You’ve finally met that special person who makes your heart flutter. You’re certain that the two of you would hit it off if you could just dazzle them with the perfect date. The only speed bump is that you’re living on a budget and need to explore cheap date ideas, ideally local ones. You can’t exactly afford eight-dollar cocktails and filet mignon at the local chophouse. Suddenly you’re sweating bullets trying to configure the perfect way to ask them for a romantic evening at the taco truck off the beltway. How do you avoid sounding creepy when asking them to spend the evening at your one-bedroom apartment, dining on ramen noodles and sipping box wine by candlelight?   

Whether you’re a broke college student or simply a functional adult pinching pennies to make ends meet, there are plenty of ways to date on a budget. If you ask the true romantics of the world, inexpensive dates can often be the most fun and memorable dates, whether it’s the first date or the hundredth date. The key to dating on a budget and finding cheap date ideas is creativity and flexibility. You’re not going to win over any gold-diggers out there, but you might just snag the love of your life. Try some of these fun date ideas to woo the ladies (and gentlemen) for little to no cost.

Local Ideas for a Cheap Date Night

1. If you live near a college campus, check out the art department. Most universities allow free access to campuses and student-led art shows.

2. Check online for your local hole-in-the-wall eateries. These hidden gems serve excellent, authentic, ethnic and local foods for less. They usually serve large portions so you get more bang for your buck.

3. Pet stores and local animal shelters can be a fun visit for animal lovers. Pretend to be a couple looking for a new puppy. Play with a few pooches.

4. If the weather is nice, take a hike. Pack a healthy and cheap lunch of peanut butter and apple sandwiches and take in nature together.

5. Stay tuned to your local weather channel for the next visible meteor shower. Buy a six-pack of cheap beer and lay a blanket outside on the grass. See who knows more about astronomy by quizzing each other while you wait for shooting stars.

6. Switch movie night up a bit. Have him pick a romantic movie from her collection and have her pick an action flick from his collection.

7. Never underestimate board games. There are plenty of fun board games for adults out there. Invite friends into the mix for a couples’ trivia night with popcorn.

8. If you live within close proximity to the beach, spend a day in the sun. Most beaches have daytime parking for a few bucks. All you need is sunscreen. Buy a big, cheap bucket of boardwalk fries for lunch.

9. Go to open mic night at your local coffee house. Grab some lattes and listen to the locals play some of your favorite covers.

10. Museums are a staple of dating on a budget. Most museums are free and you can spend the whole day learning together. Go to a children’s museum and play with the hands-on exhibits for a fun learning experience.

A dancer should learn from all the arts. Go to museums and look at the paintings. See how they balance things. Everything you do in the arts enriches you. - Alicia Alonso

11. Do a wine tasting at your local winery. Most small wine tastings are free and serve as a great transition for after dinner.

12. Volunteer together and do something good for the community. Help out at the local animal shelter, serve food at the nearest soup kitchen, or help each other gather unwanted items to donate to your local thrift store.

13. Pack a bunch of cheap snacks, plenty of water, and go for a day drive. Determine where you want to end up and throw away the map. Use your general sense of direction and brave the back roads to try to get to your destination. You might discover some new towns and open roads to explore in the future.

14. Find out when the next local music festival is. You can both sign up to volunteer at the festival. Volunteers are typically rewarded with a heavily discounted, if not free, ticket.

15. Train for an upcoming race together. It’s cheap, healthy and gives you an excuse to schedule time together a few times a week to run. Not only will you get in shape, but you’ll also be supporting each other in a new endeavor.

16. If you’re both outdoorsy, spend the day fishing. Buy some bait or catch your own. Make sure you get your state-mandated fishing license. Licenses are fairly inexpensive and they last all year.

17. For those cold months, go sledding together or build a snowman.

18. Bring every pillow in the house down to the couch to build a fort and cozy up together. Hot chocolate and scrabble are required.

19. Check your city’s online homepage for upcoming fairs and festivals. Craft fairs are fun to explore. Even if you don’t buy anything, you can marvel at the homemade crafts.

20. Watching people is a fun activity you can do just about anywhere. Don’t have enough money for more than a drink or two at the bar? Turn twenty minutes at the bar into an hour by making up life stories about the people you see around you. Get an idea of how your partner reads other people.

21. Spend a day in the park together with your dogs or other pets. Let them run around and bond while you spend some bonding time of your own under the oak tree. Hanging out in a park is one of the better local cheap date ideas.

