Looking for first dates or a romantic outing that won’t break the bank? Here are fun and affordable dates for the budget-savvy.

Ah, the awkward first date. As someone who has gone on more first dates than I’d like to admit, I know the struggles of trying to connect with someone with whom I may have only exchanged a few messages about myself with before the big first date (dun dun dunnnnn).

I’ve been stood up, paid for a pricey dinner when the guy conveniently “forgot” his wallet, got lost on a hike in the woods at dusk and listened to someone talk about themselves for two hours nonstop at a coffee shop before giving up and going home.

To avoid a disastrous first date, I think the keys are to:

  • find an activity you both might enjoy
  • make it a low financial investment (because dumping more than $100 on someone you just met is just too risky)

For starters, check out these five fun and affordable first date ideas:

The Classic: Enjoy Dinner and a Movie

Sure, it’s a predictable choice, but going to dinner and a movie remains one of the most popular date ideas nowadays. Food is a mutually enjoyable experience and deciding on a movie lets you see just how compatible you and this new person are in terms of pop culture interests.

But going to a nice restaurant and a movie theater could add up to over $60 (or $30-plus per person if you go the dutch route) for the evening. On the other hand, fast food and Netflix aren’t very romantic ways to woo someone on a first date, but luckily there are still affordable options out there!

One of my favorite dates is a movie and then dinner, in that order. By seeing a movie first, you’ll get cheaper tickets for matinee show times, and you can save money at the restaurant by buying discount restaurant gift cards, which is a more discreet option than whipping out a Groupon or coupon when you get the check.

The Social: Go Out for Drinks or Apps

Who doesn’t love happy hour? Drinks are sold at cheaper prices and you can even get sweet deals on appetizers too. Check out Yelp or the Happy Hour Finder to find happy hour specials in your area and schedule your date around this time frame.

If you or your date work during afternoon happy hour (usually 3 to 6 p.m.), then check which local restaurants offer late-night happy hour specials (usually after 9 or 10 p.m.). Even if you don’t drink alcohol, some restaurants and bars have happy hour specials on delicious appetizers.

Or if you’re comfortable letting someone come over to your place on the first date, making custom pizzas and drinking good beer (or milkshakes) is a pretty universal good time for most people.

The Sporty: Head Outdoors

Why not arrange a date for a weekend afternoon so you can enjoy nature by going on a walk or a bike ride through the local park?

One of the best first dates I ever went on was a hike through the woods with a pit stop for hot chocolate and waffles at a little café located halfway up the hill. Although we got lost along the way, the city view when we finally reached the peak was phenomenal. And the cost was just $7 per person for the food and hot chocolate.

Whether you go to the beach for a bike ride and a picnic or walk around a lake and feed the ducks, there are plenty of almost free dates that let you enjoy nature while getting to know someone.

The Artsy: Get Creative

If getting sweaty on a first date sounds a little unsavory to you, then what about something classier like a museum, the local theater or a little hands-on art?

There are plenty of museums that offer free admission. Theaters often have cheaper tickets for matinee performances. And businesses that offer customers the opportunity to taste wines while being guided through a painting exercise are becoming increasingly popular, as you may have seen recently on sites like Groupon or LivingSocial.

The Adventurous: Try Something Different

If you’re looking for something a little more exciting than a romantic walk, check out the “Things to Do” sections on LivingSocial or Groupon for adventures you can suggest to your date.

Want the thrill of solving a murder mystery (with dinner!) or navigating an escape room in 60 minutes or less? Or maybe kayaking or bouncing around at an indoor trampoline center is more your style. There are hundreds of potential date ideas on these websites for adventurous singles. Best of all, you’ll save money while still having a blast.

Final Thoughts on Budget-Savvy Dates

Spending a bunch of money on dates — especially when it’s someone you just met — isn’t sustainable for most of us, but you also don’t want to come across as too cheap.

No matter your bank account or dating style, or whether it’s a first date or a 21st date, there are plenty of different options out there. Hopefully the above ideas help spark your imagination for dates that are romantic, frugal and, best of all, fun!

Written by Kelly Kehoe

Participation Pays Off: What’s your favorite fun and affordable date?

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