Love doesn't cost a thing

One couple's quest to create the perfect date on a limited budget.

Maybe it’s just me, but Valentine’s Day is a bit of a head scratcher. Did we randomly pick a day in February to celebrate that special someone in our lives? Isn’t that something we should be doing throughout the year? I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with planning a night out, surprising your significant other with some chocolate candies—maybe even a gift—then taking them to dinner and a movie. But honestly, that routine is kind of expected now. And expensive.

And with Valentine’s Day less than a week away, I knew there was a prime opportunity—a moral sense of duty if you will—to redefine the traditional date night routine. To inspire and breathe fresh new life into the mundane (yet pricey) world of dating. So, that’s exactly what I did. With the help of my lovely girlfriend, we set out on a mission to uncover some unexpected, and unique ways to spend more time together, without spending a lot of money in the process.

Begin the bonding early

The two of us are extremely active. And while I’m not too fond of cardio, my girlfriend on the other hand is quite the runner. Fully aware that compromise is the key to any successful relationship, I decided to join her for an early morning jog before work.

During those times I wasn’t completely out of breath, we talked about all sorts of things. And when I felt the need to slow down or stop, she was right there, encouraging me every step of the way. Instead of having your date at the end of a long and draining work day, try finding an activity you can do together before the day starts, like a workout. If you’re a busy couple who may not have a lot of spare time in the evening, this is a great way to still see each other, and start the day on a healthy note. Coffee earned. 

Cost: $2.50 (per cup of coffee)

Make yourself at home

How many times have you watched those home-buying shows on TV? I’m always intrigued by, and maybe even jealous of, the size of properties these couples end up browsing through. Not to be out done by the reality show personalities, we decided to make this our next date.

A quick online search turned up five or six open houses for properties that were a tad out of our area—and way out of our price range. But that was beauty of it. We toured immaculate homes, marveled at architecture, critiqued home décor, and talked about how we would have “done things differently” with the space. Afterward, it gave us some things to truly consider when it came to our actual budget, and our ideal location. If you’re in a relationship that seems to be trending toward a big move, this date idea might be the subtle way to start planning for the future—and gauge your partner’s taste. 

Cost: $0.00 (unless you end up buying a home)

Pick a few flicks

We’re textbook movie buffs. But that doesn’t mean we always agree on what we want to see. Sometimes I want to see a comedy, while she wants to see a drama. And with the average ticket costing around $10.00 per movie, those high prices can lead to severe indecision.

Luckily, the 21st century has caught up to this classic date night ritual, thanks to the rise of theater subscriptions. Now we can pay a reasonable monthly fee to see multiple movies at select theaters—saving us money and limiting film choice paralysis. She picks a film one week, I pick one the next. It’s a great excuse for regularly scheduled dates, and solid practice for that all-important factor in a relationship—compromise. 

Cost: a low monthly fee

Try ordering in

The millennial in me always enjoys going out to eat. Especially for brunch. That’s pretty much a requirement. But a few meals in a row can take a big bite out of your bank account. So, here’s a nice tip instead—bring the dinner date to you.

Through food-delivery services like HelloFresh, we were able to order three meals for about the same price as a single dinner out. You pick the recipes. They send the ingredients. Doesn’t get much simpler. (And because it’s a weekly subscription, you cancel at any time.) We were a bit apprehensive about getting our meals in the mail, but once we started cooking, we knew it was a great decision. The easy to follow recipes, and incredibly fresh ingredients have made these dinner dates a weekly staple. It’s a unique way for us to bond, experiment with some new ingredients, and refine our otherwise dicey mincing skills. And, despite my repeated attempts to “improvise,” our meals turned out exceptionally well. 

Cost: $9.99 per person (or $59.94 for a three meal 2-person plan)

Drop some knowledge

I’ll never forget how much my parents enjoyed watching TV game shows together. Every night, they’d play along—answering questions as quickly as they came—which ultimately led to some competitive banter, and some very questionable victory dancing.

Thankfully, trivia these days has a bit of a cooler vibe. Simply go online and find a bar or restaurant in your area that hosts weekly themed trivia. There’s a good chance you’ll find plenty of locations with drink specials, free entry for playing, and the ability to walk away with cash and prizes. You and your partner can team up to double the chances of winning, or, if your relationship needs an added dash of competition, play against one another. Either way, weekly trivia night at your local watering hole sure beats the heck out of what mom and dad used to do. 

Cost: $5.00 (per drink)

So, the next time you and your partner are considering something to do, try one of these great date ideas. With any luck, you’ll save some money in the process. But remember, it’s not about how much money you spend on a date. If there’s one thing this whole experience taught me, it’s that what you do, and who you choose to do it with matters most. So, be yourself. Be creative. And don’t be afraid to do something a little less expected.

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