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29 cheap or free date ideas

Key takeaways

  • Planning a cheap date doesn’t mean sacrificing fun, but it does take some creativity.
  • One key to a good date is sharing something special to you, and there are inexpensive ways to do just that.

According to online dating service Match, the average American spent over $1,500 going on dates throughout 2022.1 Although there’s a time and place for the white-tablecloth vibe, free and cheap dates could be a great way to save some dough while still having a great time. Here are 29 cheap or free date ideas that could fill your calendar with low-cost fun.

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1. Check out a community theater play.

Seeing a show is a classic date, but you could get your culture fix without the major-production prices. Check online or in local publications to see if any community theaters or schools near you have performances coming up. It’s a great way to support the arts in your area without having to fork over a lot—tickets are often cheap and sometimes free.

2. Head to open houses for homes on sale.

Checking out open houses in your town or city could offer a lot of entertainment, even if you’re not ready to make a move just yet. You get a peek at how your neighbors live … and privately discuss how each of you would spruce up or redecorate the home. Make up stories about who currently lives there, and tell elaborate tales about what the family uses each room for. Bonus: There might be free snacks.

3. Host a cooking competition with what’s in the pantry.

If you’re looking for a thrifty dinner, consider turning meal-making into a challenge, using only the groceries you already have in your home. You could copy a popular TV show by bundling some mismatched ingredients for your partner and seeing what inventive dish they could concoct. Whatever game rules you decide on, you’ll have a cheap dinner that possibly helps you minimize food waste. No promises on how good that meal will taste.

4. Relive past texts, emails, or social media posts.

In your home or your date’s, turn back the clock to the late 2000s and see what old posts and messages you can dig up. Go through your own feed or your partner’s and then do dramatic readings. Will you cringe? Probably. But will your late-aughts self be hilarious today? Very likely.

5. Find the best sparkling water.

Seltzer can be polarizing. People tend to have their favorite brands and flavors and stick to them. By purchasing a variety of canned seltzers (most of which are under $1 each), you can create your own brackets to eventually determine the best bubbly water. Have fun shopping, setting up faceoffs, and tasting each refreshing beverage. Make a detailed score sheet for each drink, judging them on a slew of factors, such as effervescence and flavor strength.

6. Volunteer.

Want an especially feel-good date? Consider giving back together. You could do this date in 2 parts by each picking a cause and spending a few hours volunteering for each one. That way you can show your partner something you really care about and also experience something important to them.

7. Stroll through an art gallery.

Explore local art galleries to see up-and-coming artists’ work. Many art galleries are free to enter, and those that charge sometimes have free-entry days. Exhibits could make excellent conversation starters, and you could even research artists beforehand to impress your date. Got a lot of time? String together multiple galleries for an “art crawl.”

8. Curate the perfect playlist.

There are playlists, and then there are playlists. You could spend a night building the perfect one. Bring back all your favorite songs, with middle-school throwbacks, high-school jams, and college faves. Create a combined playlist, and then also make separate playlists just for each other. Don’t forget to save them for your next road trip.

9. Go out for breakfast.

If you’re craving a date out, don’t sleep in on breakfast. It’s probably not surprising to hear that breakfast is usually the cheapest meal to get at a restaurant. It’s common to find breakfast menu items for less than $15. Besides, breakfast often doesn’t involve alcoholic drinks, which could seriously inflate any dining bill.

10. Picnic in the park.

A picnic is a tried-and-true date idea for good reason: It shakes up the expected date meal. Another great thing about picnics? You can make them as romantic or as casual as you want. Rose petals and sparkling wine? Nachos and seltzer? Either way, pack your basket, and don’t forget a blanket.

11. Create a time capsule.

Your world will likely be completely different 5, 10, or 20 years from now, but that doesn’t mean you should forget the special moments of today. So put together a time capsule with your partner to crack open in the future. Include items you have lying around or buy things at a dollar store that remind you of inside jokes or memories. You could put in a takeout menu from your favorite spot, a picture of your current home, a printout of meaningful texts, a coin with this year’s date, or even a list of your current favorite things. Include a letter to future you, or a letter to your future partner.

12. Stargaze.

Become star-crossed lovers … but in a good way. Visit a quiet spot far from city lights and turn your attention to the heavens. Bring snacks, drinks, and a telescope if you have one. Download a stargazing app that could help you identify constellations. Talk about your astrological signs, if you’re into that. Or don’t talk at all and get lost looking up into space.

13. Plan a movie marathon.

Create a cozy home theater experience, popcorn and all, for a night-long or even full-day movie marathon. You could each pick your favorite films, watch a whole series, starting with prequels or the original, or even choose movies based on a theme (such as holiday movies, scary movies, or your first PG-13 movies).

