The recession may have affected your job, your credit and your spending, but what about your love life? When you are trying to impress your date, particularly on a first date, your efforts can be costly, especially if you don't plan ahead. If you want to save money - and wow your partner - there is a way to strike a balance. Read on for some dos and don'ts to put you on the right track. Don't: Go for a walk around your industrial (or worse, scary) neighborhood. Going out for a walk is a nice - and cheap - way to spend time together, but keep your location in mind. If there is nothing nice to look at where you are planning to walk, consider a change of plans.
Dining: Fine of Frugal?
Don't: Take your date out for fast food. While the average cost for a Big Mac in the U.S. is only $3.57, taking your date somewhere this inexpensive will probably make him or her feel cheap as well. (Splurge on your date and make up for it the rest of the week. Find out how in Top 5 Fast Food Value Menu Deals.)
Do: Choose somewhere fun that isn't too expensive. You probably know of a mid-range restaurant that you enjoy going to that is pretty affordable, but still has good ambiance. Or, if you're a good cook, making a meal for your date is an even cheaper alternative that could cost you as little as $25. If you aren't much of a chef, consider taking a cooking class with your partner; you could practice what you learned as a second date.
Movie Dos and Don'ts
Don't: Download a pirated copy of a movie and watch it on your laptop. Not only is illegal in many cases, it is beyond thrifty. Remember that the activity you plan reflects who you are -a shady activity makes you look shady too.
Do: Rent a movie instead of going out to one. The cost of going out to a movie can be pricey, but renting a movie will only set you back around $5. As for movie snacks, even if you buy at the rental store instead of the grocery store, you'll be hard-pressed to spend more than $10.
Don't: Invite a date over without a plan and sit around on the front step or back porch. While this is a great idea after cooking a meal together, it isn't a date by itself. This is especially true if the view from your house is lousy.
Do: Look up outdoor festivals or areas of town with shopping and restaurants to walk around. Walking with your partner around a nice part of your town is a relaxing way to get to know one another. If there are local festivals going on, even better; they provide an activity with a minimal (and often free) admission fee. Nothing going on that night? Plan to stop by a coffee shop or café with a patio. Since you aren't spending money on a meal, splurge on a fancy dessert to share, a nice cup of coffee or a glass of wine. It will probably cost you $25 at most.
Do: Get out and enjoy nature. There are a variety of outdoor activities that won't break the bank. Consider going to a farmer's market together, or going out to a local farm to pick fruit. Either option is flexible because admission is free; the cost is determined by how much food you buy. Alternatively, check out a botanical garden or local zoo. Admission costs are generally $20 or less. Want to spend even less? Go hiking or biking on a trail nearby. With a little research, you can find a beautiful spot that doesn't cost you a thing.
Going Out to Play
Don't: Invite your date over to hang out with your friends and watch sports. If you've been dating for a while, it can be fun to bring some friends into the mix, but it isn't a date night.
Do: Take go to see a local team play or go see an unusual sport. If your date is a sports fan, going to see a local team play can be a cost-effective alternative to going to a professional game. The upside is the more relaxed atmosphere and the chance to pay a bit more attention to each other rather than the game. As an alternative, look for fringe sports like ultimate Frisbee or lacrosse. Because these sports are less mainstream, you can see high-level teams compete while learning about a new sport. The financial upside for both of these options? Admission is usually very cheap or free. Recently, the American men's rugby team played the Canadian team in Charleston, South Carolina; tickets cost $35 each. Compare that to the $450 per midrange seat to see the men's final hockey game at the Vancouver Olympics; clearly there's a huge range of prices for quality sporting events. (For more saving tips, see Money-Saving Tips For Sports Fans.)
Saving on the Sly
Don't: Use coupons/gift certificates in front of your date. Most of the time, this looks tacky and will make your date feel unworthy of the admission price.
Do: Use a coupon when possible, but do it ahead of time. Most places will allow you to pay in advance, which has the added benefit of making it look like you were so excited for the date that you planned it out. As an alternative, look up discounted days that will apply to everyone who attends the event, like cheap Tuesdays at the movie theater. Don't look for times that give you a discount because of your job or because you are a member of their preference club, because this has the same implication as a coupon. (For more tips, see Coupon Shopping: Clip Your Way To Savings.)
However, going to a restaurant that has "prix fixe" (fixed-price) menu on a certain night or a restaurant that has a dinner and a movie package is fair game. Either option could save you as much as $25.
The End Game
Dating can be a big expense, even at the best economic times. Taking the time to plan the night will help you stay within your budget. Also, booking tickets in advance and/or online can mean major discounts. Keep an eye out for seasonal events in your community and get creative - your date will thank you and so will your wallet.
Don't: Go for a walk around your industrial (or worse, scary) neighborhood. Going out for a walk is a nice - and cheap - way to spend time together, but keep your location in mind. If there is nothing nice to look at where you are planning to walk, consider a change of plans.