5 Smart Date Night Ideas for when You Can't Afford an Expensive Dinner

Photo: Bicycle Bob/ Creative CommonsI love cozy nights, walking in sock feet from the dinner table to the couch to watch movies or snuggle and talk. After darting around to work events all week, volunteering at school and running to soccer practices, most of the time I just want to stay home.

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Since Trey and I blended our families five and a half years ago, he's been resolute about the necessity of date nights. No excuses, once a week. Over the years I've become a believer. Date nights are vital to our marriage. We reconnect and talk to each other without our conversation being drowned out by whining. Yes, we talk about the kids, but we also talk about our future and our work. Here are five tips for figuring out date nights even when the odds are stacked against you.

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1. Consider a babysitting swap. If a few willing girlfriends team up, you can alternate who gets to stay home with the kids and who goes out. There is no shame in early dinners!

2. Arrange "dinners in" with friends who have kids around the same age. Separate kids and grown-up tables actually work when the kids have friends they want to eat and play with.

3. Go on a date inside the house. Let the kids in on the fun of choosing a meal, setting up a romantic table for two and choosing some tunes. If they are on board with the date-making, they might be more likely to leave "just the two of you" alone.

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4. Try a dive bar or a local noodle shop. If you go on weekly dates, every one won't be a nice dinner out, and movies don't always inspire conversation, so think outside the box.

5. Use existing babysitting arrangements. If you have a tween come over to watch the kids for a few hours during dueling soccer games, consider extending the hours. Sometimes we'll turn a movie screening for Trey's job, for which we qualify for reduced-price babysitting hours, into a date night.

Amanda Freeman writes about single parenting and blended families for magazines including Redbook, Parents, Pregnancy and the Washington Post Magazine. She runs creative writing workshops for single moms.

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