14. Take a hike.

Get in touch with nature while also showing off your outdoorsy side by embarking on a hike. Research the cost of park entry and parking before you go, as those can vary, and choose a trail suitable for both your fitness levels.

15. Hit the books.

Spend an afternoon browsing paperbacks at a local library or bookstore. Share your favorite reads and discover new ones together. Borrow or buy a book for each other to read and discuss during your next meetup.

16. Throw a vintage fashion show.

Still have your prom dress? Your high school letterman jacket? Maybe even an old scouting uniform? Dust off your old duds and hold a fashion show. Each old piece of clothing might spark untold stories to share. Plus, you just might rediscover a back-in-style item that could be added to your everyday wardrobe.

17. Draw each other’s family tree.

If you’ve ever dated someone with a big extended family, you know how hard it can be to remember everyone’s name and how they’re related. But writing it down could help you keep track of everyone—and learn more about them too. For each relative, ask your partner to share a memory or fun fact about them. Then switch and have your partner return the favor.

18. Make your own pizza.

Get creative in the kitchen and cook homemade pizzas together. Pick up a variety of toppings—or, for a cheaper alternative, scour your pantry for both traditional and unorthodox toppings—to complete your masterpiece. It could be cute to make pizzas for each other and crown a winner for making the best pie.

19. Graze at your local farmer’s market.

Explore a nearby farmer's market for the fresh food and crunchy vibes. There might be live musicians playing, and there’s sure to be good people, and maybe even dog-watching. Ask vendors for free samples or if they have perfectly good but misshapen produce to sell at a discount. You could also pick up ingredients for a simple dinner to cook together later—it’s likely to be cheaper than dining out but could be just as tasty.

20. Watch a concert at home.

Enjoy the magic of live music without the head-bangingly-high ticket prices with a live-streamed event or recorded concert. Set the mood with some dim lighting, and wear concert T-shirts. Consider listening to a new band instead of watching your favorite artists. You just might discover a group you love together, and then maybe plan a future date to see them live.

21. Have a day at the museum.

Many museums have free days for all or for certain groups, such as students or residents of your city. Take advantage. Hit up the exhibits and read the little signs in your best museum guide voices. On a day where entry is free for all, consider showing up early to beat the crowds.

22. Sing your heart out at home.

Bring the karaoke bar experience home by hosting a sing-along night. Come up with a playlist of your favorite songs, find lyrics online, grab your mics, and then let loose. Cheer for your partner as they belt their favorite jams, and work in some duets.

23. Hunt for thrift store treasures.

Go on a thrifting adventure and challenge each other to find the quirkiest item under a certain dollar amount. Or you could pick out entire outfits for each other. Even if you don’t come home with any new threads, just trying on some fun fits at the store could fill this date with laughs.

24. Play games.

Not mind games—classic board games, card games, or video games. You could play multiple rounds of the same game to see who’s truly the best at it or play a bunch of different games to see who’s a well-rounded champion.

25. Bird watch.

Time just might fly while you’re having fun checking out birds. Pack binoculars and guidebooks if you have them, or download apps that could help you identify birds by sight or song. Visit local birdwatching forums for ideas on the best spots in your area and a heads-up about which feathered friends you might see. Then, compete to identify the most birds.

26. Geocache.

Embark on an outdoor treasure hunt by going geocaching, which is when you follow GPS coordinates to tucked-away spots, usually where there’s a container or other marker. This might take you to parts of your neighborhood you’ve never been before, and some of the best caches have complex puzzles involved in finding the elusive spot. You can find geocaches in your area online or on dedicated geocaching apps.

27. Camp in your own yard.

If your house or apartment has the space, plan a night outside. Set up a tent and break out pillows and blankets to make it extra cozy. Tell scary (or not-so-scary) stories, stargaze, and enjoy the simplicity of the outdoors … while still being 20 feet from a bathroom. Are you allowed to set a small fire in your area? Then roast marshmallows and make s’mores to add a sweet touch to the evening. Not allowed? Run inside to microwave the treats and eat them outside.

28. Take your partner on a “you” tour.

For an extra-special date, plot out a route connecting multiple meaningful spots and be a tour guide for your partner. You could visit your hometown, if it’s nearby, and take your date to your elementary school or where you played sports, or even your old college stomping grounds to see your first dorm and favorite hangout. If your partner spent a significant amount of time living in a nearby locale, have them guide you on a “them” tour for another date night.

29. Play tourist in your town.

Locals tend to avoid tourist attractions. But there’s usually a reason out-of-towners flock to these spots. Look online to see if there are any free walking tours in your area and play tourist for the day. You and your date could make up fake personas, pretend you’re visiting for the first time, and ask funny questions about the sites.

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1. Maurie Backman, “The Cost Of Dating Is Up 40% Since 2013, Survey Finds,” The Ascent: Motely Fool, March 15, 2023.

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