Fancy dinners and costly ticket prices add up, especially when you're trying to get to know somebody new. We would all love to be able to splash out big on every date, but unfortunately, that's just not the lifestyle most of us can afford to live. But you shouldn't have to choose between wooing the attractive human of your dreams (or even just the attractive human of the moment from Tinder) and paying rent. That's where affordable date planning comes into play. Or you can take things a step beyond "affordable" into "cheap"—or even hop two steps ahead into free date territory. (If you're looking for indoor-specific date ideas, we've got those too.)
Cheap dates (that don't feel cheap) aren't just for people in those early stages of relationships. Long-term couples still need a steady supply of good date night options, especially if they're sticking to a budget or just not into fancy schmancy expensive dinners. To help out literally anyone looking to have a fun date night on the cheap, we've put together the ultimate guide to dating on a real-person budget, from creative second date options to outdoorsy adventures that only require a little bit of spare cash and the right attitude.
Try a New Food Truck
Food trucks are a great way to have amazing food on the cheap and explore your city or walk around a new neighborhood. Win. Win. Win.
Hit Up a Garage Sale
Wake up early and hit the neighborhood garage sales. Give yourselves a small budget (say, $10 each) and see who can haggle their way to the most treasures by the end of the day.
Write Each Other Love Letters
If your relationship is at a point where you're exchanging L-bombs, lean into the romance vibes and write each other heartfelt love letters. And if it's not, write each other heartfelt like letters, even if it just means explaining what caught your eye in their Tinder profile.
Have a Book Club Session
Pick a book you've both been dying to read and set a time to sit down with a glass (or three) of wine and discuss your ~thoughts~.
Buy a Lottery Ticket
Drop a dollar on a lottery ticket and spend the evening imagining what you'll do with your winnings. You can plan dream vacations, describe your ideal mansions, or take a turn for the real and open up about the student loan debt you still need to get out from under—whatever feels right.
The couple that gets zen together, stays together—or at least avoid the kinds of drama and fights that make staying together much more difficult. If you're stuck indoors with your S.O., take the opportunity to cultivate a meditation practice together.
Visit An Animal Shelter
Even if you can't adopt a pet, you can still bring a little joy (and some sweet ear scratches and belly rubs) to an animal in need by visiting your local animal shelter.
Do A Puzzle Together
You and your S.O. already fit together like matching puzzle pieces, right? Why not get inspired by that cutesy metaphor and do an actual jigsaw puzzle together?
Look Through Old Yearbooks
You already spent plenty of your parents' hard-earned money on these hardbound keepsakes and, once enough time has passed, they're actually really funny and adorable to reminisce over. Meet up with your most funny/embarrassing/brag-worthy yearbooks and take a trip down memory lane together.
Fly A Kite
Get your Mary Poppins on and make the most of a beautiful day by flying kites in a local park.
Build a Blanket Fort
Embrace your inner kid and build a blanket (and/or pillow) fort inside for a cozy, low-key date night.
Have a Picnic
Whether you go for a traditional outdoor picnic or put down a blanket inside (or on your balcony or roof, if you have access), a picnic is a great way to shake things up on the cheap.
Visit a Museum
While certain museums have steep ticket prices, many hold free or discounted days or hours during weekdays so you can get cultured on a budget.
Plan a Binge Watch
Sometimes there’s simply too much good TV to stay up-to-date during the week. Instead, pitch a binge-watch day, where you and your boo dress cozy, make snacks, and finish all the episodes in one go. You really need to catch up on Succession anyway.
Go Antiquing or Thrifting Together
You never know when you'll find your next one-of-a-kind furniture piece, so spend a few hours perusing a dedicated antiques mart or thrift store. There's a good chance you'll find some kooky clothing options there too.
Take A Ferry Ride
Relocate your date to the nearest ferry if you want a change of scenery. Aim for an unexplored area for a longer day trip, or try a short round-trip ride for a first date (opens in new tab) where you're still—literally and figuratively—testing the waters.
