**I don’t deal with “free date” ideas–that stuff is fine when you already know someone or are in a relationship, but asking someone you just met over to your house for movie night or for a walk on the beach at night is just creepy**
When you’re single,
it’s sometimes difficult to date.
No, sometimes it’s damn near impossible!
Normal pressures of life take up enough time, things like:
- (Maybe) your religion
With all that going on, it can be a tight squeeze to go on that 1st date.
And if you manage but it doesn’t work out?
Repeating the first date scenario over and over can take a toll on your finances.
You may be “ready to mingle” but often times it can cost a pretty penny to do so.
A Word On Cost-Free Dates
Many people like to throw out suggestions for free dates.
Sure, it’s great to be able to do stuff together and not always have to spend a lot of money–if any at all.
There’s just one small problem with a lot of those ideas.
Many of them are simply too intimate for an initial meeting between strangers.
Or they require a sense of trust that first meets cannot have yet.
There’s also the issue of being “trapped”.
Let’s say you go to a free preview of an art exhibit…sure, it’s public and may be quiet enough to get to know one another better, but if it isn’t going well, you (or your date) may feel trapped.
Coffee Or Drinks Is the #1 Choice
Most people aren’t millionaires and don’t have the means to hire someone or do the things that you see on the Millionaire Matchmaker.
Flying someone around the city in a helicopter.
Closing a museum for a private exhibition.
Jetting of a different city for a 10-course dinner (which by the way is ridiculously stupid to do if you don’t know each other or even know if you can stand being alone with them for more than 10 minutes).
Those just aren’t things most people can do.
Instead, the regular folks have to rely on friends, family, co-workers and (now) the internet to meet possible love interests.
But besides emails and phone calls, how do you get to know someone to see if there is an attraction and/or common interests?
You spend time with them.
Talking and learning about their interests, goals, dreams, etc.
Can you do that in a movie theater?
Or at a concert in the park?
How about in a club with hundreds of others around and music pumping through speakers bigger than your entire body?
It also provides a great environment for the one thing that is essential for learning all about another person: communication.
That’s the exact reason why these are the most common choices for a first date/meeting.
There’s no pressure to sit through an entire meal or event such as the art exhibit.
There’s an easy out–“I have to work in the morning so I don’t want to drink too much” or “I have to be someplace so we have a little while to test out the chemistry”.
Generally safe, quick if it goes poorly yet easy to extend if it actually goes well, but eventually, those dates can add up if they don’t go that great and you go on several per week/month.
I swear those people will not be judged by me!
The good thing is that there are ways to minimize the costs.
But, what if you are saving for something and on a budget?
Or if you simply don’t have a lot of extra cash after paying all of your bills?
There are a few ways to do the traditional meal and drinks scenario without blowing your entire stack of cash just on dating:
1. Lunch Dates
Everyone knows that lunch is cheaper in almost every restaurant (I did say restaurant, not fast food chain) than dinner.
Right there you are going to be saving some money.
In some places, you don’t get that much less actual food either.
That’s another win for the budget-minded dater!
And, since most people don’t drink during the day (unless you are on vacation), your bill will automatically be a little less.
Yes, even if you order a soda or iced tea, it’s still going to be a fraction of the cost of an alcoholic drink.
It’s especially true if you do a lunch meeting on your actual lunch break where you literally can’t drink and run up a big tab 😉
This option also gives the non-monetary advantage of putting a time constraint on the meeting in case it just isn’t working for whatever reason.
On the other hand, if it is going well, there’s always time after work to pick up where you left off!
2. Happy Hour Dates
Some people’s first thought when they hear the term happy hour probably won’t be “date-worthy” but not every place that has a happy hour is packed with young people partying.
Or people of any age partying for that matter!
Happy hour dates can be a great choice for several reasons.
For one, you are already going to be saving money as this is the time when a large number of establishments offer it’s best deals.
Some do two-for-one specials.
Others do half-off instead or dollars-off.
Some do special pricing on select brands and types of drinks.
And that’s just the drink specials!
Many restaurants and bars throw in specially priced appetizers or “small plates” which are essentially smaller versions of regular menu items.
If that’s not enough for you, there is a growing trend of independent establishments passing out free appetizers during their happy hour, which gives you the double benefit of free food and discounted drinks.
3. Weeknight Meetings
Monday through Thursday are typically the slower nights for many in the food and beverage industry.
That alone should make you want to go out because the crowds are usually thinner and there’s less hassle to get into an establishment (assuming you’re not in a crazy downtown area like NYC, LA, etc).
Money-wise, however, there are more deals offered just to attract people on these less-than active nights.
Have you ever noticed that coupons almost always say “not valid Friday through Sunday”?
That’s because of what I just mentioned–these establishments don’t need assistance bringing people in on weekends.
Weeknights, however, are a different story so they offer coupons to entice more people in, which as you know means the same amount of food & drinks for less money!
Plus, with fewer people, there will hopefully be less noise which makes for easier conversations.
4. Using Social Media & Local Marketing Sites
With the spread of social media use among businesses come benefits to the patrons.
There is a trend now for many places in the dining & entertainment industry to promote specials via social media.
Some places offer a free drink at the bar when you check into their location on Facebook.
Others will give you a discount or a free appetizer when you tweet that you are there.
On Foursquare, too, some places will give you a free item with a check-in.
In terms of local marketing sites, Groupon has huge value by offering discounted vouchers and gift cards for anything from Starbucks to juice bars and full-service restaurants.
Similarly, you can check out your local Clipper magazine and it’s companion site Local Flavor for discounts as well.
After all, if you can get food & drink for up to 50% off, why not go for it!?
*5. Credit Card Statement Bonuses
(yeah, yeah, I know I said 4 tips, hence the star signifying an extra tip ?)
Many credit cards give you bonus rewards (point/miles/cash back) for dining out.
What you may not know is that some cards even give you a statement credit when you use your card at certain places at certain times.
I have American Express cards for both personal use and my business.
As part of those cards, there is something called “Amex Offers”.
This program has a bunch of offers that I can select to be added to my card and gives me much more benefit than regular transactions.
An example is just below this section’s heading–double points, $5 back on $25 and even $10 back on $30–those are statement credits at up to 33%!!! Where else are you going to get that kind of return on spending that you will probably do anyway?
So if you happen to have a credit card which offers this kind of bonus reward program, then you can choose one of those places for a first date (assuming its appropriate) and not have to break the bank.
Plus, you still get your regular rewards, so it’s like a double win!
This is by no means a how-to article or anything along those lines.
This is simply a few practical ideas for single to use if they are interested in saving a little dough (pun definitely intended) while going through the motions, navigating the dating pool.
Are there other ways to save?
Are they all appropriate for the first time you meet someone?
Again, there are reasons most first encounters turn out to be drinks or a quick bite, and it is a foregone conclusion that you will have to spend some money, so why not minimize the cost as best you can?
Tip: the best way is to choose the right person and get off the first date carousel!
What are your best tips for trying to navigate the dating world when faced with a limited budget (time or money)? Do you even bother any more or are you still holding out hope that the next one may be your “last first” everything? Let’s compare notes below!