Can I share a little confession? I miss the romantic comedies of the late 1990s and early 2000s. I had a bit of an obsession there for awhile. Sleepless in Seattle? Sure. Bridget Jones books and movies? Um, yes please. My Best Friend’s Wedding? I watched it so many times that “Say a Little Prayer for You” instantly conjures images of dancing lobsters. Seriously? That seafood restaurant had a piano player and EVERYONE sang along. Sweet November with Kenau Reeves and One Fine Day with George Clooney? I bought both soundtracks so I could keep the memory of the movie alive in my CD player. Probably the most overplayed and ridiculously over the top chick flick that graced my VCR was a little 1997 film entitled Picture Perfect with Jennifer Aniston.
A ridiculous romantic, I looked for the boy next door in every single passerby. Would he sweep me off my feet? Could this be the one? And so when my own love story began to unfold in the late summer of 1998, I had all sorts of notions about what love, dating, and eventually marriage should look like.
Most of those expectations involved choreographed dancing and signing. Thanks a lot rom coms. Never once has that happened. I’m still holding out hope a little bit, though.
When Brian and I married in 1999 (I KNOW oh so long ago!), reality met unrealistic romanticism. Imagine my surprise when my own handsome knight in shining armor didn’t show up home from work in a tuxedo with an arm full of roses, but instead left his underwear on the floor every stinking day of the week. And after we had our first child in 2002 and our second in 2008, sweeping gestures toward love involved me trying to remember to put on deodorant and shower at least couple of times of week.
Falling in love is easy. You don’t even need an elaborate script or a moonlit carriage ride through Central Park. Staying in love takes real work and commitment. They never seem to show those scenes in the movies.
I can hear your groans already.
But Cherie, we don’t have ANY extra money. To pay a sitter, to go out to dinner, to see a movie, to shave my legs and put on real pants and makeup – that takes a budget we just don’t have.
What? The legs/pants/makeup thing is just me? Oh well, move along please.
Listen, I get it. When we were paying off over $127K in debt, we had zero and I truly mean zero dollars in the budget for dating. And yet, those were some of the sweetest and romantic years of our marriage. It invoked in us a true appreciation for each other beyond money spent and items purchased.
Was it always easy? Of course not. Did we love being broke? Who does. Was it worth it? Absolutely.
If you’re trying to pay off debt or saving for a greater goal right now, it doesn’t mean you toss your love life out the window. In fact, financial hardship means you need to fight even harder for your marriage. Nothing can turn a relationship more sour than power struggles over money. You need to carve out time for one another. But you don’t have to spend every last penny in the bank to make it count.
Here are fifteen of my favorite cheap date night ideas to keep love alive and your budget safely intact.
1. Bake Up Some Love
Who needs high priced cheesecake? Why not whip up a delicious sweet treat together? Find a recipe online or head to the store and pick out the most decadent mix on the shelves. Then spend some time heating up the kitchen together and enjoying a sweet treat. While the dessert is in the oven, talk about the sweetest thing your spouse has ever done for you.
2. Recreate the Memory
If you can, take a stroll down memory lane literally. Remember when you were young, in love, and barely a penny to your name? Return either physically or symbolically to those days and recreate one of your favorite memories together.
3. Puzzle Up
Problem solving can strengthen your communication skills and teamwork. Spend the evening working on a crossword or jigsaw puzzle. Crack a puzzle you already own out from the closet to save the most money or hit the game aisle at your local big box retailer to pick a new one out together.
4. $5 Gifts
While your funds might be limited, you probably can spare $10 on a date night. Each take a $5 bill and hit the dollar store. Spend 10-20 minutes looking for a special gift for your spouse. Take the gifts home and wrap them (newspaper will work great!) and exchange, explaining why you bought what you bought.
5. Opt for Lunch
Dinner prices are almost always more expensive than lunch. If you can, meet your spouse for a lunch date at a favorite restaurant. If your children are in school, you won’t have pay for a sitter and you can take advantage of lower menu prices. Double bonus.
