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. And you can take things a step beyond “affordable” into “cheap” or even hop two steps ahead into free date territory. (For quarantine-specific date ideas, try one of these.)
Affordable, cheap, and free dates aren’t just for people in those early, spend money on fancy dates and impress each other stages of love. Longterm couples still need a steady supply of good date night options, even 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 stay-at-home options for the true homebodies to outdoorsy adventures that only require a little bit of spare cash and the right attitude.
Maskot 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.
Shannon Fagan 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.
Erik Dreyer 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.
Paul Bradbury Have a mini book club
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~.
Roy Botterell 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.
Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd Meditate together
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.
Mint Images 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.
nito100 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.
Bill Oxford Look through old yearbooks
You already spent lots 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.
David Samuel Robbins Fly a kite
Get your Mary Poppins on and make the most of a beautiful day by flying kites in a local park.
AJ_Watt Build a blanket fort
Embrace your inner kid and build a blanket (and/or pillow) fort inside for a cozy, low-key date night.
Carol Yepes 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.
Massimo Borchi/Atlantide Phototravel 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.
Mistik Pictures Volunteer
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 say that acts of generosity increase well-being and happiness, and couldn’t we all use some more of that?
Dave Bradley Photography 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.
danielsbfoto 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 where you’re still—literally and figuratively—testing the waters.
fotostorm 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.
Martin Barraud 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.
Klaus Vedfelt 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.
Thomas Barwick 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.
Zeyu Wang 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.
Lucia Lukacova Make Something
Hal Bergman Photography 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.
Jean-Jacques Halans / EyeEm 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.
Sascha Kilmer 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.
Artur Debat Play Paintball
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!
Kseniya Ovchinnikova 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.
mythja 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.
poetic_disorder Hit the Bases
Head to the stands to cheer on your favorite team and devour some hot dogs.
Next Second Date Ideas That Aren’t Cliché