This Post by Seth Busetti
If you are like us, you probably value a good date night. Truthfully, I’m not terribly romantic, but I do love spending time with my wife. We love nice dinners, vacations, fancy hotels, and most of all, live concerts! Recently we saw guitar virtuoso Greg Howe at a small Houston venue, the great John Mayer at a big venue, and Israeli worship band Miqedem at our own congregation. All those things are great, but most of it requires a lot of headroom in your budget for date night spending. When we were just starting our debt repayment crash course 15 years ago, we were on a VERY strict entertainment budget. Here are five tips based on our experience for how you can do date night on the cheap.
- Split an Entree. Most restaurants give you way more food than you can eat in one sitting. We found that that our uber-tight budget still had room so that a couple of times a month we could walk over to our local college campus strip at the University of Oklahoma, and split a burger and fries, or drive and get an entree at Chili’s or at our favorite Indian restaurant for around $15 after tax and tip. Not only is this a money saving strategy, but it teaches you and your spouse to work together and compromise.
- Stretch Your Dinner. The counter option to #1 is for both of you to split a reasonable appetizer and then get your own entrees. Pick dishes that reheat well, and then only eat ⅓ or ½ of it at dinner. Intentionally save the other part to take home. This way, you can get another lunch or dinner or two from your date night. This is especially helpful if you go to places that give free tortilla chips or bread. Stretch it out! This way you can keep your restaurant and grocery budgets balanced. And in my opinion, leftover date night dinner is way better than the sandwich or cafeteria food you might otherwise eat for lunch during the week.
- Wine or Dessert Only. A night out doesn’t have to be all-inclusive. Consider eating dinner at home first, then driving to your local cultural hangout. Our nearby City Center is really great for walking, talking, and enjoying the night. With your bellies already full, why not take a leisurely stroll down the sidewalk, boardwalk, beach, or outdoor mall? After a while, duck into a nice restaurant (preferably one that is outside of your normal budget) and ask to sit at the bar or on the patio. Just order some wine, or a coffee, or split some cheesecake. Even at the nicest places you should be able to get out for less than $20 if you only get coffee and split a dessert. We did this a lot when we were working our way out of debt. Trust me, once you are in the moment you will totally forget if actual dinner was beans and rice!
- Hit Up Local Community Events. Who says date night has to be about dining in or formal entertainment? When we were living on the cheap, we made it a point to stay aware of all the free events in our town. Our favorites were things like the local jazz festival, fourth of July events, parades, and local cultural events. Find community events put on by your arts community, or the Greek Orthodox church (gyros!), or the city marathon. A date doesn’t have to be about dressing up, it can be the two of you exploring a new local scene! You might even be able to do the whole date for free.
- Catch the Scenery. I’m sure there are some wonderful places to explore in your city, or within a short drive. Maybe it is the beach, or a scenic overlook, or it could be a local ethnic community (e.g. China Town), or your arts district, or a nice downtown public park. In many of these places you can find a place to eat on the cheap (or eat at home), and instead spend your time exploring together. Here in south Texas, you could grab an excellent bite at a Taco truck for less than $15 and then head out to explore on foot or by car (or bicycle!). When we lived in Norman, OK, we used to do $3 afternoon dates! That’s right. We lived a few miles away from a decent snow cone truck. During the summers that we were really living frugally, entertainment spending often looked like us hopping on our bicycles and heading over for snow cones. The ride was half the fun!
I am confident that living dirt cheap while you are paying off debts or trying to save up for life events doesn’t have to be to the exclusion of dates with your spouse. If you stay creative and think outside of the stereotypical “dinner and a movie” dates, you can have a great time and still stay within your budget. What is important is that you are doing it together. Once you reach a big goal, then feel free to treat yourself to an all-inclusive date. But the truth is that even now that we’re not restricted on our dates, we still love these cheap ones!