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Cheap Date Night Ideas When You’re Trying to Stick to Your Budget

Updated on March 22, 2024 Updated on March 22, 2024
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Dating can be expensive. But only if you’re not creative. If you do the same old thing every Friday night, not only are your dates expensive, they’re probably boring too. But we’re here to save your wallet and your relationship with tons of cheap date night ideas.

I Ain’t Saying They a Gold Digger

When we tell you dating is expensive, we mean it. How expensive? 

If you’re single, you know: Dating is expensive. All those cups of coffee and drinks with strangers add up quickly. The average unmarried American spent $1,596 on their dating life in 2016, according to a Match survey of 5,500 singles around the country. Of course, in some cities, the average is higher. For example, in Washington, it was $1,788; in New York, $2,069.

Well, LMM is all about saving money and those numbers are just unacceptable. If you invested that $1,600 for twenty years you would have almost $6,200. So we can’t be throwing around that kind of money.

But, dating is important whether you are looking for a partner or you’ve been married for 50 years. If you’re looking for “the one” dating is how you find them and if you’ve found “the one,” dating is a way to stay connected after the initial excitement of new love is over.

Food Dates

Everyone likes to eat which is why going out to dinner is so often the default choice when we are trying to come up with date night ideas. But going out to dinner is one of the most expensive activities. You can still go out to eat but there are plenty of other food date ideas too.


While dining out is the fall back for a lot of date nights, for some couples it is their passion. If eating out is your favorite activity, Seated is made for you. Seated is an app that pays you for going out to dinner!

Use the app to make a reservation at a participating restaurant. Pay for the meal with a credit or debit card that you’ve linked to your Seated account or upload your receipt and Seated will reward you with a $10-50 credit that you can use at Amazon, Lyft, or Starbucks.


Seated is available in New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Miami, Houston, Austin, Denver, Providence, and Seattle. Seated used to be available in New Orleans but aren’t any longer and I’m still pouting about it. Seated, please come back! 

Have a Nooner

There is no rule that your date nights have to take place at night. Many restaurants offer lower prices at lunch and some really high-end restaurants offer lunch specials.

Commander’s Palace near me in New Orleans has a martini lunch special. When you order an entree you can buy three martinis (“Because that’s all anyone needs” according to Commander’s) for just $0.25 each.

This is a huge saving. You may not realize how much booze adds to a restaurant bill if, like me, you always order drinks with lunch or dinner.

I recently had this three martini deal with four friends who were visiting and found out how huge.

We all ordered an appetizer and entree and two desserts but no one drank more than the three martinis and our entire bill was only $182! Tujague’s is the second oldest restaurant in New Orleans and they offer a three-course lunch for $18.56. You have a choice between two appetizers, three main courses, and a dessert. They also have $4 drink specials.

Seek out these kinds of deals in your city and you will be amazed at how much you save.

Wait For It

Many cities offer a restaurant week where participating restaurants offer price fixe menus. New York City does this a few times a year as does New Orleans. Trip Savvy lists a few dozen cities that have restaurant weeks at various times of the year.


Pack it Up

Eating al fresco makes food taste better, I don’t know why but it does. Go to the grocery store and grab a few things like cold cuts, cheese, bread, fruit, and a bottle of wine and pack it all up and head outside.

Have your picnic in the park, at the beach, or even in your own backyard. Even better if you can find a free, outdoor event to take your picnic to like a free movie, concert or play.

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Stay In Dates

Sometimes the weather ruins your date night plans and sometimes you just don’t feel like going out. But you can still have a cheap date night without leaving the house.


Don’t Be Board

I know playing board games kind of has a bad rap because like kickball, hipsters started doing it and ruined it for the rest of us. That doesn’t make playing an old-fashioned board game any less fun though.

Amazon sells dozens of board games and they aren’t just for kids. There are plenty geared towards adults. And you can adult them up even more by making some kind of a kinky bet! I’ll just leave it at that and you all can use your imaginations.

Get Cooking

Not everyone likes to cook but when you turn cooking into a date night, it really is more appealing. Open a bottle of wine, put on some music and make a meal together.

There is no spectacle on earth more appealing than that of a beautiful woman in the act of cooking dinner for someone she loves.

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RIP Tom Wolfe :( He’s right and that goes for men too.

