LB Note: The following guest post is from Martin of Studenomics. Originally published in May 2015, it was updated in April 2019 with 32 cheap first date ideas for the single or for long-time couples looking to shake things up. Enjoy!
My friend was torn on this. This dude asked me for advice on a first date because he was somewhere in between frugal and broke. He also wanted to have a positive result from the date. Since I'm very involved in the finance and dating scene, I wanted to help this guy out. The only problem was that I knew how cheap/broke/poor he was. He didn't have much to work with when it came to money.
Being cheap might be charming with your current group of friends, but your next date won't exactly be drooling over you. You can't expect a second date when you have a horrible first date. Chances are that you either want love, someone to spend the night with, or just want to have a fun first meeting. I get that and feel for you if you're broke or frugal.
Money seems to get in the way of everything in your 20s.
This leads to an important question…
How to have a cheap (but fun) first date
Never ever go to a restaurant.
Please never do this!
There's no benefit to going to a restaurant on the first date. Don't even try to. Avoid this idea at all costs.
Here are some of the negatives that I could instantly think of a restaurant first date:
- It's expensive.
- You're going to be stressing about the bill.
- You're going to scan for the cheapest item and then feel guilty when you eat it.
- You have to make awkward small talk.
- There's not much going on.
- You're going to constantly be thinking about the cost as you eat.
- You have to figure out if you're going to attempt splitting the bill or if you're going to fork over the full cost.
You get the point? Avoid the restaurant. This comes from years of experience.
Want a cheap first date? Try an anti-date.
These days people meet on social media, dating apps, and through friends. You don't have to go on a formal date.
What's an anti-date? The opposite of a formal date.
A couple examples of an anti-date are:
- Go to the gym.
- Go for ice cream at the new shop in town. Hype it up in advance so that she's excited.
- Do something that's very casual.
- Meet up to run errands together.
- Go to the mall.
- Go somewhere free (concert or park).
- Invite the person to hang out with your friends.
The anti-date will help alleviate your social anxiety and financial stress. The trick is to do something together that isn't formal and won't cost you much money.
Set clear expectations
What are your expectations? What are you looking for? Let this be known. There's nothing worse than two folks being on a different page.
Depending on the stage of your life and your level of experience, you're going to view dates differently.
I once offered a young lady to meet up for a movie. She invited me over. She let her intentions be known from the start.
Find someone with similar interests.
“I don't think I can afford it.”
Well, then, don't bother. That was my advice to a friend who was taking out a girl. She had expensive taste and he couldn't afford it.
Why waste your time? Why spend money you don't have?
If you want to court someone whom you can't afford, don't bother unless they're down to Earth. This young lady wasn't.
Be a person with multiple interests.
I find that the more I have going on in my life, the more dates I go on and young ladies I meet.
Since you're broke or frugal, chances are that you don't spend much money on your social life. I'm also going to assume that you try to stay busy because being broke doesn't mean that you have to be relegated to sitting in your room.
You can't be desperate to meet someone. You have to live your life. When you're having fun, the right person will enter when you least expect it and sweep you off your feet.
I want to see you stay in the dating game even when you're broke. One day you're going to have money and then you can spoil that special person. For now, you have to find someone who loves you for who you are, or at least can put up with your level of broke.
Need some inspiration? Below are 25 Cheap First Date Ideas
Really, the best (and cheapest) first dates are ones spent outside.
Walk local shelter dogs – Love dogs but don’t have one? Volunteer to walk shelter dogs. They’re always stressed out being cooped up in kennels and workers don’t have time to walk them all. Contact your local animal shelter about volunteer walking services and make it a unique and cheap first date.
Go Stargazing – Interested in astronomy? Download a free stargazing app like SkyView, Star Walk or Star Chart, grab a snack and head outside at sunset to check out the stars.
Play Chess in the park – Pack a small meal and a chess game and head out to the park. Don’t know how to play chess? Make this the day you both learn how to play. Or if only one of you knows how to play, teach the other how to play.
