple picking: You can have great fun picking apples and then eating them. If you pick them yourself, you really get to choose the apples you want, and then you can go home and bake a pie together. Don’t forget to buy some ice-cream on the way home, unless you are going to make it yourself.
55) Go strawberry picking: This is just like apple picking only you are picking strawberries so you will not need to climb any ladders. I could cheat and fill out this list by picking every other kind berry a separate item, but I think you get the picture.
56) Bake bread together: Early in the courtship of my wife, I told her that I like to bake bread. She thought that was the coolest thing and to do this day, we still like to bake bread together (In fact, earlier today we baked a Mediterranean loaf which was full of rosemary, olives and walnuts. A local grocer would sell it for $4 but we made it, and had fun doing so, for about 50 cents).
57) Make hot chocolate and sit by a roaring fire together: This one only works if you live in a cold climate. There are few things more romantic that hot chocolate by a roaring fire.
58) Make pizza together: Pizza at a restaurant costs about $20 per pie (at least where I live and the way I order it). We make the same pizza at home by buying dough at a bakery and then rolling it out and topping it on our own. Our pizzas cost about $4 to make and we have a great time making them. We have been doing this since long before we married.
59) Go for ice-cream: Ice-cream does not cost a lot and it can be a destination date, without question.
60) Go to a cheese store and sample the cheeses: This would be a date that my partner could plan for me. I love cheese. Finding a gourmet cheese shop where I could try a lot of different cheeses would be heaven. Most cities have them. I love to sample the cheeses and then buy a quarter of a pound of the cheese that I liked most. My wife and I can then buy some grapes and sit in a park and enjoy our cheese and grapes.
61) Make your date a leisurely breakfast: There is something very decadent about a lazy Saturday or Sunday morning and being served breakfast while reading the paper. Whatever your partner wants for breakfast, if you provide it and then clean up afterwards, it will be a great way to start the day. Make sure that you get fresh ingredients and try to make everything from scratch. You do not need to serve an expensive meal – just a well prepared meal.
62) Go camping: If your partner likes the outdoors and you know each other well enough, camping can be a great way to spend a night. You can sit by a camp fire and toast marshmallows and enjoy whatever beverage of choice you both prefer.
63) Go to the beach at night: The beach is a great place to go at night. Listening to the surf is about as peaceful as it gets. Bring blankets and an ice chest with your favorite foods and drinks and then get a roaring camp fire burning. Romantic, yes. Expensive, no.
64) Go to a church fair: Churches often have fairs each year as a fund raiser. Our church has a fair every October and we enjoy wandering the booths, chatting with neighbors and going on a few rides. It never costs a lot and the money we do spend goes to a good cause.
65) Go to a county or state fair: Before we married, we used to go to the Topsfield Fair and the Big E in Massachusetts. Admission at the time was not very much and we could wander for more than an evening looking at the animals and all of the exhibits.
66) Go miniature golfing: You can do this for under $20 per couple and often for less than $10 per couple (always check for coupons before going). It is much cheaper than bowling, which used to be cheaper than miniature golf when I was courting (not that my wife liked to bowl).
67) Go to a park: You can sit in a park – I used to like the Boston Public Garden and now we go to the Leu Gardens in Orlando – and just enjoy nature and people and relaxation.
68) Create a scavenger hunt: This requires some work in advance but if you map out a walking route in your town and give your partner clues, you can have some fun wandering the streets with him or her as he/she tries to solve the clues you have provided and finds the items on the hunt.
69) Go to a cultural festival: When large numbers of an expatriate community move to the same city, they inevitably have an annual cultural festival to celebrate their culture. My friend Fred just sent me some great photos of the West Indian cultural festival in Brooklyn. There was food and music and a lot to see.
70) Make a scarecrow: If you have some old clothes that can no longer serve any good purpose, and you have access to fallen Autumn leaves, you can make a scarecrow for your yard to get into the Fall spirit.
71) Make a snowman: If you have access to snow, you can make a snowman. Just be prepared to get hit with a few snowballs, too.
72) Go sledding: I still have my sled from childhood, but you can borrow one from someone if you need to do so. Sledding always takes me back to my early childhood and it is always a great memory for me. If your date has fond memories sledding as a child, sledding is a great way to start to share in those childhood memories with your partner.
73) Carve a jack-o-lantern: Take your date to a pumpkin patch and choose the perfect pumpkin. Now go back to her place or your place and carve Jack the Pumpkin King!
74) Have a Christmas card party: If you both send out Christmas cards, you can plan an afternoon of Christmas card writing together.
75) Bake holiday cookies: Baking cookies is fun. Baking holiday cookies is really fun. A cookie that looks like a pumpkin or Santa somehow tastes better and by baking cookies together, you create lasting holiday memories.
76) Plan an afternoon of Christmas movies: Whether you like It’s a Wonderful Life or The Year without a Santa Clause or The Nativity Story, sharing the movies that you watch year after year is a special way to grow together. You can usually find these movies on TV or at the library so you do not have to spend much.
