Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

5 Frugal Date Ideas

Guest columnists and contributors are generously sharing their talents and insights while I’m taking some time to care for my new baby. Today’s post comes from Michelle Yoon who blogs at “through the saving glass.”

With frightening unemployment rates, a crumbling stock market, and Steve Jobs leaving Apple, the economy is in a scary place. Yet, a dieting bank account doesn’t have to mean a lackluster dating life, and budget constraints sometimes unleash the greatest creativity. Here are five frugal date ideas that aren’t lame and go beyond the usual “rent a movie” cheap date idea suggestion.


1. Cook dinner in… Iron Chef style.
Making dinner can get pricey, especially if you’re trying out a recipe that requires exotic spices you’ll most likely never use again. Instead, have an Iron Chef-inspired showdown in your rendition of Kitchen Stadium. The idea is that each person cooks a dish, but only uses the ingredients in his or her cupboard. It costs no money, and it’s a great way to get rid of the chicken thighs buried in the back of your freezer. Who knows? Maybe pairing Ramen noodles with Dijon mustard and breadcrumbs will be a pleasant culinary surprise.

2. Stage a couples photo shoot.
Gone are the days of couples in uniform outfits posing on the beach to showcase their undying love. Instead, try coming up with a fun story, dig up props from the garage, find costumes from your closet, and bring a friend who has a digital camera. This zombie engagement shoot is proof that couples photos don’t have to be lame.

3. Plan a garage sale.
Most people have a steadily growing inventory of useless crap: the H&M dress you bought for a bachelorette party two years ago; magazines of yesteryear; remnants of potential hobbies that never came into fruition (tap dancing, badminton, knitting anyone?). Gather all your stuff and organize a garage sale with your honey. (FYI: Actual garage not needed). Make posters, spread the word online, and become entrepreneurs for a day. Who says you need to spend money on dates? Make money on yours.

4. Make care packages.
With the holidays just around the corner, what’s sexier than spreading some cheer to strangers around the globe? Stop by your local dollar shops and grocery stores to amass everyday goodies like candy, magazines, and small toys, and make care packages for children in third-world countries or soldiers stationed abroad. Try Operation Christmas Child to fill shoe boxes for a child, or Any Soldier and Give 2 The Troops for soldiers.

5. Host a game night.
Ah, remember the days of Monopoly, Super Mario Brothers, and Hungry Hungry Hippos? Bring out those old Nintendos and Jengas (if you haven’t sold them on ebay yet), and relive the last few decades. Or try poker, Scrabble, Taboo, etc. There’s nothing that ignites the amorous competitive spirit as much as trying to figure out if Colonel Mustard did it in the billiard room with the candlestick!

* Originally from Seoul, Korea, Michelle Yoon migrated to the not-so-dirty south for college. In between perfecting her fake southern drawl and late-night runs to Waffle House, she nabbed a degree in English and Women’s Studies. Her interests include quoting incessantly from Forrest Gump, hoarding Sour Patch Kids, and daydreaming about Roger Federer. Michelle blogs at “through the saving glass.”

32 comments… add one
  • PFG-SCR November 9, 2011, 11:54 am

    I literally shuddered when I read #3 – even though needles make me faint, I think I’d rather donate blood together than host a garage sale together. It’s not a bad idea if it’s “his” and/or “her” stuff, but when it’s “your” stuff, it has the potential to become a nightmare. The practical side of it is that you are likely better off donating the items to charity and saving yourself the time and hassle of haggling with garage sale shoppers who – no matter how good of a deal it is – will try and negotiate a lower price. There’s too much work involved for the money.

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    • TheGirl November 9, 2011, 12:00 pm

      AGREED. Garage sales are painful without turning it into a date. Hanging around the front of your place all day waiting for people to offer you little to no money for your old crap is just so incredibly boring. Plus you have to get up early because they all want to show up at your house at 6am to ‘get the good stuff’ and you have to go to the bank and get like $100 in small bills & change to make sure you can make change for people. Personally, I recommend ebay if you’re looking to make money, and salvation army or goodwill if you just want to unload.

