12 Cheap First Date Ideas

by Camilla Cheung on 19 October 2011 4 comments
Photo: alaina buzas

My husband and I celebrate our third wedding anniversary this week, and it’s had me reminiscing about all the fun dates we’ve been on together through the years. We’re both frugal people (for our anniversary date, my husband got a Groupon), and some of our best memories are dates where we didn’t spend much money.

I always smile when I remember those creative first dates that we went on, which set the tone for a fun and adventurous relationship. Never did the word “cheap” cross my mind on those early dates, even though they were unarguably inexpensive. We were too busy enjoying each other’s company and having fun to think about money! (See also: 8 Cheap Date Ideas)

With that in mind, here are a few ideas for inexpensive first dates. Just remember, focus on your date and on getting to know him or her. It worked for us!

1. Have a Sunset Picnic

On one of our very first dates, my future husband and I rode our bikes to a nearby park. We settled down on a riverbank, and my husband pulled an entire meal out of his backpack! He lit candles, assembled some delicious chicken wraps, and uncorked a bottle of wine (this was in a country where drinking in public areas is legal). We enjoyed the food and talked as the sun went down. The atmosphere was perfect, and I was impressed that he had put so much thought and effort into the date. 

Why not try doing a sunset picnic of your own? If you can’t bring wine, bring sparkling juice instead, and decorate the picnic with a few candles or flowers.

2. Go to a Jazz Club

Meeting for a drink is a great low-key way to get to know a new date. Make it a little more out-of-the-ordinary by meeting at a jazz club. If the bar doesn’t charge a cover, then you’ll only be set back the price of a couple of drinks while getting to enjoy some live talent. The music provides a conversation-starter, and if there’s dancing, even better.

3. Explore Your City

My husband and I met in Shanghai, a city with endless possibilities for exploration and sightseeing. If you live in or near a city, chances are there are interesting neighborhoods and areas to explore. Check out an art community, or walk along the waterfront. Window-shop in the boutiques, browse independent bookstores, and stop for a cup of coffee. Be spontaneous, and let the day take you wherever it leads.

4. Visit a Museum or Art Gallery

My husband and I had an “accidental” date at a museum in our early days of dating. We were at the museum with a group of friends, but ended up exploring the museum together, just the two of us, talking the whole time. There’s nothing like shards of pottery and 13th century textiles to inspire a lively conversation! Seriously though, a first date is more about getting to know each other than anything else, so a date where you can be distracted with interesting sights but also have the opportunity to talk to each other is ideal. Most museums and art galleries have low admission fees, and you may even be able to visit during free hours on certain days of the week.

5. Go Ice Skating Outdoors

This date idea only works if it gets below freezing in the winter where you live. One of my favorite activities in my hometown of Toronto was going skating at one of the outdoor skating rinks in the winter. There is something so merry and festive about skating outdoors, and if your date doesn’t know how to skate, you have many chances to help him or her out. Afterwards, warm up rosy cheeks and cold hands with a cup of hot chocolate. Don’t live in a cold climate? How about roller skating or a bike ride down a nearby bike path?

6. Go Boating

If you and your date are both outdoorsy types, consider going canoeing or kayaking. Renting a canoe or double kayak will set you back about $40 (depending on location) for a few hours of fresh air and amusement. Go for an exhilarating boat ride on a local river, bay, or lake. If you’re not particularly outdoorsy or are on a tighter budget, try paddle-boating at the city lake. It’s inexpensive, unique, and fun, and between paddling and laughing, you’ll have plenty of time for conversation.

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7. Go on a Winery Tour

Depending on where you live, local wineries may offer tours and tastings for low prices. Look for a large winery where you can tour the winemaking facilities, as well as have a wine-tasting lesson. The silly noises you make while slurping your wine (to better aerate it over your palate) are sure to break the ice. Going on a tour makes for a more involved and interesting experience than a simple short tasting, and often the cost of the tour is waived if you buy a bottle of wine.

8. Paint Your Own Pottery

Pottery studios where you can paint your own pottery are common these days, and they are a fun way to be creative on a date while staying on a budget. Generally, you have to buy the piece of pottery you paint, but a small bowl or plate will set you back just $10 or so. If it works out with you and your date, you’ll have a lasting souvenir, and if it doesn’t work out, you can always smash your pottery in a fit of rage for some much-needed emotional gratification.

9. Go Bowling

It’s casual, it’s cheap, and it’s entertaining. Bowling is one of those great activities where you can get to know another person in a low-key setting. Between a second order of fries and teaching your date how to bowl (or being taught), you’ll have a fun experience that will leave both of you with a positive feeling about the date.

10. Check Out Community Theater

Maybe you can’t afford to take your date to Cirque du Soleil or the latest incarnation of Les Miserables, but you can probably afford tickets to your local community theater.  Usually these tickets hardly cost more than movie tickets, and it’s a fun way to connect with the community while having a great time. Community theater is also often more interactive and intimate, making for a warmer, casual atmosphere.

11. Visit Local Festivals

Whether it’s a cultural festival, a clambake, or the community Oktoberfest celebration, going to a local festival is another low-pressure first date that allows you to walk, eat, drink, and talk without too formal of a setting. There’s plenty to see and do, and the food and drink costs less than a dinner out at a nice restaurant.

12. Get Dessert and Coffee

A cheaper, less formal alternative to a dinner date is meeting up for dessert and/or coffee. Try something unconventional like getting Hawaiian shave ice, going to a tea house, or indulging your sweet tooth with cheesecake and an iced latte.

A first date may not be the place to use a Groupon, gift certificate, or coupon, for fear of appearing overly cheap with someone you may not know well, but there are many ways to spend less on a first date. Think outside the box (dinner and a movie), be creative, and you’re likely to have a date you’ll always remember!

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Myscha Theriault's picture

Great one! I'm always interested in affordable date ideas, and I love your tip about the sunset candlelight picnic. Way to take a date in the park to the next level.

Donna Freedman's picture

First Friday, First Thursday or whatever your town calls the art gallery openings. Free snacks, maybe free wine and a chance to be all artistical.
Get a $1 box of sidewalk chalk from a crafts or dollar store and draw pictures on the pavement.

Guest's picture
Guest

I'm 12 and a lot of these are great ideas!
Thanks!

Guest's picture

This article is a good read. Especially for people that do not want to go spend too much on a first date. After all, if the two people are not connecting, that would have been a lot of money down the drain that was wasted.