First dates are a high-risk, high-reward situation. If things go well, it could be the first step to a relationship that changes your life forever. If it goes poorly, you’ll essentially be paying money to suffer through hours of awkward conversation.
You can help to lower that risk – and the price tag – by planning a date that is equal parts thrifty and fun. We’ve outlined some first date ideas below, divided by what you can afford to pay.
How to Plan a Thrifty Date
When you’re short on cash, you have to be a little more creative when planning a first date. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to be romantic without blowing your budget.
If you’re both active or into nature, going on a hike can be a perfect icebreaker. Admission to most local or state parks costs between $5 and $10 a person, while national parks usually cost between $10 and $15 a person. Hiking means you’re doing something interesting that naturally lends itself to conversation. Pack a couple of snacks and water bottles so you don’t get hungry during the date.
If you don’t enjoy hiking but like being outside, pick a local park or garden and pack a picnic lunch to share. Go to the grocery store beforehand and buy a ready-to-eat charcuterie board, single-serving wine bottles or seltzers.
For a truly unique and frugal date, hit up an old-school arcade to play a few games. Arcades are low-key fun and let you get a little competitive – one of the best ways to flirt. Most arcades are still fairly affordable. When you’re done, grab a slice of pizza and compare your winnings.
Playing a round of mini golf is another frugal date idea and usually costs less than $10 per person. If you don’t know each other well, playing mini golf means you’re not forced to awkwardly sit next to each other and fill the silence.
If you both like beer, visit a local brewery that offers free or discounted tastings. Choose a place that also serves food and split a couple of appetizers.
How to Plan a Moderately-Priced First Date
To spice up the classic dinner-and-a-movie date, visit a local or historic movie theater showing an older movie. This will likely provide more conversation fodder than going to see the latest Marvel flick.
If the weather is nice, see if there’s a drive-in near you. Most drive-ins host double showings, so you can get two movies for the price of one. And when you’re sitting in a car and not a movie theater, you can talk freely without getting shushed by nearby patrons.
If you like art, visit a local art museum to check out the new exhibits. When you’re done, grab a coffee at the museum cafe or browse the gift shop. Admission to an art museum varies, but usually costs between $10 and $25 per person.
Some local wine shops will host wine classes, where you can learn more about a particular style of wine and how to pair it with food. After the class is over, walk over to a nearby restaurant to soak up the alcohol and continue the date.
Take advantage of the changing seasons with your first date. If it’s autumn, visit a local orchard for cider donuts and apple picking. In summer, visit the beach or go to a pick-your-own strawberry farm. If it’s winter, visit an ice-skating rink.
How to Plan a Luxury First Date
If money is no object, then plan a first date neither of you will forget, like dinner at a restaurant with a tasting menu. A tasting menu usually includes between five and seven carefully crafted courses and can cost between $75 and $300 for one person, not including taxes and tip.
When you pick a tasting menu, each person is served the same dish at the same intervals. You can also choose to add a wine pairing, which means the waiter will bring a glass of wine with each course that goes well with the course you’re eating
A tasting menu is more than just a fancy dinner. The waiter explains why each dish is chosen and how the courses complement each other. Because you’re both eating the same thing, it’s easier to compare and discuss your meals.
If you don’t want a heavy meal, splurge on tickets to a show, like a Broadway musical or a concert. Depending on where you sit, tickets can range from $20 to $200. Make sure to choose an act you both want to see; you don’t want to risk a bored date who’s counting down the minutes till they can go home.
If you both know your way around a kitchen, sign up for a cooking or baking class. Specialty stores or local restaurants often offer these classes specifically for couples to cook or bake together. Choose a cuisine that you both enjoy. You’ll learn to work together, but you won’t be forced to talk for hours. And when you’re done, you’ll have an interesting memory even if you choose not to go on a second date.
Examine Your Budget
Before choosing one of the date ideas listed above, go through your budget and see what you can actually afford to spend. Be realistic and don’t go over budget, no matter how excited you are or how long it’s been since your last date.
Dating is about getting to know someone as they are, so if your date is bothered that you can only afford a frugal outing, they’re not the right person for you.
Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. A former reporter, she has covered murder trials, the Final Four and everything in between. She has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time. Read about how she paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years at Conscious Coins.