Inexpensive Date Night Ideas That Aren't Embarrassing

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Dating is something anyone interested in having a long- or short-term relationship will have to do, whether they've got a lot of money to spend or not. Generally speaking, if you're on the latter end of that scenario, you'll have to learn how to live frugally without sacrificing your standard of life. That's all fine and good when it's all about you. Once another person comes into the picture, it may not be all up to you when you spend money. According to MoneyGeek, when you add up the average cost of dinner and movie tickets for two, you should expect to spend about $123 on a date in the United States. If you live in Miami, Washington, or Seattle — the top-three most expensive cities to go on a date in the U.S. — you can add about 20% to 25% to that amount.

As per a 2023 survey conducted by The Hustle, 85% out of 683 respondents admitted inflation has made dating more expensive for them, with 92% saying food, 74% listing alcohol, and 67% pointing to entertainment in general as taking a heavier toll on their bank accounts. That's led to 24% of respondents turning down dates. This could be perceived as a money-related red flag to look out for in a partner. With that said, here's how to have an inexpensive date night that doesn't embarrass you or your date.

Going to a cafe

DatingAdvice.com found that almost an equal number of men and women surveyed — 48% of men and 49% of women — preferred dinner dates as first dates. Surprisingly, 37% of respondents who made $100,000 to $124,999 per year preferred dinner on a first date compared to 53% of people surveyed with a salary of $25,000 or less. That's a lot of people who should be paying closer attention to their budgets opting for more expensive first dates than people in a better position to afford it.

According to Drive Research, 54% of Americans spend less than $20 in cafes or coffee shops, while spending an average of $300 per month eating out. Even factoring in the impact of the latte effect over a year of first dates at a cafe compared with a year of first dates at restaurants makes it clear which is better for your budget. If you're concerned about a coffee date ruining your chances at a second date, Psychology Today suggests that the most important things people take away from a first date have very little to do with location.

Being a good conversationalist, having a sense of humor, and expressing genuine interest in your date's life will raise the likelihood of another date more than where you eat. Thinking in terms of whether Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts is cheaper is the wrong strategy. Coffee and pastries won't set you back much at either location. Go for ambiance and comfort over cost.

Spending the day at a brewery

If you're dating on a budget, that probably rules out extravagant trips to Napa Valley or wine country. In fact, wine is on our list of things you're paying too much for, especially if you're paying for it at a wine bar or restaurant. You'll be in for as much as a 400% markup on that bottle of wine, turning a $20 bottle of wine into an $80 bill before taxes and tips. That doesn't include any other activities either. A $17 glass of wine in areas of the country like San Francisco is standard as of 2023, while the average 16-ounce glass of draft beer in the U.S. costs $4.19 to around $5.60 on the higher end.

A few reasons to consider a date at a local brewery include a casual, friendly environment lacking in intimidating pretension; lower-cost alcoholic beverages; and cheap eats on-site for you to pick at together if the night is going in an optimistic direction. At breweries, fun activities that don't cost a lot include playing board games, ordering beer flights, or visiting on movie night. A few breweries offer date nights with deals for couples like Day Block Brewing Company in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where $40 gets you six beer flights, a large pizza, and a salad to share every Wednesday night. Of course, you'll want to make sure your date drinks beer before going the brewery route.

Taking a scenic drive

Take a ride out of the hustle and bustle of the city into the countryside. According to the USApple Association, there are 26,000 apple growers across 50 states growing around 11.1 billion pounds of apples per year and generating $3.2 billion in domestic sales. Plenty of apple orchards offer visitors the chance to enjoy some of these apples, as well as other frugal activities.

Mercier Orchards located in Blue Ridge, Georgia, for example, offers apple picking from Autumn to October, berry picking from May to July, and blossom tours in April. Like most apple orchards, Mercier Orchards has a farmers market on-site with preserves; sweets including apple pies, donuts, and cinnamon apple bread; and hard cider in cans or on tap at the winery. A flight of ciders is easy on the wallet at $12 per flight. Being the designated driver gives you a ready-made excuse to cut your beverage spending in half and stick to coffee and pie.

Further, the lack of city lights in the countryside gives you ample opportunity to stargaze. Invest in a portable coffee maker like the Black+Decker CM618 single-serve coffee maker and a vehicle plug adapter like a FOVAL 150W power inverter. (You can get both for under $30 on Amazon.) Brew a comforting cup of java for you and your date. Pop the trunk, lay out on a blanket, and enjoy the night sky together. Worried about gas? We've got you covered with ways to save money on gas.

Having an afternoon picnic

While Money Analysis has written about several ways to save money when you dine out, one surefire way to avoid a huge restaurant bill is to avoid the restaurants altogether. Aside from dining in a fancy establishment, Americans spend a lot of money on fast-food restaurants. Whether through delivery apps, pick-up, or sit-down service, thanks to the rising cost of food production, the cost of labor, and the ongoing war in Ukraine affecting global exports of wheat and corn, dining out has become costlier than ever. While these factors also impact grocery store purchases, inflation affects restaurants at a percentage just over three times higher than your local grocery. That makes a picnic date at a local park both a romantic and cost-effective way of spending two-thirds less on a dinner date.

While pulling off a picnic is going to be limited to warmer seasons or geographical locations, it's a viable dating scenario. The average cost of a bottle of wine in a restaurant sells for between $60 to $80 a bottle. You could purchase that same bottle at the liquor store for $20. Pack some sandwiches and a homemade fruit platter with one great cheese option and you're set. Be sure to check the laws around drinking in public parks for your state, as it's not legal everywhere.

Visiting a gallery or museum

If your date is cerebral or arty, art galleries or local museums make for another fabulous date night idea. Bumble suggests an art gallery date is an ideal option since the art on the walls sparks conversation and allows you to get to know each other better in an environment where you can dress up or down without feeling out of place. Independent art galleries often serve complimentary wine during launch parties for artist exhibitions, which is another way to save some money without looking cheap.

Where museums are concerned, many offer free entry nights, and some are always free. For instance, the Baltimore Museum of Art is free all year-round and will keep you and your date busy with over 90,000 collected pieces of art next to an outdoor sculpture garden close to Johns Hopkins University. While not free all the time, all the major museums in New York City — the Guggenheim, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the MoMA — have free access nights during prime dating hours varying between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

The Met, located in New York's Central Park, offers date nights on Friday and Saturday nights, catering specifically to couples with live music, drink specials, and light bites included with the cost of admission. Whether free, pay what you can, or set rate, the average cost of museum entry isn't more than $30 per person. That's half the average cost of a date, including drinks and music.

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