Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

52 Cheap Date Ideas

The other day I wrote a post called “8 Ways to Keep the Spark Alive.” One of the tips I offered was to go on regular dates, to which a commenter asked if I had any “cheap date” ideas. Well, I do. I have 52 of them, as a matter of fact — one for each week of the year. So, after the jump, discover (or be reminded of) some fun ways to get out and about – in great weather or bad — without breaking your budget.


1. Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way first: go for a bike ride and have a picnic lunch. You can even rent a tandem bike if you want to be super cute(sy) about it. As for the lunch, here are some great recipes for dishes that are tasty, and easy-to-pack-and-eat-outdoors.

2. Free days/nights at the museum. Most museums have at least one day or evening a week that is free for locals. Check with your office of tourism for a calendar of events and schedule of such free days.

3. Find a swimming hole and dive in. Go for a long walk, bike ride or country drive with the intention of finding a local swimming hole for a dip (skinny or otherwise…).

4. Hit a used bookstore.

5. Go to a matinee movie. Even in New York, matinee movies are still less than seven bucks a pop. Just be sure to sneak in your own snack in your purse or roomy coat pockets.

6. Visit the beach.

7. Make it a night of tacos and margaritas.

8. See free movies in the park. If your town has a park district — and most do — check its website for a summertime movie schedule. Pack a blanket, maybe a bottle of wine and a couple of snacks and enjoy some free entertainment.

9. Go to a book signing.

10. Go ice skating (and bring along a thermos of hot chocolate).

11. See a play. Call your local theaters and see if they offer discounted tickets for their dress rehearsal performances, or check out your what the theater departments at your community colleges and local universities have on tap.

12. Go Geocaching. Perfect for techy geeks who like the outdoors, Geocaching is a kind of scavenger hunt for GPS set.

13. Check out opening night at an art gallery. Did you know that most art galleries that host an opening night for the public also offer free wine and snacks? Culture and booze? Check.

14. Find a hotel lobby with a fireplace. You don’t typically have to be a guest at a hotel to enjoy its lobby, so in the middle of winter, see if you can find a hotel in your area that has a fireplace you can camp out in front of for an hour or two. Bring a deck of cards, and be sure to order a drink from the bar so you aren’t a total loiterer.

15. Fly a kite.

16. Go to a free concert.

17. Take a dance class.

18. Hit a library event. Most libraries host guest musicians, author talks, movies, and interesting lectures, so check the calendar of events at the main library in your town to find something cool. Your tax dollars are paying for it, after all.

19. Get some happy hour drinks.

20. Watch meteors. Here’s a schedule of when you can see them.

21. Go to a flea market (or antique store or even a yard sale). Make a game out of it by giving yourselves an object to find — say, an old postcard of Hawaii, a fishing pole or a tennis racket, for example — and the first person to find it buys the other person lunch.

22. Go paddle boating.

23. Get retro and go rollerskating.

24. Play putt-putt golf.

25. Go to a street festival.

26. Go on a road trip.

27. Depending on the season, go berry or apple picking.

28. Check out open mic night at a coffee shop (or just pretend you’re back in college again, and have long, esoteric discussions over bottomless cups of joe).

29. Go Bowling.

30. Visit a pumpkin patch and bring home a pumpkin to carve.

31. Go Halloween costume shopping. Even if you don’t favor the slutty costumes, you can still have fun trying one or two on for the hell of it.

32. Visit a botanical garden.

33. Hit trivia night at a local bar. Maybe you’ll even win a free round.

34. Go sledding.

35. Visit a comedy club. Most of them are cheap — sometimes they’re as cheap as five bucks — or require only a two drink minimum.

36. Go to a dog park. Even if you aren’t a dog owner yourself, it’s still fun to watch the different breeds and personalities interact with each other — especially on one of the first warm days of spring.

37. Go wine tasting. Check with your local liquor stores to see if/when they offer a wine tasting and try to organize a wine tasting “crawl” where you hit two or three tasting in one evening. Buy a bottle and continue the tasting at home or on a picnic or at the beach or at a movie in the park.

38. Tap into your inner teen and head to the arcade at your local mall.

39. Drive around town and check out the Christmas lights. Bring some spiked hot chocolate, a few cookies, and play some Christmas music on the radio.

40. Go to the zoo.

41. Have a diner breakfast. Brunch can get pricey — especially with Mimosas or Bloody Marys — but diners remain one of the cheapest and most delicious places to get a cheap meal. Plus, they usually serve breakfast 24 hours a day, which is great because who doesn’t like breakfast-for-dinner?

42. Eat funnel cake at a state or local fair.

43. Take a cooking class.

44. Build snowmen.

45. Pack some granola bars and go for a nature hike.

46. Go to a high school sports game.

47. Browse your local farmer’s market. Buy ingredients for a romantic, home-cooked candlelit dinner.

48. Get a certificate at Restaurant.com. I’ve written about my obsession before on my personal blog; I love restaurant.com. Do a quick Google search for coupon codes to get certificates for as much as 80% off!

49. Have an indoor picnic.

50. Indulge in a good ol’ fashioned Pizza Night (with a pitcher of beer).

51. Volunteer. Show your charitable side by spending a weekend afternoon giving back to a local non-profit or cause you’re passionate about.

52. Karaoke!! My favorite cheap date! Some karaoke bars charge by the room, some charge by the song, and the best ones don’t charge at all (well, not for the singing, anyway). Usually, the earlier you go in the evening, the better shot you have to find a deal (and a room), but of course, the later you go, the better you sound…

22 comments… add one
  • avatar

    AnitaBath February 17, 2011, 11:35 am

    Great ideas! My brother used to be obsessed with Geocaching back in the day, and my entire family would get into it (except for me, because I was stubborn). It does seem like a lot of fun, and people get REALLY into it. The only problem would be that it wouldn’t be very successful for an actual date *night*, since then you’d most likely be stumbling around in the woods in the dark, looking for a little camouflaged box.

