Dating on a Dime
Dating Extravagantly for less than $50.
Nearly 15 years ago in an idyllic backyard wedding in front of 250 family members and friends in Central Arkansas, we said “I do.” And for better for for worse, it’s been us against the world for almost a decade and a half. We’ve had our share of ups and downs, and life doesn’t always reflect the happiness seen on our social media timelines. But there has been one thing that has helped us recharge our relationship better than anything else when we do it consistently. The Date Day.
About 7 years ago we realized that one evening wasn’t enough. Once every four to six weeks, we needed overnight rejuvenation. At minimum 16 hours of kid-less, work-free, blissful companionship. When life is zooming by at light-speed, it’s not always possible to invest in each other the way you’d like to — setting aside a full day to hang out together once a month has become one of the things I look forward to most.
But how can you keep dating without spending a fortune?!
Dates can get expensive, (Personally, spending money frivolously gives me a harsh spot of anxiety.) but with careful planning, and a bit of creativity, you can fill your calendar up with a series of extravagant, yet inexpensive dates. Twice a year we travel somewhere together, and a handful of times we have golf and dinner dates. Those dates are great and ($17 for 9-holes at a discount golf course and $25 or less for a shared dinner.) fill up most of our Date Days on the calendar. But for the rest, we employ the “Gift Card Date”. These are always the most care-free and enjoyable dates we go on all year.
The Gift Card Date usually ends up on our calendar two to four times a year. The planning process for this date doesn’t stop. We constantly stockpile our gift cards from Christmas, birthdays, or other events; and we save up any hotel points we’ve accumulated with work travel. When it’s time, we pick a city 1–2 hours from home, and embark on an adventure with one rule: Don’t spend more than $50.
The Gift Card Date:
Follow a Few Rules:
- Save your gift cards throughout the year. (You may find you have several gift cards for smaller values. If so, take yourself on a food tour. Order an appetizer at one restaurant, an entree at the next, and dessert at the last.)
- Always share. Your dinner is about conversation and enjoying the experience. Don’t rush, savor your time together, and save money by not letting your eyes get bigger than your stomach.
- Check websites like eventbrite.com for cheap or free events in your area. Plan your date night around free concerts, gallery openings, and community events.
- Go out on a week night or during non-peak times. Almost everything costs less during the week, and it’s usually significantly less crowded.
5. Fill in blank spots in your schedule with scenery. Walking tours, scenic drives, and short hikes are great ways to spend an hour or two and don’t cost anything. Most cities have walking bridges, overlooks, and graffiti tours.
6. Save your hotel points. During a non-busy week night, you can stay in a 5- star hotel for less than $150. (Sometimes we find deals for under $90.) Spend your free hotel points and stay somewhere romantic and ritzy on someone else’s dime.
7. Don’t buy alcohol at restaurants. Visit a liquor store before you get started and have a night cap in your hotel room for a fraction of what you’d pay for a drink at a restaurant or bar.
Using those guidelines, this week we took our free date to Little Rock, Arkansas. Use our itinerary as a jumping off point (big cities offer many of the same basic free activities) to plan your own fabulous overnight date.
Does someone have an old Target or Wal-Mart gift card in their wallet? Use it to buy snacks for the hotel room, beer, and any other specialty supplies you may need on your date. (We bought a Frisbee so we could play disc golf in the park, and champagne and orange juice for mimosa’s in our hotel room.)
Start with a drive.
This month, start your date in the early afternoon with a drive. Everyone knows someone with a really neat car. Borrow your friend’s Jeep or convertible Porsche and drive around the scenic Arkansas highways, reminiscing with an album from yesteryear, and enjoying the wind in your hair.
Add an activity.
Next up, we played 9 holes of disc golf at the park, and took a 1-mile walking loop aroung Two Rivers Park on the Arkansas River. (Pictured above.) Most parks allow you to bring in your own beer and food. When you’re done, find a spot in the shade with a view for a snack and a movie or episode of your favorite TV show. Cost: $0
We save our hotel points and use them to stay somewhere we don’t have to make the bed. A suite at the DoubleTree downtown on the river is less than $140 during the week, but it’s free with our hotel points. (You still have to pay taxes and fees.)
Take in a Dinner Tour.
A dinner tour with gift cards is the way to go. Take your time and enjoy the conversation. Try an appetizer at Applebee’s, soup and salad at TGI Friday’s, and an entree at Olive Garden. If your gift cards run out before you’ve had your fill, dip in somewhere with a great atmosphere and a fantastic dessert menu. After dinner we splurged on tiramisu and coffee from Yaya’s Euro Bistro in the Chenal Promenade.
Night Time Sight Seeing.
Most websites offer walking tours that will map out the sites you can see on foot in a given area. Find a place with several points of interest and take in the town at night. Everything looks different and eerily beautiful under the dark backdrop of the starry sky and fluorescent city lights.
Breakfast in bed.
If your hotel offers breakfast vouchers, pick up your order and retreat back to your room. Mix up some breakfast drinks and make the most of your morning. Snuggling, taking in positive content, conversation, and whatever else you can imagine. Spend the morning relishing in a distraction free environment.
History and religion.
Every big city has gorgeous cathedrals dotting the landscape. Many are on the National Historic Register and are steeped American and religious history. Dress to the nines and attend church service together at a renowned basilica. We opted for St. Edwards in downtown Little Rock, a Gothic Revival style building built in 1901.
Fresh air and atmosphere.
After church, choose a delicatessen to share. Most big cities have an Art’s District or River Walk area. Take a long walk through the city, enjoying the conversation and the atmosphere. Snap pictures of the art, sit down and people watch. Along the way, grab a sample of something the city is known for. Our favorite is sharing a classy brunch of Cheese and Bacon grits or Eggs Benedict at The Capital Hotel Restaurant, followed by a sculpture junket on the Arkansas River.
Don’t forget to try and plan your date around cheap or free community events. This month we had a family wedding and decided to plan our date overnight around that occasion; a romantic wedding was a great way to punctuate the weekend before heading back to our normal lives.
Total date cost: $46.74
Have cheap date ideas? Comment below and if I add them to our calendar, you may see a story about them in upcoming months!
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Secret Coran-Stacy is an author, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and artist living the dream as a middle class suburbanite in Central Arkansas.