I remember the first big date that Andrew took me on. He picked me up at 6pm sharp. On the leather seat of his car was a single red rose. He had instructed that I should dress nicely, but wouldn’t tell me where we were going.
I was 22. Had just bought a dirt-cheap house that I could still only barely afford the repairs on. I lived with 2 roommates and ate half a $5 footlong Subway sandwich for lunch everyday to keep under my $10/week budget.
Along comes Andrew. He’s 27 and used to dating in the “normal” world where women want to wined and dined, and men pay for every date. He meets me, a young single homeowner with a big 401K and an even bigger pile of ambition (he says I told him on the first date that I was mathematically on track to be a millionaire by age 30). So what does he do? Pulls out the credit cards and starts trying to impress me.
So back to this infamous date. We ended up going to a nice restaurant and then to a concert. I still remember the restaurant tab – $86. It wasn’t that I was horrified or disgusted, it was just so out of my everyday normal-life realm to pay that kind of money for dinner. I felt uncomfortable and slightly cheated – I would have been so much happier with $5 burritos and some beer. At the concert, we paid for the $8 overpriced drinks and the $15 valet parking. We got $6 ice cream cones after. We probably spent more on that date than I spent in a month on groceries.
For months, we dated like this: throwing dollar bills into the wind while I watched in agony, gritting my teeth.
When it was my turn to pay, I felt like I couldn’t be the one taking him on cheap dates so I would also shell out for fancy dinners and extravagant activities. We did ale festivals and roller coaster rides, trips to vegas and bottles of top-shelf liquor. Anything that cost a shitload and involved a ticket and a cheesy keepsake photo, we did it.
All the while, I was squirreling away every penny I could, going into a cold sweat every time I thought about my high-rolling new boyfriend.
Eventually, I just said enough.
What’s the point here? A nice date means a lot of things to a lot of folks.
When we look back at those dates, Andrew and I laugh. At me, for saying nothing and pretending to enjoy myself while internally freaking out. And Andrew, for spending lots of money to impress a girl who just wanted him to stop spending it.
In this situation, time heals all bad purchases.
I’ve had a lot of readers ask what we do about cheap dates, and I will certainly give you some concrete ideas. But first, I want to explain how Andrew and I decided HOW we want to date.
It all comes back to feelings. In order to plan fun dates, we had to understand how different kinds of dates make us feel.
I don’t like things that involve long lines, stressful parking or crowds. I dislike forced or cliched romance. I like to go on long hikes and bike-rides where we can just talk and unwind. I like to walk and get fro-yo by our apartment. Connection is my goal.
Andrew doesn’t like dates that are really just work disguised as a date (i.e. building a chicken coop) or dates that involve shopping. He loves to relax, go see movies, or just cuddle on the couch. Relaxation is his goal.
But what about spending money?
We use our limited date fund to pay for dates that give us relaxation and connection, and most importantly, we stopped spending on activities that don’t. We try to spend about $50 / weekend on entertainment / eating out, and our monthly entertainment budget is $200 / month. Usually, we have 1 big night out for about $35, and then a cheap brunch or happy hour the next day for $15.
When we plan our dates, we put emphasis on moving slow, enjoying nature, and having plenty of time to talk. And of course, half the time we end up canceling our plans and splitting a bottle of cheap wine on the couch. Hands down, that’s the best kind of date.
So what do we actually do on our cheap dates?
– $4 movies at the cheap local movie theater and sneak in candy and vodka minis. ($10 date)
– Go hiking in the state park and then get sushi at our favorite train sushi spot ($15 date)
– Coffee date at Starbucks on Saturday morning. We get free refills with our gold card ($6 date)
– Happy hour! Portland is infamous for having amazing happy hours and some of our favorite places have $2 beers, $2 salads, $4 burgers, and $3 well drinks. ($15 date)
– Dinners with friends. We alternate houses, and I’m the queen of the $20 dinner party. ($20 date)
– In the summer we play frisbee in the park and then get frozen yogurt ($6 date)
– Beach days on Sauvie Island. We always pack our own snacks and then go berry-picking afterwards.
One final thought on dates:
The longer I’m with Andrew, the more I appreciate spending time with him. Cut away the fancy dinners, the expensive drinks, the big concerts, and what’s left is the most important part: us getting to talk, share ideas, make jokes, sleep in, and enjoy each other’s company. It’s my favorite thing in the world.