A cheap and fun date of walking in a park
Walking in a park is a fun, healthy and cheap date.

22. Are you in the mood for ice cream? Are you afraid you’ll both be too full after dinner? Go online and find the top-rated ice cream parlor in your area and go share their biggest sundae for dinner. Ice cream for dinner? Darn right, you’re adults!

23. Go spend a day playing on a playground. Channel your inner child and play tag with some kids. Rival against each other if you must. This is war.

24. Bowling is a perfect first date. Admission is fairly priced and it’s typically good for unlimited games all night.

25. Go spend a day at a farm that offers public picking. Pick locally grown fruit or vegetables according to the season. Then go home and cook a delicious meal with your pickings.

26. Go camping. If you aren’t camping experts, pitch a tent in the backyard and roast marshmallows over a large candle.

27. Take a dance class together. Dance studios often offer one free dance class as a promotion on certain days of the year.

28. If there is a good deal of historic culture where you live, there will often be spooky ghost tours in the summer and fall months. Go get spooked together.

29. Offer to babysit your friend’s kids for the night. Play hide and seek together with the kids, make a basic meal for everyone and set it up as a fancy dinner with candles and silverware. It will be romantic for you and fun for the kids.

30. Do you know how to drive stick? Teach your significant other. This can be both fun and hilarious as long as you’re both on the patient side.

31. Visit the neighborhood where each of you grew up. Take a drive around the block and share your favorite childhood memories. It will be a wonderful learning experience for both of you.

32. If you’re both into sports, check out your local teams. Pick opposing teams and root against each other. The winner cashes out the beer tab!

33. Set up a night indoors and make it all about your significant other. Cook them a delicious meal and give them a foot or back rub. Let them pick a movie. Don’t let them lift a finger.

34. Go to your local costume shop. Try on funny outfits and take pictures. Scrapbook the pictures and remember the day when you were both a bunch of different people.

35. How about heading on down to the thrift shop for a cheap date? Find the most unique and useful thing for the least amount of money. Buy it and put it to good use.

36. Mini-golf is inexpensive and a great excuse to tease each other playfully. Buy ice cream afterward and brag about your win or your partner’s excellent putting abilities.

37. The Internet is remarkably entertaining. Get a bag of popcorn and look at funny YouTube videos together.

38. Go to karaoke night. If you can’t sing, don’t worry. No one who goes to karaoke night can sing. If you’re feeling bashful, spend the night silently roleplaying as judges and rating the singers on napkins.

I can rock out anything. I mean, I can rock out a little 'Time After Time'. I can do a little 'Grease Lightning'. It depends on the mood, but we do go karaoke, my friends and I in Los Angeles, and it's a lot of fun. - Kristen Bell

39. Put on your Sunday best and pretend to be filthy rich. Attend flashy open houses together and talk about what you love about each house. Take advantage of the free snacks.

40. In the autumn months, corn mazes are tough to beat. Brave the maze together or have a race and see who can finish it first. Wear cheap Halloween costumes to add some silliness to the adventure.

41. If the two of you are already intimate, buy the book on Kama Sutra and practice the positions fully clothed. Hilarity will ensue. Try not to break anything!

42. Go to an antique store and determine which objects are haunted and which ones are not. Create stories about the haunted objects.

43. Teach each other your favorite game. Learn how to play poker or Sudoku.

44. Make a time capsule. Gather objects that represent your relationship and bury it for someone to find years from now.

45. Have a TV show marathon. Don’t feel bad about spending a few hours in front of the tube. Pick a show you both want to start watching and watch the whole first season together.

46. Open the Guinness Book of World Records, pick a record and try to break it together. This may take more than one date.

47. Pretend to be tourists in your own town. Do all of the free touristy things you typically avoid as a local. You might learn something new about your town. If it ends up being as cheesy as it looked, you can spend the rest of the night laughing about it over drinks.

48. Go Geocaching together. If you have a GPS, you can spend the day being treasure hunters in your own town.

49. Go to your local park and fly kites together. You’ll need to buy a kite, but otherwise, it’s a relatively cheap date idea.

50. Build something together. Let your creativity run wild. Build a new desk for your guest room or a side table for the couch. Make it look as unique and colorful as possible. It will always be that piece of furniture in your home that will remind you of your significant other.

Dating on a budget can show your silly and creative side. The dinner and a movie date can fall victim to redundancy. Even if you’re not on a budget, these ideas show your significant other that you put thought into the date. Dates are really about spending time together. You don’t have to spend a fortune to do it.