6. Change Night
It’s time to go on a change scavenger hunt. Dig through the couch cushions, car glove box, and your wallet. Don’t forget the bottom of your purse and that jar on your nightstand. Use the money for a night out on the town. You may have enough for a fancy dinner or just enough to rent a Redbox (check Inside Redbox for potential codes to save more money!) or a game of skeeball at the local arcade. Another option might be intentionally collecting change all year long for a special night like your anniversary.
7. Take Out, Stay In
If you’re lucky enough to have someone else watching your kids outside of your home (we love you, Grandma!), spend the evening in instead of hitting the town. You could order takeout to share from a favorite restaurant (we love Thai Food) or stick to your meal plan and enjoy a wee bit quieter meal. Don’t forget to crack out some candles and create a playlist of songs popular when you fell in love.
8. Sitter Swap
Can’t afford a sitter? You might consider swapping with another couple who have children of similar ages and stages. One week, you watch their kids so they can go out and the next, they return the favor. Again, you could stay in to save a few bucks or you could choose one of the other cheap date night options.
9. Start a Series
There’s nothing like share a story together, even if it isn’t your own. My husband and I love weekly time together catching up on joint Netflix loves. You could choose a long running TV show, an epic movie series, or maybe a create a list of classic movies together to check out from the library and off your list all year long.
10. Play a Game
There’s nothing like a little healthy competition to get your heart pumping. Whether you hit the court for some one-on-one, play a little tennis, get your video game on, or simply break out a board game you haven’t played in forever, playing together can be fun and affordable.
11. Community Crush
From high school musicals to community band concerts, many cities and towns offer free entertainment on a regular basis. Sure, you might not be Broadway babies, but you can still have a great time while spending a whole lot less. Go to your town or city’s website. Check local television station’s online community calendars. Look on the Visitor Bureau’s free events calendar. You might be surprised how many free or low cost opportunities you have in your area.
12. Take a Hike
When the weather cooperates, you can have a great time in the great outdoors. All you need is a good pair of shoes, some snacks, and a bottle of water. Hiking clothes optional (j.k. I’m pretty sure that will get you arrested and that will certainly be expensive). You could even pack a backpack with an entire meal.
13. Cash in Your Rewards
I love rewards programs! From Swagbucks to Shopkicks, from My Coke Rewards to Disney Movie Rewards, I’m always collecting as many points as I can. If you use rewards programs, cash some out for date night. Again, you may have enough for just a cup of coffee, but you might have enough for much more. Check out 7 Rewards Programs You Should Be Using to starting collecting your points now!
14. From the Bookstore to the Library
Channel your inner nerd. Go to the bookstore and browse popular titles. Take screenshots of interesting books, magazines, movies, and music. Then hit your local library to see if you can check them out for free. You’ll have the relaxing time together browsing but not actually have to spend extra cash. If your library doesn’t currently have the title, check to the see if there’s a way to request a new title purchase.
15. Dream Dates
Focus your eyes on what lies ahead. If you don’t have much of a date budget, spend your evening dreaming together. Once your debt is gone or your savings goal is met, where would you LOVE to go as a couple for a date night. Do research to find ways to save money on that evening or maybe even weekend. Center your hearts and minds on what you need to do to reach that goal, together. You might even create a virtual dream board on Pinterest or a physical dream board on a piece of posterboard of your shared future.
Life is never as perfect as it is in the movies. Much to my disappointment, people rarely bust out into song as I kiss my husband passionately. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun. And our still limited resources may not allow a weekly, monthly, or even yearly big date night. But, the creative quiet evenings we have spent together often mean more than any flashy experience. After all, it’s the quality of the time that counts, not what you do.
I’d love to hear your creative cheap date night ideas! Weigh in with ways to keep love alive while you save money in the comments.
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