When I first started seeing my future husband in college and we were dating on a budget, our dates defined frugal. Whether it was a walk around campus, a movie night at his place or a meal of chicken breast and canned corn at my place (don’t worry, he does the cooking now), we rarely spent more than a few bucks each.
Those dates set the tone for the frugal lifestyle we live now. By letting money become an early part of the conversation, we quickly became comfortable sharing our financial goals, setbacks and blind spots.
Your dates may not always be as cheap as ours, but you can still keep them within a tight budget. That means driving down costs when possible, and freeing up space somewhere else when it’s not. Here are some tried and true methods for building dates into your budget.
Studies show that people would rather discuss religion or politics than their credit scores. In other words, someone on a first date is more likely to share who they’re voting for than their total student loan balance.
Financial shame exists on a real level, but being honest is the best way to counteract that shame. Instead of coyly suggesting a cheaper restaurant, tell your date you’re on a budget. He or she might appreciate the honesty, and they’re likely in a similar position. This conversation can also weed out mates who don’t appreciate a frank financial discussion.
Admitting you’re broke can be more embarrassing if you’re a guy and feel pressured to pay for the date. Still, honesty is better than overdrawing your bank account.
How to Add Dating to Your Budget
Even if you try to avoid expensive outings, dating can still get pricey. Expenses like restaurants, bars, premium dating apps and Uber rides can add up quickly, especially if you date a lot. Prepare for this inevitability by making it a separate line item in your budget.
Look over your budget and see how much room there is for dating. If you don’t have a budget already, now’s a good time to create one.
Like other variable expenses, the amount you spend every month on dating may vary. During a slow month, carry the funds over into the next month. If you routinely find yourself spending more or less on dating, update the budget to reflect your habits.
Cheap Date Ideas
Look Around Campus
Every college offers free or inexpensive activities for students. My school’s student union had a free movie every weekend, usually an Oscar contender or box office hit. The union also had its own bowling alley, which only cost $5 per person including lane and shoe rental.
Check out the campus newspaper or local city paper to see what free or cheap events are happening. Ask your friends about their favorite affordable ways to spend time on campus. Consider doing something different, like going to watch the soccer team or exploring an art exhibit.
If you’re going off-campus, ask about student rates or discounts and bring your student ID to prove eligibility.
Meet at Coffee Shops Instead of Bars
Even when you’re old enough to hit up the bars, they don’t tend to be the best date spots. Bars are loud, you have to jostle for space and getting served can take forever. Plus, drinks at bars can be pricey -especially if you have to pay a cover fee or want to Uber home.
Opt for a date at a local coffee shop where even the most extravagant latte won’t cost more than a few dollars. It’s also a quieter spot, more conducive to intimate conversation.
Consider Campus Dining Options
Picnics are a staple in romantic comedies, and they’re also popular with frugal romantics. Instead of getting a meal at a restaurant, pick up supplies at the grocery store for a picnic at a local park or campus courtyard.
All you need is a bottle of wine, a baguette and a wheel of cheese. Top it off with salami or veggies, depending on your dietary preferences. You can probably get all the ingredients for $20 or less.
Explore the Outdoors
Exploring nature is a great frugal activity and a unique way to spend time. Check out the university arboretum or conservatory, drive outside town to the nearby state park or walk down to the river.
You can combine this with the picnic idea and bring some snacks to share. Some city and state parks even have low-cost activities, like boat rental or a toboggan course.
Host a Potluck
A potluck dinner is a great option for a group date. Ask everyone to bring a dish, a six-pack of beer or a bottle of wine. It’s a great, low-key way to impress a date with your culinary skills and introduce them to your friends.
This is less expensive than making an entire meal for you and your date, and it combines the social aspect of group dates -without the cost of cover or drinks at a bar.
Plan Weekday Dates
Planning a date for a Friday or Saturday is often easier because of class and work schedules, but you could save more money by going out on a weekday.
Restaurants and bars are more likely to have weekday specials on food and drinks. The movie theater near my house offers $5 tickets on Tuesdays, a 50% discount compared to the rest of the week.
Be sure to check opening hours before you go, since many restaurants are closed on Mondays.
Do you have good tips for dating on a budget? Leave them in the comments!