Just because the economy is all busted up doesn't mean you have to stay home eating Ramen noodles. Dating can be expensive, but if you're willing to get all creative about it, there are plenty of ways to avoid a $200 meal tab. Here are some ways to cut costs without coming across as a total cheapskate loser:
Taking a date to bargain movie night probably won't win you any favors, but going to a restaurant that allows you to supply your own liquor--especially when you've painstakingly chosen a lovely bottle of wine (hey, nothin' wrong with award-winning Two Buck Chuck from Trader Joe's)--is completely acceptable and even chic, not to mention the fact that it can cut the cost of dinner in half. Bringing a flask on a date however, is not only declasse, it's kinda scary.
2. Romance is priceless
Who came up with the idea that a good date has to involve spending lots of money? There are so many romantic things to do that are 100 percent free. Taking an old fashioned walk through a beautiful park nearby is a lovely thing to do (if you insist on having a meal, planning and bringing along a picnic basket will make you look like a star). Are there any activities you both enjoy? You can suggest hiking, biking, swimming or other outdoor activities that are not only fun and free, but will likely be a far more bonding experience than costly theater tickets will provide. That said, do take advantage of local websites or newspapers that alert readers to free concerts and other events in your area.
3. See a movie, at home
You don't have to go to the movies to watch a movie. Instead of wasting money on stale $6 popcorn, orchestrate movie night at home. Prepare homemade popcorn, buy some soda and candy, and go out of your way to find out and rent your date's favorite movie. (A friend of mine takes this a step further and projects films on a screen set up in his backyard, but not all of us have that luxury...)
4. Create something special
Get all wholesome and make something together. It's not often that we get to exercise our childlike sides and play arts and crafts, but that's what one woman I know did on a recent date when she showed her new love interest how to make a book after she took a class on the subject. This can work for any project. If you know how to paint, you could watercolor together, or learn how to fold origami. Remember that exploding volcano you made for your fifth grade science fair? How fun would it be to make one again, at age 30?
5. Be honest!
Don't forget that if you're strapped for cash, no one wants to hear you whine and moan about it, but it is okay to be honest and say, all straight up, "I don't have a lot of extra income right now." As your mother might tell you, anyone that really likes you for you won't be too preoccupied with whether you're taking them out for champagne and caviar, and if they are, then maybe you don't want to be dating them anyway. This especially tends to be a problem with men who feel that society's standards dictate that they should be spending money in order to impress their dates, but judging from the number of women we all know who make more money than their partners, in 2008, this really isn't the case, now is it?
Have any other suggestions? Let's hear 'em.