I’ll let you in on a secret that I discovered when I moved down south. Southern men are good cooks. My southern man and I make dinner together a lot. I usually do the sous chef work (did you know shrimp have heads!? Well, now I know because one of my jobs is beheading them) because he’s a better cook than I am but it’s one of my favorite things to do with him.

If neither of you is a good cook, try out Hello Fresh. The recipes are not complicated and come with such detailed directions that provided you can read, you can cook the recipe.


The New York Times printed an article a few years ago with 36 questions that are purported to make two people fall in love. You take turns reading the questions aloud and both answer each question while gazing into each other’s eyes.


Some of the questions include;

  • If you could invite anyone to dinner, who would it be?
  • Before making a phone call, do you ever rehearse what you’re going to say? If so, why?
  • Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?

Now, I wouldn’t do this on a first date because it will make you look like a weirdo who is going to be hiding outside your date’s home in a bush soon. But if you’ve been dating someone for several weeks or a few months, this could be fun.

And even better, if you’ve been together for a long time, there are bound to be at least a few of these questions that will reveal things you didn’t know about each other.

Abbreviated Book Club

You can spread this one out over a few nights or a long weekend. Choose a book that can be read in one sitting (although reading speeds vary for everyone). The Little Prince, The Great Gatsby, The Old Man and the Sea, and The Picture of Dorian Gray are a few examples.

Take turns putting your head in each other’s laps and reading out loud (I have done this and it is super sexy) and then discuss the book over a bottle of wine.

This will make you feel uber sophisticated and is the kind of thing I assumed adults did when I was a kid.

Another way to do this is to each choose a book you loved from childhood and read it out loud to each other and then discuss it. This may not be as sophisticated if like me, your favorite book from childhood was The Marshmallow Ghosts but it’s touching and fun and will bring back happy memories.

Outdoor Dates

After being stuck inside during a long winter you and your date are yearnings to get out and get some Vitamin D (not a euphemism for perverts) and fresh air. Outdoor dates probably make for the best and the cheapest date night ideas.


Free For All

If you live in or near a city of any size there are probably more free events than you realize. New Orleans hosts 133 festivals a year, not all of them are free but many are. And that’s to say nothing of the smaller towns nearby who have dozens and dozens more.

And those are just festivals. There are also concerts, dances, art shows, free museum days, plays, and too many other events to name. Google “free weekend events in Name of Your City” and see what’s coming up.

The Great Outdoors

Activity dates can be especially great for first dates. You don’t want to spend a lot of money going out with someone you don’t know if you will like and even if you do like someone, first dates can be awkward.

Planning something like a hike, a walk in a park, a round of mini golf, or a trip to the zoo is not only inexpensive but takes some of the pressure off a first date.

When you are actually doing something, you aren’t just staring at each other across the dinner table desperately trying to think of something to say to break the uncomfortable silence.

And whatever you are doing gives you something to talk about automatically. “Which trail should we take? Oooh, look at the cute baby tiger!” I did the zoo date once and we had a great time hatching a plan to steal the baby panda that had just been born. He was going to distract the zookeeper and I was going to grab the baby, stick her in my purse and run.

Do a Walking Tour

I know a lot of people who are locals loathe the idea of taking a walking tour in their own city lest they be marked out as a hayseed tourist. The shame! But like lots of shameful things, it’s fun!

First of all, walking tours are fun if you have a good tour guide and secondly, playing tourist in your own town once in a while can show you things you haven’t seen before. To save even more, check out your local Groupon page. I looked at walking tours in New Orleans and Groupon had several for way less than you would pay if you booked direct.


Saddle Up

If you live in a big city, this may be too expensive to be considered a cheap date night idea but I’ve included it because cheap means something different to everyone and depending on where you live, it can be inexpensive.

Take a horseback riding lesson together or if you know how to ride, rent horses and take them out for a few hours. It’s a great way to learn something new if you’ve never ridden a horse and a relaxing way to spend time together and time outdoors (if you’re not afraid of horses).

High Brow Dates

If you are an urban sophisticate trying to attract the same, you can’t take a date to a monster truck rally or a cockfight. These cheap date night ideas will have your erudite date swooning.

Wine Tasting

Do you love wine? How about free wine? Then head to a winery for a wine tasting. Some charge a nominal fee but I have been to several in a few different states and none of them charged for either the tour or the tasting.

You and your date will get a tour of the winery and learn about the winemaking process and then sample a few different varieties that the winery produces. If you taste something you like, buy a bottle and save it for your next picnic date.

