If Hollywood is to be believed, dating is a grandiose practice replete with lavish meals, fine wines, and front-row seats to the Broadway show (or opera or concert or art opening) of the season. For those of us who don’t make millions, though, such refined romance is just that: the stuff of movies.
Living on a budget doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice romance—just change how you envisage it. All that stuff Richard Gere and Julia Roberts do is quite nice, of course; but romance, which is simply the passionate affection that lovers feel for each other, can grow over steak au poivre in a fancy French bistro or a strawberries and sandwiches picnic in the park. What matters is not the money behind a rendezvous but the authentic desire to treat your special someone to something, well, special.
But we also recognize that you probably don’t have time to reconceptualize the world around you and uncover romance where you least expect it. Luckily, YourTango exists for just that purpose. We’ve come up with dozens of one-off ideas that will foster romance with your special someone—without burning a hole in your pocket.
Find the Freebies. You can mimic that Hollywood-style date—for free—if you just know where to look. Check out your local arts weekly, for example. Parks often feature free music and theater series during the summer. You and your man can sway together to the sounds of a soul singer at a sunset concert in the park, or snuggle as you watch the repertoire theater’s Saturday afternoon performance of A Streetcar Named Desire. Museums and galleries, too, host monthly open houses, which frequently include romance-inducing glasses of wine and high-end hors devours. And by getting dressed up to attend cultural events, you’ll make the night feel special and distinctive, a million-dollar evening (and you’re the only one who has to know it was free).
Aside from actual organized activities, many everyday events are free or low-cost and highly romantic—you just may never have thought of them that way. Coastal cities often have commuter ferries that, when reinterpreted, make for fresh and novel dates. Catch one—it doesn’t matter where it goes—and watch the city fade into the distance, as the boat’s wake bubbles behind you and seagulls fly above. What’s more romantic than an afternoon at sea?
Views are free, too. Take your man, a large pizza, and a bottle of wine to a place where you can see the skyline, valley, plains, mountains or whatever is most beautiful in your area. Gazing at the vastness of the world around you will create an intimate and unique atmosphere that is just right for romance.
A Special Place for a Special Person. Anywhere can be romantic when imbued with the right meaning. Show your special someone a spot significant to you: the dock where you had your first kiss, the quiet garden you go when you need to think, the hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant whose family of owners always make you feel at home. It doesn’t have to be fancy, the place you choose—just special to you. We guarantee it’ll feel special to your special person, too.
Get More Bang for your Buck. Pulling off romance on a budget is just like living daily life on a budget: it’s all about value. Which just means thinking a little outside the box. So do some research and find the places where you’ll feel like you’re splurging (but know you’re not paying for it). For example, some Chinese restaurants serve wine gratis with dinner, which makes your date feel lavish, at no extra cost. Other eateries have two-for-one drink specials until a certain hour, or are known to offer heaping portions meant to be shared.
Want to give your date front-row tickets to a baseball game? Try the minor league equivalent of your local team: in New York, for less than half the price of mediocre Mets tickets, you can sit up front at a Coney Island Cyclones game, watching rising stars slam home runs and sipping beers that won’t cost you an arm and a leg.
Likewise, up-and-coming opera companies can give fabulous performances of famous works for a tenth of what New York’s Met would charge you—check the local paper to see what fringe players are wowing critics.
Take a Staycation. Even if you’ve lived there your whole life, your town or city probably still has a lot to offer. Exploring new frontiers with someone fosters a sense of excitement and togetherness, and can make your date feel like a vacation (minus that pesky plane ticket). Ride the bus to an outlying neighborhood you’ve never visited, and have lunch in a cute restaurant. When was the last time you visited the local zoo? Have you ever actually gone up to the top of the Empire State building? Venture out to that old-fashioned pizzeria in the countryside that everyone swears has the best pies this side of Rome.
Just Be Together. Your house is the most exclusive club/restaurant/museum in town—so stay in and enjoy its fashionable quietude. Stock up on fresh ingredients at the farmer’s market and cook dinner together. Stay in on Saturday night and play board games over a bottle of red wine. Snuggle up and read aloud to each other. Put on your favorite record and ask your date to dance…in the living room. Keeping your festivities at home is novel, intimate, and, just coincidentally, way more affordable than taking them on the town.
From YourTango.com: Romance on a Budget