20 Creative Date Ideas That Cost Less Than $20 (But Aren’t Any Less Fun)

published Mar 12, 2017
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(Image credit: Carolyn Scott)

The typical formula for a date—think dinner, drinks, entertainment—can add up to an expensive outing. And while staying in and watching TV is a comfortable (and frankly, more desirable) date night alternative most of the time, sometimes you just need a change—and a night out of the house.

There are plenty of activities you can do for free or next-to-nothing that are just as fun and romantic—if not more so—than going out to dinner and drinks. Whether you’re an outdoorsy kind of person or you prefer inside entertainment, there’s something for everyone. With these ideas, you can spend quality time together without actually spending much of anything.

  • Go to a fancy restaurant… but only order dessert. If there’s an awesome new food spot in town that you’ve been dying to try but you know the prices are otherwise out of your budget, get dressed up and go anyway for dessert. (Important tip: hit the bar or go during off-peak hours so you’re not taking up a table when it’s busy, and call ahead to make sure it’s okay—some restaurants won’t serve you only dessert.)
  • Check out museums and art galleries on pay-what-you-wish nights. Some galleries and museums charge high admission prices, but there are usually off-peak hours (often on weekday nights) where admission is free. (There’s usually a suggested donation and you can pay what you can.) You’ll still be able to experience everything the weekend attendees do, just for a discounted price.
  • Plan a silly photo scavenger hunt for each other. Each of you should take some time to come up with a bunch of places to go or tasks to do in your city and assign a clue to each. Agree on a final meeting place, then give your partner their list of clues and go off on your separate adventures. As you go, take photos. The first person to arrive at the meeting place wins, and then you can go over the photos together.
  • Go to a tag sale, buy something cheap and DIY it together. If you and your partner enjoy being crafty (or even if you’re just up for a new challenge!) head to a nearby tag sale or estate sale and look for something to buy for $10 or less. Spend the leftover $10 on craft supplies—or just use things you already have at home—and give your item a DIY upgrade.
  • Have a backyard or rooftop picnic at sunrise. Switch things up from a typical picnic by having one early in the morning to watch the sunrise. Pack inexpensive breakfast essentials (like bagels, donuts or muffins) and a thermos of coffee, and head out to your backyard or rooftop space to enjoy an early morning date.
  • Spend the day taking photos with disposable cameras. You can buy a couple of disposable cameras for a few dollars each, and then spend the day adventuring around your city or town taking photos of each other, then go get them developed. You’ll have fun and a chance to be creative, and you’ll be able to save the memories forever.
(Image credit: Celeste Noche)
  • Walk around your city listening to music in headphones. If you’ve ever watched the movie Begin Again, this idea should sound familiar—it’s great for music lovers looking for a cheap but totally memorable date. Make a playlist of music you both love, then walk around your city listening to it in headphones (use a headphone splitter or just queue up the playlists on your phones at the same time) holding hands and just enjoying each other’s company.
  • Go to a local diner at midnight and order breakfast. Diner food is famous for being as tasty as it is inexpensive, and there’s nothing better than a diner that serves breakfast 24/7. Take advantage of it and go to your local diner at midnight to get an awesome, wallet-friendly breakfast and split a milkshake.
  • Take an early morning stroll together on the beach. If you live near the water, get up early and head over to the beach together for an AM walk before it gets crowded with people—even better if you go before sunrise so you can watch the sky over the water.
  • Go for a hike or walk a trail nearby. If you live somewhere more landlocked and the beach isn’t an option, plan a couple’s hike or find a local trail you can walk. You’ll get to spend plenty of time talking and bonding, and if you enjoy photography, you can take tons of beautiful photos, too.
  • See a play at a local high school or community theater. Going to a broadway (or equivalent) show may be expensive, but you can still have a great night of entertainment by going to a play or a musical that’s more local and the tickets are more in your budget. Check out local high schools and community theaters to see what’s going on, and take your pick.
  • Challenge each other to a $10 cook-off. Head to the grocery store with a $10 limit each to buy food, then head home (where you both have full use of the pantry) to see who can cook the best dish. You’ll get two unique dishes to split at the end of the challenge, and you’ll get to incorporate a little friendly competition.
  • Spend a day volunteering at a local organization together. A great way to get to know your partner and what matters to them? Spend a day giving back. Find a local organization in your community that needs help, and volunteer together—even if you don’t get to spend a lot of quality time together while you’re working, you’ll do something for the greater good and you can relax together at the end of the day.
(Image credit: Emma Fiala)
  • Go to a nearby arcade and see who can win the most tickets. Arcade games can be a fun and inexpensive challenge, so head to one nearby—each with $10 worth of tokens (spend wisely!)—and see who can win the most tickets. Winner gets to use all the tickets to redeem for a prize.
  • Find a local fair and spend a night going on rides and eating cheap food. Check around your area to see if there are any carnivals or street fairs going on, then spend a night walking around, eating cheap—but delicious—fair food, and go on a ride or two. If rides aren’t your thing, fairs usually have live music you can watch.
  • Attend an amateur comedy night. Live near a comedy club? It’s likely that they host amateur and open mic nights that cost less than the usual admission, so see if there are any coming up and prepare to laugh (or at least have something to talk about afterwards!).
  • Take a tour of a brewery or winery nearby. Many breweries and wineries offer free or inexpensive tours for the public, so if beer or wine are your thing, you can spend an afternoon learning how it’s made and maybe even trying some samples.
  • Go to a bookstore or the library and pick out books for each other. Libraries and bookstores are so fun to explore and you can really get lost in them for hours—plus, the kinds of books you read say a lot about you. Spend some time adventuring through the stacks together and pick out a new book for each other—you’ll have tons of fun and leave with new reading material.
  • See a movie in the morning and pay matinee prices. Going to the movies is generally pretty expensive, but not if you go in the morning when it’s matinee time. Tickets for matinee movies are usually less than $10 each, so you can enjoy a movie with less than you’d typically pay, and maybe even have money left over for popcorn.
  • Spend an afternoon playing board games or card games in the park. Relaxing in the park is fun enough on its own, but if you want something more to do on a nice day, head outdoors and bring a deck of cards or your favorite board games to play while you lounge.

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