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    • rangerchic November 9, 2011, 12:01 pm

      I have to agree with you. I have hosted many a garage sale in my time. The time it takes to price everything, put the add in the paper, put up and take down signs and keeping an eye on people to make sure they don’t steal stuff in your garage not for sale it is not worth the money I make. Now I throw out the junk (much to my husband’s dismay – he’s always like “we might need that someday!”) and donate the rest. If it is a big ticket item I use craigslist or something like that.

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    • Pinky November 9, 2011, 3:26 pm

      I agree. Mr. Pinky and I have about the lowest drama relationship on the planet. We had a garage sale this summer. I was close to pummeling him. I didn’t, but I was close.

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      • Tay November 9, 2011, 4:21 pm

        Aww I like the garage sale idea. I have so mh crap lying around my house. I think it’d be fun!

    • SpaceySteph November 10, 2011, 1:29 am

      I was so excited when my friend wanted to have a garage sale over the summer. I cleaned out my closet, unpacked those last few boxes in the attic, culled through all my crap for things I no longer used. My friend, a veteran host of yard sales, laughed at me. But I was undeterred. I had never been to or had a garage sale, but it actually sounded like fun.
      Ugh what a waste. Its basically just a chance to sit in a hot garage all day (starting at 7am- when we opened the garage there were already people waiting!) and had people haggle with you over everything! How about 3 for a quarter? How about this for $4 instead of $5. Will you throw in this for free? One of my friends noticed some of her stuff missing (stolen) even though it was only priced at a quarter.
      And at the end of the day most of our old crap didn’t sell and we took it to Goodwill anyways. People come for the big ticket items- a stereo, a coffee table, a chair- and ignore the rest (clothes, CDs, books) that you actually want to get rid of.

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  • Addie Pray November 9, 2011, 12:25 pm

    Do you really want your date to see all the old things you have collecting in the basement and vice versa? In mine you’d find a shit ton of clothes that are too small (that I hold on to because “one day I’ll be able to wear these again, damnit” and some cliche art/old French posters that I thought were “so me” and original when I was in college… Fairly harmless. But what if he shows up with an inflatable doll or something?

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    • lets_be_honest November 9, 2011, 1:21 pm

      Hey! One day I WILL be able to wear those too small clothes! Damnit!

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  • SGMcG November 9, 2011, 12:27 pm

    I’m surprised that the author didn’t suggest a First Sundays/First Saturdays date. Most museums/zoos around the country have a free or $1 price for the day of admission during the first Saturday or Sunday of the month. Sometimes, there are restrictions and conditions for admission, yet all of which is usually disclosed on the venue’s webpage. If you plan accordingly, (like pack a picnic before entering the exhibits) you can make it an awesome date.

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    • Addie Pray November 9, 2011, 1:14 pm

      Oh those are good dates. Ok I vote swap this in instead of No. 3. Also, I think No. 4 is actually really expensive. I spent $60 sending $15 worth of twizzlers to France recently. Gratned, twizzlers are heavy, and worth every single penny.

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    • Rachel November 9, 2011, 4:22 pm

      We’ve got a First Fridays gallery walk here, where all the gallery’s stay open late and some of them even serve snacks.

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      • Elisse November 9, 2011, 10:12 pm

        Rachel, are you in Raleigh? Because we have a First Friday art walk here, too! In fact, I was just about to mention that’s where I went on my first date with the boy I’m seeing now. <3

    • jane November 10, 2011, 2:23 am

      The museums/zoos suggestion is great, and I agree. I think the author was, though, trying to stay away from more mainstream suggestions like that…. ie: go take a walk, visit a free museum, etc. Some of the ideas are def. not conventional… like having a garage sale… but very different.

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  • HmC November 9, 2011, 12:54 pm

    Zombie photo shoot is awesome!!! I tend to despise traditional photo shoots- so canned and cheesy.

    I don’t know if I would have the cajones to pull it off, and I don’t know if it would work as a date idea, but I give this couple mad props.

