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Dating on a Tight Budget: Cheap Date Ideas

Angela Mae Updated: June 27, 2023 • 6 min read
affordable date ideas

In the current economic environment, dating can be expensive. Not only is inflation still higher than it’s been in years — 6.04% as of February 2023 — but rising credit card interest rates make it hard to afford going out.

This shouldn’t deter you from going on a nice date with someone you care about, though. There are plenty of affordable ways to spend time with the people in your life while on a strict budget. Here are the top 10 inexpensive date ideas to consider for your next romantic outing.

Top 10 Affordable Date Ideas

When it comes to dating on a budget, you have many options. Here are some of the best inexpensive date ideas that will let you save money while still having a good time.

1. Go to a local museum

Some museums offer free admission on certain days of the week or month, while others are free all year round. In North Carolina, for example, you can visit the Museum of History or the Museum of Natural Sciences for free at any time. And if you’re local to Washington, D.C., you can go to nearly any of the Smithsonian museums free of charge.

Certain exhibits or experiences — like Imax movies — might cost extra, depending on the museum. However, you may be able to get a discount if you’re a student, active-duty military, or a senior citizen.

If a museum isn’t your cup of tea, check out a local zoo or aquarium instead.

movie ticket costs

2. Have a picnic

Picnics are a classic when it comes to dating. One of the more common places to have a picnic is at a local park. But you can spice it up and take your date to a lake, river, or even up a mountain — provided they’re up for a hike.

Unless you’re reserving a specific location for a special reason, most venues are free of charge. The only thing you’ll need to budget is the food and, if you don’t already have them, a picnic blanket and basket. At Target, an outdoor picnic blanket costs anywhere from $25 to $40. However, you can also just grab a sturdy blanket from home.

The great thing about picnics is that they’re versatile, meaning you can have one on your first date or your hundredth. And if you prepare your own food, you can show off some of your culinary skills while reducing what you spend on ingredients.

3. Check out local events

Many cities host free or inexpensive local events for the community. You can usually find information about these events in your local paper, or on your city’s event calendar — this is usually on the official website.

Where you live and the time of year can heavily influence the types of events you’ll find. Some budget-friendly date options include live music, food or art festivals, farmers markets, movies in the park, and outdoor concerts. You may end up spending some money on things like gifts or food, but this is optional.

Some cities also have free events on specific days — like the first Friday or third Thursday of the month. This date idea is typically considered more casual, making it a great way to get to know someone without pressure.

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4. Get active

If you and your date are active, go hiking, kayaking, or swimming. All you’ll need are some comfortable walking shoes, a couple of water bottles and snacks, and the right clothes to make the date special and fun.

You could also go camping at a designated campsite, though this requires a little more preparation. A Coleman Dome Tent costs $50 to $60 on Amazon, but you can also find cheaper tents online. A one-person sleeping bag costs about $15 at Walmart.

If you’re visiting a lake or river, consider splurging on a boat rental. A tandem kayak typically costs under $100 for about an hour.

5. Have a stay-in date

The average cost of a night out for two can easily top $100 these days. But staying home can be romantic and affordable. Start with a home-cooked meal with ingredients you already have in the pantry or refrigerator to save money.

Then, rent a movie and watch it in your living room. If you have Amazon Prime, you’ll have access to free movies. Or you can rent one for about $3.99. You'll be paying a fraction of the cost of going to the movies, where tickets have reached $28 per person in cities like New York.

6. Explore a new town

Visiting a new town or city can be a great way to get to know a person while exploring an area neither of you have ever been to before. Check out new restaurants, parks, hiking trails, gardens, museums, and more with your date.

One of the biggest costs here is gas, though this can vary based on how far you go and what kind of mileage your vehicle gets. The current national average cost of a gallon of gas is about $3.537. Depending on where you live, this number could influence your ability to go out exploring.

gas prices expensive

7. Have a scavenger hunt

Scavenger hunts are fun and creative, but they also make for a great, inexpensive date idea. You can plan a scavenger hunt for you and your date to do together.

Start by making a list of items you want to find. This can be general things like a picket fence, squirrel, or blue house. Or it can be more specific like a certain road or restaurant. You can keep it as local — or as broad — as you want. And the best part is, it’s something you get to do together, potentially for free.

8. Go to trivia or bingo night

A lot of breweries, clubs, and bars host trivia or bingo nights for the locals. This can be a great way for you and your date to work together to share knowledge on things like history, science, music, and pop culture references. But it’s also a fun opportunity to compete if you prefer that.

Some venues have a cover charge of around $5 to $20. Others are free to visit, but you might end up paying for drinks or food. If you’re trying to save money, split an appetizer and limit yourselves to one beverage each.

9. Take a class together

There are a lot of classes you can take, ranging from cooking to art to dance. See what types of activities your date is interested in and sign up for one.

Some classes are more expensive than others. A cooking class in Raleigh, North Carolina, for example, costs between $65 and $70 a person. The upside is that you get to do something new with your loved one. Plus, you’ll usually get to eat whatever you make — which cuts down on what you might have spent on dinner.

Check around town to see what types of classes are available. Depending on how popular the location is, you might have to book it out several weeks in advance.

10. Share hobbies (or start a new one)

This inexpensive date idea typically works best for people who’ve been dating for a while and have already gotten to know each other fairly well. Take a moment to discuss your current hobbies and interests, and then pick a new one to try out together. This could be anything from birdwatching to aerial dancing to painting.

Once you have a hobby in mind, do some research to see what’s available near you. You can also check how much it’s going to cost. Certain hobbies, like birdwatching, can be inexpensive. All you’ll need is a few things, including binoculars, a local or regional bird book, and a notepad to record notes. A simple pair of binoculars, for example, costs about $10 to $30.

how much does a cooking class cost

Bottom Line: Inexpensive Date Ideas

Even if you’re on a tight budget, you can still enjoy a vibrant dating experience with someone you care about. The great thing about many of these affordable date ideas is that they’re versatile. This means they can be romantic, creative, unique, or just plain fun — all at a reasonable price point.

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Written by Angela Mae

Angela Mae is a personal finance writer specializing in loans, debt management, investing, retirement planning, and financial literacy. She comes from a journalistic background and pulls from hands-on experience and deep-dive research to breathe life into her stories. Her goal is to help others achieve financial stability and independence. When not writing, she can be found traveling, honing her yoga skills, hiking, or exploring new means of healthy, sustainable living.