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    • avatar

      SpaceySteph February 19, 2011, 10:27 pm

      Actually I have done dark Geocaching before too. A friend of mine who is a night duty police officer once saw a “suspicious person” poking around the side of the road with a flashlight and stopped to question him. This is how we learned about geocaching.

      It obviously needs to be done correctly to be safe, but especially in urban areas its fine to go at night. Wear reflective clothes, bring a flashlight, and let the games begin.

      P.S. Wendy and other new-yorkers: there is at least 1 IN Times Square.

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    • avatar

      _jsw_ February 20, 2011, 11:03 pm

      “…stumbling around in the woods in the dark, looking for a little camouflaged box.”

      This is a relatively apt description of some dates I’ve been on before.

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  • sobriquet

    sobriquet February 17, 2011, 11:49 am

    My boyfriend and I went wine tasting Valentines Day weekend! $10 for 10 tastings and a free bottle of wine. It was so fun. His birthday is in 2 weeks and I’ve been thinking of cheap ways to celebrate it. I think I’m going to take him on a picnic (if the weather is nice) and then have his friends surprise him for mini-golf. There’s an old mini-golf place in Austin that lets you play 18-holes for $5 and bring your own beer while you play.

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    • sobriquet

      sobriquet February 17, 2011, 11:50 am

      I would also suggest signing up for groupon or other local deals that are emailed to you daily. Groupon has taken my boyfriend and I on many cheap dates.

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      • avatar

        Amber February 17, 2011, 1:11 pm

        i’m a groupon and livingsocial addict! they have such great stuff.

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    • avatar

      Slamy June 29, 2011, 12:32 pm

      I have got to find out what mini-golf place you are referring to. Sounds divine, and I try to visit Austin (from Dallas) about 4 times a year.

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  • avatar

    sarolabelle February 17, 2011, 12:05 pm

    If only cooking classes weren’t $70 a person. 🙁

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  • avatar

    KBobK February 17, 2011, 12:25 pm

    Can I just add that #39 is a lot of fun, but maybe leave the “spiked” at home so that the driver doesn’t have to be tempted with the hot cocoa or risk flashing lights in the rear-view?

    These ideas are so great! Thanks for posting them Wendy!

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  • EscapeHatches

    EscapeHatch February 17, 2011, 12:34 pm

    3. Find a swimming hole and dive in. Go for a long walk, bike ride or country drive with the intention of finding a local swimming hole for a dip (skinny or otherwise…).

    I live in Phoenix, not exactly a bastion of swimming holes. le sigh.

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  • avatar

    thefierycrash February 17, 2011, 12:47 pm

    hahaha escapehatch, that is so funny you posted that because i’m in phoenix and i thought the same exact thing… “uhmm…. lake pleasant?”

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    • EscapeHatches

      EscapeHatch February 18, 2011, 12:29 pm

      Yeah, I work in water/wastewater treatment design, and walking by the big pools is a huge temptation sometimes. Man I wish I had a pool!

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  • LK7889

    LK7889 February 17, 2011, 12:59 pm

    Awesome ideas Wendy. Thanks so much for the article! It’s so easy to get caught in the “well, we’re broke so let’s stay home and watch tv” cycle. My problem is that I usually end up using budget as an excuse to not do anything! I’m sure that my SO and I can find ways to do lots of these great ideas together. 🙂

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  • avatar

    DiDo February 17, 2011, 3:48 pm

    Wendy … you are the best! Since I started online dating, I have been going on 3-4 dates a week and am getting a little sick of grabbing a drink at a bar or going out for dinner. I think I need to print this off 🙂

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  • Just Max

    Just Max February 17, 2011, 4:01 pm

    Love these ideas! I have actually done a few of these on my own and had a great time. One of my favorites: taking long walks, with camera in hand, around the city. 🙂

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  • avatar

    silvii February 17, 2011, 6:32 pm

    I miss cheap, affordable ideas being written about. I think you’re the queen of writing articles like this. DK and I do #38 a lot since there are quite a few malls here and sometimes we head to the food stores where people are handing out samples.

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  • avatar

    Dezzie February 17, 2011, 9:13 pm

    I live in phoenix as well…there’s always the canal!! LOL ewww…I just shuddered @ that thought!

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    • EscapeHatches

      EscapeHatch February 18, 2011, 12:30 pm

      The canal is actually perfectly clean river water (so if you’d swim in a lake…) that supplies the drinking water treatment plants. The big reason to skip the canals is the fast current and wicked undertow. Very dangerous.

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  • avatar

    Thomas February 20, 2011, 4:07 pm

    Really great ideas and a very well done post. I am from Minnesota so I know all about building a snowman, fun but cold!

    Here are 101 romantic ideas for your boyfriend or girlfriend. These ideas can help you figure out some of the unique stuff your partner won’t expect or give you an idea of some things to talk about with your boyfriend or girlfriend.

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  • avatar

    _jsw_ February 20, 2011, 11:07 pm

    I’ve just come off one of the tensest work weeks I can remember – were the job a spouse, it’d be worth writing a Dear Wendy letter about – and this list of activities strikes me as not only a great list of date activities but also a wonderful list of things _anyone_ could do to relax or enjoy themselves when looking for a change of pace. This is a great post to bookmark and refer to, no matter what your dating situation might be.

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  • avatar

    tan July 7, 2011, 7:46 pm

    hello whats with Drive around town and check out the Christmas lights. Bring some spiked hot chocolate, a few cookies, and play some Christmas music on the radio.

    spiked Hot Chocolate??? that is drinking and driving ppl plz dont do that!!

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