Love in the Time of Inflation: How to Have a Cheap Date

Cheap date couple on picnic

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Credit Sesame on how to have a cheap date without the need to lower your standards.

2022 closed out inflation at 6.5% and budget-battered singles now have Valentine’s Day to coming up. Last fall, a survey by consumer site Coupon Follow found that 41% of singles and 55% of couples had scrapped dating entirely, and most of those still dating reported that they had “lowered their standards” for planned outings. Are couples still counting the pennies in 2023? Even if that’s the case, spending less on dates doesn’t have to mean a less than stellar experience. Frugal February and Valentine’s Day can go hand in hand.

Dating is not dead

Inflation has not killed romance. It is possible to have a memorable time as a couple without flattening your wallet. Especially first dates. As the weather cools and we head indoors, the Netflix and chill cheap date might be fine for old friends, but it’s probably not the most imaginative first date agenda.

Relax. You can still savor a fun date, even a first date, without selling plasma or taking a second job. Here are a few ideas.

Original first date suggestions

First dates can be a challenge even without inflation. You want to put your best foot forward and to make a good impression. But “good impression” doesn’t mean faking wealth that you don’t have. It’s about being yourselves and determining if you’re compatible. Finding out if you have shared interests and values. You can absolutely do that on a cheap date.

Coffee, tea and me

Coffee dates are well-known for being casual, low-stress, inexpensive and unimaginative. Why not elevate yours a little and choose a place with whimsical cups, goofy decor, fantastic pastries or a famous breakfast? Or try an afternoon or high tea and really stand out? (“High tea” does not mean fancy; it means a tea that’s more like a meal.) Practice your British accents and discuss the latest episode of The Crown. If that’s not enough culture for you, visit a book store or museum afterward.

Play tourist

Look at your town with fresh eyes. Take an urban hike and check out your cheesy, touristy shopping district. The advantage is that you can shop and talk without being tempted to buy. Eat street food. Read the silly tee shirts. Bring your dogs if you like. Hop into a walking tour. Browse flea markets or thrift stores. Kill a couple of hours in the local shops and plan a second date geared to your shared interests.

Friendship and food

Of course, five-star dinners are fun. But do you really want to shell out the big bucks for someone who might not work out or even appreciate it? Spend less and have more fun with a food-themed evening or afternoon. Indulge your love of pumpkin spice everything. Create your own tasting menu from your favorite food trucks. Take turns picking a dish to share. Tour a local winery, brewery, candy shop or other delicious destination. Take a class and learn to prepare a meal or just a fancy cocktail together. Does your city have an iconic dish that it’s known for? Pick a place and experience it.

A cheap date for established couples

The advantage of being a couple is that you already know your interests. But that can also be a drawback. You date on autopilot and stop trying new things. Fortunately, there are many inflation-beating ideas for couples who want to shake up their weekends.

Mini bucket list

How often do you walk or drive by an establishment and say, “That looks interesting” or, “I always wanted to try that?” Keep a cheap date bucket list on your phone and add these things when they come up. Then plan some new fun. Maybe it’s a pub that incorporates an activity like portrait painting, axe-throwing, mini-golf or bocci ball. Or an escape room, virtual reality experience, go-karts, or an old-timey bowling alley. You can pay less for your date by looking for coupons and promotions or going during the week or in the afternoon.

Picture some fun

The iconic Sunday drive used to be a staple of family life (and classic television shows). Bring it back! Map out some pretty or interesting locations and plan a day to photograph them. You don’t need expensive equipment; your phones will do nicely. This kind of day lends itself to picnicking if your weather allows or going for (inexpensive) hot soup or drinks if it’s chilly. Other ways to get your art on include pottery studios, where you can create your own or decorate an unfinished piece. Or take a painting class (with or without wine) and make a masterpiece together.

Play old-school games

Indulge your playful side with lighthearted contests. Go to an arcade and play as your parents did. Do some fast driving (safely, and not over the speed limit), whack some moles, and save the galaxy. Or play skee ball and air hockey. Keep it light (and inexpensive) with a post-play pizza and beer. If you’re more physical, try a new sport together. Your local community college or beginner leagues could provide a semester or season’s worth of dates. And you might even make some new friends.

Shop without overspending

A shopping trip is not always about spending. Visit open houses on a Saturday morning and grab brunch afterward. Check out the window displays in the expensive part of town and buy something imaginary for each other. Take ten minutes apart and take a pic of what you think your other half would like. Try on clothing and see if a new style works for you. Head for the thrifts and put silly outfits together. For yourself and for each other. Hunt for antiques or cruise garage sales. Set a maximum spending limit or decide that you won’t take anything home that day. You might even benefit from rising inventories and sale prices in some categories, but don’t buy on impulse.

Rising prices don’t have to suck the fun out of life or doom you to singlehood (unless that’s your preference). Imagination beats inflation, so pick a couple of ideas and try them out with a new or old friend.

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Disclaimer: The article and information provided here is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice.

Gina Freeman
Gina has been writing consumer-centric content in the personal finance, business and investing for nearly 20 years. She loves making challenging or even “boring” topics accessible and helping readers feel educated and confident in their decisions.

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