Visit the local Farmer’s Market – You’d be surprised how visiting your local farmer’s market on a first date can be fun. They say bonds are formed when two people experience something unique. At the market, you can get to know your local farmers, experiment new flavors together, and find new and unique gifts.
Geocache – You don’t have to go hiking in the mountains to find a geocache. Download the free app and go on an urban treasure hunt in your local area. It’s a fun way to get to know each other as you work together to find containers full of trinkets that other geocache players have hidden.
Frisbee or fly a kite – Playing Frisbee or flying a kite in the park is a good first date idea. Pack a lunch or grab a quick bite to eat and head out to the park for some old-fashioned kids’ games.
Do a doggie meet and greet – If you both have dogs, take your pooch along with you on the first date. Pack some doggie treats, a lunch, and head out to the park. Having your dog with you is a great icebreaker and opens you both up to conversation.
Explore local businesses on foot – Have you taken the time to explore all the local businesses in your town on foot? Grab some ice cream at a local shop or at the mall, take a walk, have a conversation, get to know your date and your town. You don’t have to spend much money and the date can last as long as you want.
Do a first-date double-date picnic in the park with board games – Do you know another couple going on a first date? Go ahead and make it a double date picnic at the park and take a board game you.
Visit a botanical garden – Botanical gardens are usually affordable and make a great first-date idea. It’s a beautiful quiet place to walk around and have a casual conversation.
Pick fruit at a local farm – Although it’s not exactly free, picking your own fresh fruit, taking a hay ride, enjoying sample foods, learning how to make jam, or finding your way through a corn maze can make for a fun first date.
Rent a kayak or paddle boat – If you’re near a lake and weather permits, renting a kayak or paddle boat can be a fun and cheap way to spend the first date.
Indoor Cheap First Date Ideas
Mix things up. Instead of the standard “meet for a drink” or “dinner and a movie,” try one of the “out of the box” suggestions below.
Do a Color Me Mine class – Try your hand at some pottery. See if there’s a Color Me Mine class in your area or other type of painting or art class you can do together.
Take a free city-sponsored class – Most cities offer free classes like pottery, art, yoga, martial arts, or dancing. Check online to see if there are any interesting free classes both of you can do on a first date.
Go Bowling – Bowling is a great first date idea because it’s a physical activity that is affordable and allows for casual conversation that doesn’t have to be eye-to-eye. Plus, there are usually other things to do at the bowling alley like arcade games and billiards.
Visit the local library – Talk about the architecture, discuss your favorite books, or participate in free events or classes. Your local library can be very inspiring and incite interests in each other that wouldn’t otherwise be found if you went to a restaurant or movie.
Coffee and checkers or a crossword puzzle at a local coffeehouse – There’s nothing like a stimulant and a brain puzzle to get the intellectual juices flowing for an interesting first date.
Play a board game or ping pong at the local community center – Make some sandwiches and take them over to the local community center and play some board games. It’s a great first date idea since it’s cheap but fun.
Have a breakfast date at a local café – Breakfasts are usually cheaper than lunch or dinner. Find a vintage diner or hole-in-the-wall café.
Check out a street or music festival – During the spring/summer months, music and street festivals start popping up. These make for great cheap first-date destinations because they usually offer free music and affordable food from a variety of vendors.
Visit a local museum – Did you know that some museums open at night? Not only are they great for an affordable first date, but museums also provide a casual atmosphere for you to start a conversation and keep it going.
Go garage-sale, antiquing, or thrift store – You don’t have to buy anything just look at all the odd and unique things people are selling. You can even make it a morning date.
Watch a local high school or college sports game – If you both are local sports fans, why not watch a local high school or college sports game.
Watch open-mic night together – Go see an open-mic, improv, or comedy show. Getting a couple laughs in together is a great first-date idea.
Visit a historical site – Check out a local historical landmark and learn about the history.
With these ideas and then the seven listed in the post below, these 32 first date ideas should get you through your next round of Tinderellas.