Let’s be more specific. The goal isn’t just “cheap dates,” but cheap dates that won’t get you mocked. So we’re nixing ideas like “ride a tandem bike!” or “pick pumpkins!” or “read each others’ palms!” Instead, these are seven legitimate dates that, if framed with the proper charm, will disguise the fact that you’re George Costanza.
1. Cook her dinner
Cost: $10 (Some budget recipes here. Bonus? There’s a 90% chance that she’ll bring the wine).
Merits: Creates the illusion that you’re gallant, it’s more relaxed than a restaurant, and it puts you in a positive light.
Risks: Might not fly as a first date. “Can I make you dinner at my place?” is not very subtle code for, “Let’s drink wine ten feet from my bed.”
2. Play tennis/shoot hoops/whatever sport she likes
Cost: $5 (2 Gatorades).
Merits: Assuming she’s into this stuff (if not, don’t force it), it’s more than just cost-effective. It’s actually, you know, fun. Gives a better sense of how you click. Sneaky, underrated date.
Risks: She obliterates you on the court and loses all respect.
3. Hit up Happy Hour
Cost: $12 (2 rounds of $3 drinks).
Merits: Not always appropriate, but works for the right scenario: the two of you have just met, you’re busy, and you need a ruthlessly efficient, low-cost way to find out if there’s more potential.
Risks: Things go well, happy hour ends, and suddenly you’re paying full-price.
4. Picnic at the park
Cost: $11 (Grapes, hummus, crackers).
Merits: Cheesy? Potentially. But there’s a reason that every romantic comedy is contractually obligated to have at least one park scene; the atmosphere works.
Risks: You’re stuck in the middle of a green field, surrounded by mimes, with nothing to talk about and no alcohol in sight.
Cost: $8.99 (bottled water, trail mix).
Merits: Jokes aside, there’s a lot to be said for a change in scenery. This dramatically different context can break monotony, transport you and her from the day-to-day grind, and provide a free romantic place to make out.
Risks: She agrees to do the hike (out of politeness) but secretly seethes. Or, conversely, you’re so out of shape that she ends up carrying your backpack.
6. Trip to the museum
Cost: Varies. But even the flagships usually have discount days.
Merits: The best date-concepts have two attributes: 1) They give you something to talk about; and 2) They give you the space to talk. Bars have #2 but not #1; movies have #1 but not #2. The museum date has both.
Risks: You might learn something.
7. Street festival or county fair
Cost: $5 (cotton candy) + $6 (shooting water balloons).
Merits: See above (museum) but it’s more down to earth, has throwback charm, and it’s a better barometer of your actual, guards-down personalities.
Risks: 1 in 4 street festivals truly, profoundly suck.
WARNING. Those seven dates are viable. The next three, however, are not. Here are three cheap date ideas you should avoid:
“Meeting for coffee” is something you do with your aunt. The word “coffee” actually comes from the Greek word ka’fe, which means, “I have no interest in ever seeing you naked.”
Next: 10 Handy Apps for a First Date
Offer to give a full-body massage
Unless you’ve already hooked up, as a first date, suggesting this is too transparent, too aggressive, and too creepy. You can only get away with this if A) You are a masseuse; B) You look like Brad Pitt; or C) You are Brad Pitt.