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We asked Christine Hart, a Toronto-based relationship and dating coach who counsels couples on navigating the dating scene, to share some thrifty date ideas.
"Successful dating on a budget is about planning and creativity," she says. "You can have a lot of fun, and make the most of your quality time together, without the exorbitant price tag."
1. Enjoy the great outdoors
Mother Nature doesn't charge admission, so get outside with your significant other and enjoy the fresh air. There are so many fun things to do whatever the season. You can bike a new trail, hike hand-in-hand, go sledding after a first snowfall or have a picnic by the lake. The best part? Spending time outdoors is not only free – it's good for the body and mind. "These are great ways to spend time together, get some exercise and focus exclusively on each other without the usual distractions, like buzzing BlackBerrys or constant text messages," says Hart. "To that point: Leave your cellphones at home."
2. Dive into some culture
An art gallery or museum is a great place to get to know someone (or reconnect with your longtime love).
Learning about new subjects together can ignite conversation and help create lasting memories, says Hart. Many museums offer free admission or discounted entry fees on designated days. And even if you've been to the same museum countless times, challenge each other to find something new about your favourite painting or sculpture. This little game will keep both of you on your toes and encourage you to see things in a new light.
3. Plan a themed "dinner and a movie" night in
Going out for dinner and a movie can be pricey these days – especially if you have to pay for child care in addition to your night out. So opt for a no-reservations-required dinner and movie night at home. Hart suggests planning a special theme to make the night more memorable.
"Decide who will be responsible for each part of the dinner. Determine a budget, be creative and do things that will surprise each other," Hart says.
For example, if you both love French cuisine, maybe he'll watch Julia Child videos on YouTube so he can impress you with French onion soup and coq au vin while you take care of a bistro-style table setting and crêpes for dessert. As for the movie, cosy up on the couch and pop a bottle of Sancerre to sip on while you watch a romantic flick that works with your theme. In this case, Amélie, Jules et Jim or Chocolat would all fit the bill.
If you're looking to do some good in your neighbourhood, volunteering with a local charity is a great weekend date. Instead of costing you money, it will enrich your time together as a couple and you'll also be contributing to the betterment of your community.
Consider one-time only events that don't require any special skills or training, says Hart. For example, it could be helping build a new playground at your neighbourhood school or registering participants at a local charity run. You'll have fun doing it and will feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. These one-time opportunities are great if you're just getting to know someone. It takes the pressure off it being a regular, big commitment.
5. Re-create your very first date
Perhaps you met a long time ago at a college library, or bumped into each other at a neighbourhood gym or coffee shop. Chances are, the very first time you met wasn't in extraordinary or expensive circumstances.
So, retrace your steps and reminisce about how you felt when you first laid eyes on each other. In our day-to-day lives it's easy to get caught up with hectic schedules and take our partners' great qualities for granted. "A date like this serves as a simple but effective reminder about why you fell in love in the first place," says Hart.