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  • Dabbler November 9, 2011, 12:59 pm

    Or a vineyard tour/wine tasting. Depending on the vineyard, some tastings are free, or like 5 bucks for a few samples. And there are generally a few within a couple of miles of each other. Some places let you bring a picnic lunch, buy a bottle of wine and sit outside, sometimes with live music. Definitely not a bad way to spend an afternoon. 🙂

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  • Slamy November 9, 2011, 1:27 pm

    I love game nights. Even when it’s just friends (and no dates), Game Night is one of my favorite things. 🙂

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    • Slamy November 9, 2011, 1:28 pm

      PS: Apples to Apples is my favorite party game. Play it. Love it.

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      • Tay November 9, 2011, 4:23 pm

        Rummikub is my fave

      • Ally November 9, 2011, 4:56 pm

        Haven’t heard of that one, please enlighten me 🙂

      • jane November 11, 2011, 3:23 pm

        I think Rummikub is like Scrabble for numbers! It’s quite fun! You should try it.

  • GatorGirl November 9, 2011, 2:30 pm

    Going on a nature trail is also a great, fun, and free date. My BF and I like to do this, watch the sunset (or most of if and then run back to the car since we live in FL and fear the gators eating us).

    Also things like street fairs or art shows can be a fun and free.

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    • lisa November 17, 2011, 7:07 pm

      I love street fairs!!! or places with free street performances… I do suggest donating a couple of bucks if you’re staying for the entire performance though.

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  • silver_dragon_girl November 9, 2011, 2:50 pm

    The Iron Chef dinner thing sounds pretty fun, I must say 🙂

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  • fast eddie November 9, 2011, 2:58 pm

    An almost free date would be to collect things from your closet, family and friends to box up care packages for our service men and women deployed in some sand pit ducking things that went BOOM! A completely cost free outing is to volunteer at a shelter to serve food or wash dishes leaving you with a grateful feeling to not be the ones in need. One of my friends packs groceries at a food bank, which he says is quite good exercise and you don’t have to dress up. Hit the hamburger spot afterward.

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  • Pinky November 9, 2011, 3:30 pm

    Host a cheesy DVD night. Mr. Pinky showed up one night with a copy of “Incubus.” It’s a movie in Esperanto from 1965 starring William Shatner. It’s sooooo bad, it’s good. You can be your own MST3K show.

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    • HmC November 10, 2011, 1:39 am

      Oh, that reminds me of a notorious “Worst Movie Night” I had with a bunch of guy friends a few years back. Each of the five of us would bring the worst movie we’d ever seen, and you had to bet 20 that yours was the worst. At the end of the night, we had to vote for the worst (couldn’t vote for our own) and the winner got 100 bucks! Now, as you could probably deduce, getting through 5 absolutely horrible movies in one night meant staying up all night… seven sodas and six hours in, and we pop in Caligula. DON’T. EVER. WATCH. CALIGULA. Don’t even google it. I was scarred for life. And it didn’t even win our movie night!

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      • jane November 10, 2011, 2:25 am

        omggg. worst movie night sounds AMAZING!!! I love this idea… Can I dare ask what other movies people brought???

  • cporoski November 9, 2011, 3:41 pm

    I love this! I want more ideas 🙂

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  • Kerrycontrary November 9, 2011, 4:08 pm

    I love the last suggestion! Last winter I stayed at my boyfriend’s for a week. He was working during the day, and we didn’t want to go out in the cold weather, so we bought some board games for around 20 dollars. We’ve been playing Jenga, chinese checkers, and chess ever since. His sister even used the Jenga the night before she went into labor (which is a cute little fun fact I just found out).

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  • Ally November 9, 2011, 6:27 pm

    I love the care package idea, even though you actually have to spen a bit of money. So creative. I’m def doing this Xmas with my bf!

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    • fast eddie November 10, 2011, 9:19 am

      Good for you Ally, I’ll follow my own advise and your example. A gold star for anyone who does this. What wine goes with field rations?

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  • lisa November 17, 2011, 7:05 pm

    Game night sounds like so much fun! I’d love to play the old school Super Mario 3…or Mario Cart! Remember those??

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