Thrifty ideas for summer dates

Getting Started

Your Money

July 03, 2005|By CAROLYN BIGDA

SUMMER'S balmy weather can stir romantic sensibilities more than any other time of the year. Fortunately for our budgets, the season also is ripe with settings for inexpensive, or even free, dates.

Consider the average cost of typical dates. A movie rendezvous, for instance, will empty your wallet by as much as $35, according to, an online dating service that compiles a cost-of-dating index. Dinner and theater tickets can easily add up to $300.

But without dinner and a movie - the bedrock of dating - what do you do? I asked seasoned daters (really, just about any 20-something) and looked at more formal surveys and found the possibilities almost endless.

Talk with your date: When asked 1,000 of its members to describe their ideal first date, the majority picked activities that let you get to know the person. Incidentally, says Kristin Kelly, a spokeswoman, "these types of dates are the ones you can do most cost-effectively."

Noisy restaurants and bars often overwhelm conversation. Instead, opt for a subdued coffeehouse, where you'll drop just $7.37 on average.

Or take a walk in the park, which 70 percent of daters said they would favor. Joshua Nettinga, a 24-year-old law student, recently enjoyed an afternoon with his girlfriend at the Jefferson National Forest in Pembroke, Va. For quintessential romance - the park's highlight is a waterfall framed by cliffs and foliage - they paid $2.

Be a tourist: Many of us live in cities with museums and attractions that tourists flock to en masse but that we never visit. These venues are ideal date settings, and often you can snatch discounted student tickets or go on freebie nights.

Amy Turner, 25, who works in community relations in Seattle, turns to the 2005 Greater Seattle/Eastside Entertainment book (; $35) to defray dating costs. "It has tons of 2-for-1 coupons," she says, for restaurants, seaplane rides, kayak rentals and other diversions.

Read up: Check out the newspaper and online city guides. Every major and minor city sponsors some form of free entertainment during the summer. This weekend, with Fourth of July celebrations, is a perfect example. Simply pick up a local newspaper or log on to online city guides, such as

Dine creatively: Using New York magazine's online version,, I came across an article on dessert dining. Apparently, restaurants and cafes throughout New York offer prix fixe dessert menus, ranging from $11 to $30 a person.

Sweets with your sweetie for a reasonable price. It shows that skipping dinner out and opting for other choices, such as dessert, generally is more affordable. In fact, lunch and Sunday brunches can cost half or even a third of the price of a sit-down meal in the evening.

Then, of course, you can always buy groceries, spread out a blanket and picnic.

Sara Rosen, a 23-year-old program associate for a New York-based foundation, recently did that with her boyfriend. They biked to Prospect Park in Brooklyn and set up before the band shell to take in a free performance, munching on snacks that they toted with them.

Noticing a trend here? Get outside and get creative.

E-mail Carolyn Bigda at

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