Go Window Shopping
Without having to spend a penny, walk around and check out the pretty window designs of local stores. For the S.O. who hates shopping, the activity will be the walk and conversation while you ogle the storefronts.
Relax in a Jacuzzi
Want to relax, but don't have a pool/the weather's not cooperating? Opt for this luxurious version—whether it's accessing a local facility for a couple hours or going somewhere a bit more out of the way if it's cheaper.
Learn Something New
There may be free courses and classes available locally, or if not, see if you can find something online. This offers a fun way to be together and expand your mind—from learning to play a musical instrument to watching a cool motivational speaker.
Visit a Pop-Up
Some of the most fun and experimental stuff is available at pop-ups. Whether the owner's just starting out or testing the market for a new type of food/drink/item, these "here today, gone tomorrow" mobile stores are often inexpensive. Either way, it's a fun-filled experience seeing what's out there.
Look for a Spectacular View
You don't have to go to Paris to grab a fabulous photo op. Whether it's going to a roof deck or observation tower, or even heading out of your area to look at the skyline, go out of your way to see things from a new perspective.
Paint and sip bars (opens in new tab) are a fun experience, but they can sometimes get pricey and you don't always have control over what you make. So recreate something similar at home, whether it's a fun DIY project you guys have been thinking about, to buying a brush and a small palette to make something for the wall.
Ride a Train or Trolley
We're always so busy running around that it can be fun to take a leisurely mode of transportation to nowhere in particular. Sightsee on the cheap, head to a new place, or just sit and snuggle while you let you mind wander.
Find Your New Happy Place
Love picnicking? Go exploring for a new perfect spot. Enjoy grabbing coffee together? Try a just-opened cafe. The vibe might be new, but the activity has all the fun memories and shared experiences you need. Plus, you just might find a new favorite spot.
Visit the Library
Granted, not every library sports the spectacular views like this one in New York, but it's a totally fun (and underrated) place to go. Listen to a local speaker or take a class! Participate in a book club or group reading! You know, borrow a book or movie! You'll find stuff to do, promise—especially if the library is connected to a school or university.
Whether indoor or outdoor, playing paintball with friends, strangers, or just the two of you can be a fun, enjoyably messy activity—especially if you're both competitive. Check out local offerings, which can be as low as $10-30 if you bring your own paint. Just, you know, go easy on the loser!
Write Out Your Goals
Is there somewhere you'd like to go? Some milestone you want to achieve together? Or, if the relationship is new, share what you both want to get out of this year and offer support for each other's hopes and dreams.
Make an At-Home Spa
Recreate your own spa experience by drawing a bubble bath, lighting a few candles, and throwing in a soothing massage. Bonus points if you can get your partner to put on a face mask.
Hit the Bases
Head to the stands to cheer on your favorite team and devour some hot dogs.
For an awesome time at an arcade, all you need are some quarters. Make things more interesting by betting a drink on the person who can win the most prizes.
Karaoke is a guaranteed fun night, even if you can't hold a note to save your life. Stick to duets like 03 Bonnie and Clyde and What's My Name? for a great time.
Glamp Where You Are
Set up a tent in the backyard, roast some marshmallows, tell spooky stories by a campfire—you got a romantic, at-home camping experience. Or live the #vanlife by decking out your backseat as a cozy, indoor-outdoor hang. Either way, it’s the thrill of the outdoors without leaving home, minus the bug bites.
S.O. with a heart of gold? Find a local charity, like a soup kitchen or a pet shelter, and volunteer for the day. Studies (opens in new tab) say that acts of generosity increase well-being and happiness, and couldn't we all use some more of that?
When's the last time you actually put your phone down and looked up? Grab a blanket and try to find your favorite constellations. If you need some guidance, you can download apps like Star Tracker (opens in new tab).
Enjoy a Brewery or Winery Tour
Most local brewery or winery tours are free, and you'll leave with knowledge you can impress your friends with—and you'll get some free sips of booze, obviously.