77) Plan a night of horror films: If Halloween is just around the corner, go to the library and check out The Exorcist, Friday the Thirteenth and Halloween. Then sit close together on the sofa and don’t let your date know that you are closing your eyes at the really scary parts.
78) Hand out Halloween candy together: You don’t want to be alone on Halloween. Your date does not want to be alone. Yet you are both too old to really want to go out. Go over to your partner’s home and sit by the front door handing out candy together. If you really want to make it special, pick up some cider and sip hot mulled cider while you do it (spiking optional).
79) Color Easter Eggs: You do not have to be a kid to enjoy coloring Easter eggs. Be creative with food coloring and colored paper and a dozen hard boiled eggs.
80) Go see 4th of July fireworks: Every town in America puts on a free fireworks display on July 4. Take advantage of it. Bring a basket of goodies and blanket. Sit down and be ready to join in the chorus of “oohs” and “aahs.” If you live in England, I am afraid you will have to wait for Guy Fawkes Day.
81) Go to a holiday parade: We have parades at Thanksgiving, the 4th of July, Veterans Day and many other days. A century ago, everyone turned out for them. Now we don’t seem to do so. Go to a parade and channel your 19th Century American.
82) Have a decadent desert on Valentine’s Day: On February 14, plan to make a decadent desert and then watch romantic movies. Decadent does not have to be expensive. A quart of ice cream, some chocolate sauce, hand whipped whipped cream and a few strawberries will go a long way.
83) Have a holiday barbecue or picnic: If it’s Memorial or Labor Day, plan to break out your grill or to pack a nice picnic lunch. Whether you do this at a beach, on your patio or on your fire escape, you can make this work.
84) Take a holiday craft class together: Michael’s and other craft stores often offer free or inexpensive craft classes. Whether you are making a Christmas ornament or a pen holder, you will be making something together.
85) Decorate a Christmas tree together: If you can decorate a tree together, you can probably spend a lifetime together.
86) Go Christmas shopping together: You both may need to do this and what better way to find out what your partner may like than to listen to his or her comments in the stores?
87) Take down a Christmas tree together: It is never fun to put away the decorations, but it has to happen. If you help your partner do this, they will know that you are there both for the fun times and the less fun times.
88) Go for a drive and look at the decorated houses at Christmas: I have been doing this since I was about 3 years old and my wife and I look forward to it every year.
89) Go for a drive and look at all of the decorated houses at Halloween: This is a more recent development. When did America start getting crazy to decorate for Halloween? I don’t know, but some of the displays are amazing.
90) Go Christmas Caroling: For this one, you can invite some of the children who live near you. Caroling with kids is more fun.
91) Play a game at home: Does your date like to play games? If so, a night of cribbage, backgammon, chess or checkers can be a fun way to spend the night. Add coffee or a good inexpensive bottle of wine, and you have a great way to relax and get to know each other.
92) Play a game at a coffee house: Games are portable so you can bring them with you. Go to Starbucks (see date 51 above) and bring your game so that you can truly lay claim to one of the few tables there. Just remember to bring a two person game. You do not want the guy or gal at the table next to you trying to join you.
93) Go to a bingo night at a church hall: Buy one bingo card and watch all of the bingo fanatics go wild, especially if you win.
94) Do the New York Times Crossword Puzzle together: A challenge when you do it alone. A great tag team activity when you do it together. If the Times puzzle is too difficult, any crossword puzzle will suffice. Just make sure you have the right snacks and beverages to go along with the puzzle.
95) Do a jigsaw puzzle together: As with crossword puzzles, make sure you have the right snacks and beverages to go along with the puzzle.
96) Take a road trip: If your date likes to drive, choose a destination that is about 2 hours away. Even if the destination is something as simple as a mile marker, having a goal is key to this working. Burn enough CDs to carry you to your destination and back. You can combine this date with many of the other dates that I list in this article. Gas does cost more now than it used to, but you can still go a long way on $10 worth of gas.
97) Take your date to visit one of his/her elderly relatives: If your partner has a 97 year old grandfather in a nursing home, offer to go visit. Your partner will appreciate it and it will score points with your partner’s entire family. You may even find that you enjoy it.
98) Give your date a manicure or shave: Guys find it sexy when a woman gives them a shave. Most women I know find it sexy when a man paints their fingernails. This does require some practice so make sure you know how to use a razor or a nail brush before you try this (especially the part with the razor!).
99) Give your date a massage: This is probably not a date that you can plan as a first date, but a real massage makes the recipient feel great. After you have been dating for a while, surprising your partner with a massage and a bit of pampering at the end of a hard week is a very inexpensive way to both make your partner feel special and to help your partner to appreciate you all the more.
100) Invite your date over for a movie and popcorn night: This is an especially useful date when are not sure whether or not you are actually dating. A date like this will quickly give you your answer.
101) Make a list of 101 cheap dates: My wife helped me to write this list tonight. We had a lot of fun remembering the dates that we have been on and anticipating the dates that we will go on in the future. It does not matter what you are doing. If you are with the right person, that person’s companionship alone should be more than enough to give you a great time.
Image courtesy of Thomas Hawk