Practice swirling the wine in the glass and sniffing it before you go so you look like you actually know something about wine.

Night at the Museum

Many museums have nights where they stay open later than usual and sometimes offer free or reduced entry on those nights.

cheap-date-ideas-museum date

The Met in New York City stays open until 9:00 pm on Friday and Saturdays and offer live classical music, drinks, and small plates on the second-floor balcony. This was hands down my favorite thing to do when I lived in New York.

MOMA in New York City offers free entry on Friday nights from 4:00-8:00 p.m. The Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans stays open until 8 p.m. on Thursdays with live music and drinks.

Check out your local museums and see if they have after hours events.

Learn Something

Nothing is sexier or more sophisticated than someone who loves learning. Well, maybe the only thing sexier is learning something together. Check out local museums and universties for free lectures. Take a dance class. For an extra sexy lesson, find a milonga that offers tango lessons.

Take a mixology class and learn to make sexy cocktails or a cooking class. Then go home and discuss or try out what you’ve learned together.

Jazz It Up

Of all the music genres, Jazz is the coolest. Jazz clubs are dark and sexy and so is the music if you find the right band. Get way more dressed up than you would for a regular date, find a jazz club and drink only martinis, real ones, not pink or green ones. Otherwise, your date will know you’re a pretender.

Out on the Town Dates

If you and your partner have been together for awhile you might have fallen into the habit of only planning casual dates where you can both wear jeans. But part of what makes dating fun is the opportunity to get dressed up and hit the town.

But you don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a dressed up night on the town.

See a Show

When we think of things like plays, operas, symphonies, and ballets we expect the tickets to be crazy expensive. And they can be but check before you assume. Often, if you’re willing to sit in the cheap seats, you can get tickets for less than you expect.


The Metropolitan Opera and American Ballet Theater offer something called Rush Tickets. For the opera, the tickets are $25 and for the ballet, $35.

Places like the Met are the creme de la creme but they are far from the only game in town. If you can’t afford tickets to the really prestigious events in your area, find amateur productions. Are they as good? No, but how many of us are going to really know the difference? My cooking is not as good as a professional chef’s cooking but I still enjoy my meals.

Hit the Hotel

Find a fancy hotel bar that has a happy hour. It always feels more sophisticated to drink in a hotel bar than a regular bar for some reason. Maybe because hotel bars are partially populated by business travelers who are a little better dressed than regular bar patrons.

If the drinks are too expensive, have one and then switch to soda water. Rooftop bars are another good option. You can have a drink and enjoy a beautiful view and sunset on the right day.

Crash a Wedding

While you’re in the hotel, take a walk around and see if any of the events rooms are hosting a wedding. If the crowd is big enough, no one is going to notice two extra people. It’s a bit tacky to hit up the free bar but you can hit the dance floor.

Pull Some Strings

Does one of you know someone who can hook you up? Maybe a friend in PR who can get you into a movie premiere or a book launch party. Or a friend who works for or volunteers with a charity that can get you into a fancy fundraising event.

My boyfriend is friends with the owner of one of the museums near New Orleans and he arranged a private tour of the museum with the curator. It was one of the top ten best things I ever did, a real privilege.


Make it Happen

Life is better when you actually do things. So many of us fall into the habit of coming home from work and watching TV and spending all weekend doing boring chores like laundry and yard work. That is a recipe for a boring, half-lived life.

And don’t wait for the weekend either. A co-worker once gave me some good advice that I’ve never forgotten and heed often, “Don’t live for the weekend.”

What she meant was don’t only do fun stuff on the weekends. Add some fun into your week too. It really does improve the quality of your life and relationship.

It’s even worse when you don’t have a lot of money and feel like you can’t go out. Well, you’re wrong. This list proves it. There are plenty of ways you and a date or you and your partner can have fun, a lot of fun, without going broke. About half of these things are free so choose one this week and make a date of it.

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Candice Elliott - Senior Editor Candice Elliott is a substantial contributor to Listen Money Matters. She has been a personal finance writer since 2013 and has written extensively on student loan debt, investing, and credit. She has successfully navigated these areas in her own life and knows how to help others do the same. Candice has answered thousands of questions from the LMM community and spent countless hours doing research for hundreds of personal finance articles. She happily calls New Orleans, Louisiana home-the most fun city in the world.
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