Cheap dates definitely have a bad rap, yet most of us have lived through some time in our lives when we had more romance in our hearts than cash in the bank.
Does a date have to be expensive to be memorable? Absolutely not. In fact, we’ve come up with a list of seven fabulous but cheap dates that are both financially frugal and romantically extravagant.
1. Tastes like Romance with a Hint of Currant
Do a tour and tasting at a local winery or brewery. Most wineries have elegant tasting rooms and beautiful grounds. It’s educational, and your refreshments are usually free or quite inexpensive. Plus, many wineries and breweries offer free appetizers at certain times of day.
Call ahead so you can time your date for the biggest score.
2. Soup Kitchen Date
It’s the ultimate in cheap dates, and yet it might be the best date you’ve ever had. Head down to your local shelter or soup kitchen to serve those less fortunate. Spending the night helping others will make you and your date feel connected to the world and each other — and give you a buzz that even a bottle of Dom Perignon can’t beat. And volunteers usually eat free.
3. Just Desserts
The swankiest restaurants in town don’t just have double-digit menus and snooty maitre’ d’s. They often have fabulous views of the city lights, romantic water views and a great atmosphere as well.
Why blow your rent money for an elegant night out? Instead of going for broke on starters, wine, salad, main course and the works, stop by later and split a sumptuous dessert with a couple of coffees. You’ll love the view and the relatively puny check.
4. Rooftop Picnic
Every woman on the planet has seen a romantic movie where the guy surprises his wife or girlfriend up on the rooftop of his apartment building, complete with fairy lights, a violin player and a seven-course meal for two, yet most women have never experienced such a romantic gesture.
Borrow out a card table, tablecloth and cloth napkins if you need to, light some candles and put something romantic on the iPod. Don’t forget real plates and real silverware. (Skip the violin player, as they tend to run up the bill.) With such dreamy atmospherics going for you, even sharing some cheap take-out Chinese food will seem like one of the most romantic dates you’ve ever had.
A word to the wise: Don’t go nuts with the candles — a few will do the trick. You don’t want your date hanging out on the other side of the fire door for 35 minutes while you try to speed-light 437 candles.
Two or three on the table, maybe five or six on the ledge are all that’s really needed. Any more and your date may go up in smoke.
Cost: $10-$20 (for Chinese food)
5. High School Musical
Check out the offerings of local high school, college and community theater productions. Most high schools have a production every quarter, and the talent can be surprisingly good. Besides, tickets are cheap and the snacks are a bargain. And, if your nephew happens to be in the show, you’ll win extra bonus points for being a good guy.
6. Friday Night Lights
How long has it been since you’ve been to a high school football or basketball game? The crowd is as enthusiastic as in any professional stadium, and most of the players are still in it for the love of the game. Pick a team, any team, and cheer your hearts out.
7. Parallel Parking
Most cities have free concerts, festivals and even outdoor film showings in and around area parks. Pack a blanket, a picnic dinner, an inexpensive bottle of wine and snuggle up for a little fun and culture, free of charge. Check your newspaper for local events, and get there early to stake out a good spot on the lawn.
Cost: Free (entertainment) $10-$20 (for dinner)
Top Tip for Cheap Dates Everywhere: Mad Dog and a Magnet
Finally, what date would be complete without a nice bottle of wine? The cheap date, that’s what. Enter “The Viagra of Grocery Store Wine,” otherwise known as the BevWizard Wine Smoother ($29.95, www.bevwizard.com).
It’s a little magnetic wine pouring gadget that turns Two Buck Chuck into Six Buck Chuck by smoothing out tannins and other elements that make cheap wine taste, well, less cheap, tinny and bitter. I was skeptical about this little gadget, but I must admit, it actually worked.
The key to having successful cheap dates without being a cheap date is to use your imagination instead of your cash. As long as you put in the effort to create a great experience for both of you, your date will feel like a million bucks — even if you only spent $10.
* (All costs are approximate and suggested in U.S. dollars)