Spend an afternoon sharing your talents and hobbies. You can demonstrate your musical chops by giving your date a guitar lesson while they show you how to throw a free-throw. Or vice versa.
Attend a Reading
Find a poetry reading, or performances of works by a specific writer, by searching local book readings.
Yes, the shoes are disgusting, but you'll have a great time and a little friendly competition never hurts.
Spend Time on the Water
Test your sense of adventure by renting a kayak, canoe, or paddle boat at a local lake or beach. Rentals should be around $20, and you'll definitely get a good 'gram.
Find a Carnival
Two words: cotton candy. If there's a carnival in town, bring your date for a few rides on the Ferris wheel.
Browse a Book Store
Learning about the books that made someone who they are can be a great way to get to know each other’s likes and dislikes. Heading to a bookstore and browsing the pages is totally free, and a little more active than just a coffee shop. Plus, maybe they also had a childhood Harry Potter obsession so you can feel OK coming clean about yours.
Find a Cookie or Chocolate Factory Tour
Go on a cookie or chocolate factory tour together to solely pay attention to the free samples.
Have a Wine and Cheese Night
Take a moment to decompress by grabbing a bottle (or two) of wine and snacks for a cozy night in.
Get Ice Cream
There’s nothing more wholesome than an ice cream date. Get a cone, pick some toppings, and go for a stroll around a park for just about the cutest date idea in the world. Also? Ice cream!
Pull Up to a Drive-In Movie
All you need for this date is a tank of gas and a companion.
Discover Dive Bars
Switch up your weekend routine and head to a dive bar for a few rounds of darts and cheap drinks. Okay, and also some Fireball shots.
Have a Foreign Film Night
Old, black-and-white foreign films are romantic, and usually the tickets are slightly reduced for art-house flicks. There also might be a movie being shown in a park if the weather's good enough.
Try Fruit Picking
Is there anything that says fall romance quite like apple/berry/whatever's in season picking together? We didn't think so.
Hit the Trails
Outdoorsy types can get their workout in with a morning hike on the nearest wilderness trails. Endorphins + scenic views = a good time.
Laugh It Out
When you just want some light-hearted entertainment, scoop up tickets for a comedy club amateur night or improv show. You can't guarantee that the jokes will always be on point, but when tickets are only $5, you're not risking much.
Don't want to blow your food budget on eating out? Pick a recipe and team up on the chopping, sprinkling, and stirring.
See a Concert Under the Stars
Even if you don't make it right to the front and center of the pit area, you can still sit on the grass and stargaze. Pack a blanket and enjoy the good music.
Go Mini Golfing
Pretend that you're both PGA champs on a putt putt course and see who can come closest to par. Loser buys dinner.
If you and your date are both of the activist persuasion, spend time together and make a difference by volunteering to get out the vote, get signatures for a candidate you like, or attend an event for a cause you care about. Sharing passions is a great way to build intimacy.
Find Local Art
Local galleries tend to have public events for acquiring new works, as well as free nights on weekdays. You'll get to mingle with interesting, like-minded people while also scoring some free wine. #Cultured.
Have a Game Night at Home
A friendly date night at home with board games (or a group date—the more the merrier!) are perfect if you're feeling lazy. Order in pizza and let the games begin.
Coordinate a Potluck
For a feast on a budget, organize a potluck dinner as a double or triple date. It's a win-win-win for everyone.
Grow Something Together
Local parks and public gardens often offer volunteer hours in the Spring and Fall where you and your date can get your hands dirty while giving back to the community. Plus, it’ll be amazing to come back a few months later to see that your seeds have fully bloomed—just like your relationship.
See a Psychic
Get your palms or tarot cards read by a psychic. You'll both probably find some predictions you'll laugh about.
If tandem bikes aren't really your cup of tea, rent or ride your own bikes for a leisurely lap around a park or over a nature trail. It can be as little as $20 for the whole day.
