While J. Lo might have confidently crooned that love doesn't cost a thing, dating most definitely does. That's why a person needs an arsenal of ideas on how to go on a first date on a budget — because when you're not sure if the person you're meeting up is worth staying for after a round of appetizers, dropping a pretty penny every time you go on a date hurts. And it all seems to add up so quickly — it's so easy to let those purse strings get lax. One moment you're thinking you'll grab cocktails for an hour or two with a nice stranger, and the next you're walking home 13 blocks because taking a cab after that cordon bleu dinner is just the last straw for your wallet.
If you find that most of your budget is being blown while hopping from date to date, it's time for a strategy. While you don't necessarily have to create a chintzy hang-out, you can put a little thought to the plan and find more money-savvy outings. Below are 11 tips on how to go on first dates on a budget. I promise they'll be both memorable in a rom-com montage-worthy way and thrifty.
1. Skip Dinner
There's nothing that adds up faster than dinner — with the option of appetizers and dessert to boot, your budget is toast. So skip the meal altogether. "Skip the dinner and grab some drinks instead — there are tons of happy hours available at great restaurants. You can still impress your date with a nice ambiance and save money while you’re doing it," Amie Leadingham, a Master Certified Relationship Coach, suggests in an email interview with Bustle. Hello, savings.
2. Check Out What's Free In Your City
You don't have to end up somewhere cheesy or low-budget, but it's worth seeing what interesting and free things are happening in your city that week. "Grab your free local events calendar. All dates don’t need to involve bars and restaurants. There are tons of great free events like Concerts in the Parks or even festivals that make a really fun experience with little pressure on the wallet," Leadingham advises. Listening to free blues and munching on take-away sandwiches sounds like a lovely way to get to know someone.
3. Visit A Coffee Shop You're Excited About
The majority of cities and towns have more coffee shops than people, so instead of going out for drinks opt to meet up at a cafe. "Map out a combination of favorite and as-yet-untested coffee shops around town and do a taste testing of their most popular picks, whether it’s a cup of dark roast or a seasonal latte," lifestyle writer Maggie Puniewska from lifestyle site The Greatist suggested. It's much cheaper to split a croissant and sip on lattes than it is to go in for chic cocktails.
4. Make An Actual Budget
You know how you say you'll only send 20 bucks while on a date but end up buying four drinks and a dessert? Avoid that by giving yourself a budget, and then cutting yourself off once you hit it. "There's no need to be lavish in order to impress your date, and don't forget that going all-out financially on the first date heightens your date's expectations for future get-togethers, making it hard to spend less on other dates," Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments and "Good Morning America" personal finance contributor, shared with ABC News. Once you've hit your ceiling, pack up for home.
5. Try A Picnic
This doesn't have to be a full-blown romantic setup (pressure!) but something low key at your favorite park could be fun. "Get creative! Go to your local grocery store and grab your favorite snacks to make a picnic. This definitely can be a romantic way to connect and can set you apart from the rest," Leadingham explains. Even grabbing a box of donuts from your favorite bakery can help turn it into a casual and quirky first meeting.
6. Play Tourists Together
While hopping onto tours and paying to get into exhibit might add up quickly, exploring pockets of the city neither of you have been in would be a fun alternative to going indoors and eating. "Dedicate an afternoon to checking out landmarks, parks, and other attractions you’ve never seen. You’ll gain a fresh perspective and new appreciation for what makes your hometown great," Puniewska offered. Whether that's checking out a new park installation, doing a mural walk together, or walking around a particularly impressive neighborhood with architecture, you'll have an awesome time.
7. Go On An Appetizers Date
If you decide to go the bar route but are nervous what the other person will order onto your split tab, make sure to pick a place that you know has great happy hour deals on appetizers. "Sharing bar snacks or ordering small plates with your drink is another way to keep the costs low," India Kang, a Dating & Relationship Coach for Women, shares in an email interview with Bustle. That way you don't have to miss out on the sweet potato fries, but you don't have to break the bank either.
8. Do A Trivia Night Together
Getting in on an activity together is fun, and it has the added bonus of focusing your attention away from any possible butterflies. So to nix any expensive dinner or drink options, try going to a Trivia Night at a decently priced bar. "Is one of you an avid fan of Arrested Development or The Simpsons? Flaunt it! Many bars hold friendly competitions that focus on a specific genre or TV series, or just pop culture in general," Puniewska recommended. Get that game face on.
9. Go BYOB
If you really want to go to a restaurant, at least save on drinks by choosing one that's BYOB. "Many restaurants will let you bring your own wine or beer for free or a small fee. This is a great way to save on alcohol and this will ensure that you will have exactly what you want," Hobson agreed. It's a great corner to cut.
10. Check Out A Gallery
Chances are you don't go visit many museums or galleries on your regular off-duty time, so take advantage of your booked evening by heading over to an exhibit you haven't seen. "Some museums and galleries are also free, or check out free exhibitions followed by a drink You can get to know each other over an interesting artifact or exhibition," Kang shares. It's a great way to explore parts of your city you wouldn't normally!
11. Keep It At A Two Drink Limit
If you're not into creative venues and just want to keep it easy at a bar, that's totally fine. Just put yourself on a two drink limit. "I tell my clients that a great first date is having ONLY drinks at the bar. You have one drink with your date, see if you like them and want another drink, then end the date after that second drink," Thomas Edwards Jr., a social strategy consultant, tells Bustle in an email interview. Your first date is more of an interview — if you like them, invite them out for a second date where you won't feel so guilty spending a little more cash.
Dating can be tricky sometimes, but it shouldn't be painful for your wallet. Keep these ideas in mind and you'll leave these meetups in one piece.