Cheap dating is not an oxymoron.
One of the most common questions I get when I describe my $1,200 monthly budget is “how you can afford dating?” For a lot of people, the very notion of cheap dating is inconceivable. Thanks to the entertainment-industrial complex (Disney, romantic comedies, the diamond monopoly, etc), most of us are conditioned to believe that if you’re not splurging, you’re failing. It doesn’t have to be that way, though.
I remember being a broke warehouse grunt with student loans and a cheap $800 car back in Reno, in 2010. (I had affectionately nicknamed that car “Liz Lemon.” It ended up catching on fire on a mountain road. Fun times.) The woman I was dating at the time was equally broke (she was a freelancer), but that didn’t stop us from making memories. She’d introduced me to what she’d called a “white trash cocktail”: two 7-Eleven coffees, spiked with a small $1 bottle of liquor. Get two caffeinated and buzz-inducing drinks for less than $5 and enjoy them while watching the stars outside. Good times, eh?
I remember a partner I had in Florida, back in 2014. Her love language was Disney World. She loved the idea of eating out (being served, showing off her status, etc) and shopping, and wasn’t a fan of homecooked meals. As much as I’d enjoyed some aspects of that relationship, it was more than a little terrifying to think of the tab she would run up while hanging out with me.
Those two cases are pretty much polar opposites, and both of them are real. (And yes, my car really did catch on fire.) As with everything else when it comes to lean-FIRE and frugal living, my advice won’t work for everyone. If you simply can’t imagine dating without clubbing, bar-crawling, hitting up fancy restaurants, etc on a regular basis, that’s okay – no one is trying to shame you or forcibly change you. I would’ve been just as uncomfortable if someone forced me to do those things, even if money wasn’t an issue.
And so, back to the original question: how can I afford dating? The answer is by finding someone very compatible, and who values the same things as I. My awesome Quebecois girlfriend is a fellow health nut (even more so than myself, and I’m nuttier than most). A lot of the stuff we do (or plan on doing, like hiking) stems from that: long walks around our beautiful city (see my earlier post explaining why Quebec City is more or less perfect), homecooked meals, going to small house parties rather than bar-crawling, which typically ends in a monster hangover.
When was the last time you and your partner went to the park and watched the sunset? (Or the sunrise, if you’re one of those extreme early birds.) When was the last time you had a simple picnic? When was the last time you went thrifting, or hit up a museum? As Margaret Atwood once said, “Writers and books are cheap dates, especially when you compare the cost of a book with a ticket to the opera – or an NHL game.” (I’m more of a blogger than a writer these days, but I like to think I fall under that umbrella too.)
Random gifts can make life more interesting, and they don’t have to be $200 charm bracelets. (I never understood my Texas roommate’s logic when he did that for his partner – but hey, that worked for him.) A spontaneous gift of your partner’s favourite chocolate, or a book they once mentioned, can be a lot more meaningful (and far cheaper) than any of the plastic junk being marketed as the must-have item of the season. That random gadget or plastic thingy you’ve been convinced to buy will probably get thrown out in a couple of years, but something that has actual utility (a book, a wallet, a high-quality knife, etc) will always elicit a smile and a memory.
That’s not to say it’s all austerity, all the time. Like I wrote earlier, it’s important to treat yourself from time to time. Next month, we’re going to the opera – a fun and classy night out, eh. (I’m sure Margaret Atwood would forgive me just this once.) The month after that, it’ll be a long weekend at a fancy cottage a bunch of her friends rented out for the occasion. Plan for it, anticipate it, joke about it, treasure the memories: when you do this strategically, a single relatively large expense can deliver more value than multiple bar crawls. Or at least it does in my value system.
Does your city organize any fun events? There’s almost always some festival, or a free concert, or a parade. Look up your local events and see what you can find. For example, Quebec City turns one of its many hills into a sledding zone: I haven’t done that in decades, and I can’t wait.
Back in Seattle, I knew a fun couple who would go out almost every night – but only to Meetup.com events. Turns out, there was always some presentation, or celebration, or art gallery opening. They’d end up snacking on the free cheese and wine, meeting new people, maybe learning something new, etc (If you get lured to a timeshare presentation, though, just fill up your plate and run for the exit.)
As you can see, there are lots of options for cheap dating: they’re just not widely advertised. It’s pretty ironic that when you describe these cheap dating ideas to others, you’re typically viewed as a quirky eccentric, whereas prolific spending and expensive nights out are viewed as a norm in our society. (As with many other things, I blame the consumerist culture in general and Instagram in particular.)
It’s important to find someone who shares your values in order for this to work. My Florida partner would’ve been miserable with my current lifestyle. (At the time, I was too dumb and timid to say “no.”) Find someone who views the world in a similar fashion, someone compatible, someone who values the same things in life. Do that, and cheap dating will be achievable, and enjoyable, and relaxing.
What about you? What low-cost (or even free) fun stuff do you enjoy doing with your partner? Sound off in the comments – I always value your perspective, eh.