Rock Climb Together
Let the thrill of a rock climbing wall help kick up your endorphins. Plus, you can practice your teamwork getting to the top together.
Learn How to Skate
Recreate the days of your youth (or a fun '80s movie) by taking a few laps around a roller skating rink. If you don't have the greatest coordination, expect a few bruises and falls, but that won't make the skating any less fun. Hand-holding is likely.
The smell of cookies or a cake wafting through the air, the treat you get afterwards—baking is its own reward, and a wonderful opportunity to spend some time together without breaking the bank. No judgment if you just go the route of frozen cookie dough—less work, still delicious.
Sign Up for Trivia Night
Sign up together for trivia night at a local bar to see how well you can recall random facts. Winners usually leave with a cash prize, meaning that you could share a winner's pot (or save it for your next date night).
Play tourists for the day and check out where the masses armed with cameras (and selfie sticks) are heading.
Start Your Chess Master Journey
Chess is a great indoor activity that you probably already know the rules to but that you can become really good at by checking out some masterful tips on YouTube. Get sophisticated with your date by playing a game, and maybe even learning some badass moves. It’s a real queen’s gambit of a date move.
Learn a Dance
Gain some new moves by having a living room dance class. YouTube the steps you’ve always wanted to learn—be it a tango, a TikTok trend, or a Texas two-step—and spend some time learning it together. You can learn a new skill, break a little sweat, and have something to laugh about when you inevitably start out a little clumsy.
Host a Low-Key Fancy Brunch
The best thing about breakfast is you can make it super fancy on a small budget. Crafting a yummy brunch at home lets you show off your culinary skills, avoid long restaurant lines, and stay in your PJs. Plus, no additional charge for adding in the endless mimosas.
Have a Backyard Cocktail Hour
Why fight the after-work masses when you can mix up a pitcher of your favorite mixed drink, bust out the fancy glasses, and have a chill outdoor happy hour on your patio or in the backyard? It’s a way to wind-down the day and get to know each other without having to worry about who’s getting the tab at the end of the night.
Guide a Walking Tour
Grab some coffees, pick a neighborhood that means something to you, and take your date around to the best shops, hang-out spots, and park benches that you love. It’s more active than just a sit-down date, but still allows for plenty of talking and walking time. Plus, ample opportunities for casual hand-holding.
For more stories like this, including celebrity news, beauty and fashion advice, savvy political commentary, and fascinating features, sign up for the Marie Claire newsletter.
Welcome to (Another) Summer of Scam
From suburban killers to millionaire scammers.
By Quinci LeGardye
Best Blushes to Give Your Cheeks a Sun-Kissed Glow This Summer
Powders, liquids, and creams for every preference.
By Samantha Holender
The Cambridges Shine in Cambridge on Official Visit to Their Dukedom
A new portrait of the couple is being unveiled.
By Iris Goldsztajn
30 Female-Friendly Porn Websites for Any Mood
All the best websites, right this way.
By Kayleigh Roberts
Diary of a Non-Monogamist
Rachel Krantz, author of the new book 'Open,' shares the ups and downs of her journey into the world of open relationships.
By Abigail Pesta
71 Fun Date Ideas for 2022
Skip the old "dinner and a movie" for something original.
By Katherine J Igoe
COVID Forced My Polyamorous Marriage to Become Monogamous
For Melanie LaForce, pandemic-induced social distancing guidelines meant she could no longer see men outside of her marriage. But monogamy didn't just change her relationship with her husband—it changed her relationship with herself.
By Melanie LaForce
How the pandemic has mutated our most personal disunions.
By Gretchen Voss
16 At-Home Date Ideas When You're Stuck Indoors
Staying in doesn't have to be boring.
By Katherine J Igoe
Long Distance Relationship Gift Ideas for Couples Who've Made It This Far
Alexa, play "A Thousand Miles."
By Jaimie Potters
15 Couples on How 2020 Rocked Their Relationship
Couples confessed to Marie Claire how this year's many multi-stressors tested the limits of their love.
By Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW