Where Mr. FW and I met and got engaged! (a college lecture hall: the height of romance 😉 )

How on earth do you meet a partner and date frugally? This is a timeless question of love and finance that I’m asked as predictably–and nearly as often–as the sun rises and sets. Seriously, it comes up a lot. But the problem is that I’ve been married to Mr. Frugalwoods for over 10 years and we met in college–at ages 18 and 19–when frugal dating was the norm. I didn’t personally navigate the trenches of meeting and dating as an “adult,” so I don’t have first-hand experience to share. Enter: Reader Suggestions.

As has been our theme with Reader Suggestions lately, I’m focusing on topics that I don’t have personal experience with and thus, that I can’t offer concrete (or good) advice on. Last month we broached frugality with teenagers (waaaaay outside of my wheel house considering my house consists of a 2-year-old and an 8-month-old). And this month, we’re dipping a toe into the sometimes treacherous waters of dating.

Welcome to my monthly Reader Suggestions feature! Every month I post a question to our Frugalwoods Facebook group and share the best responses here. The questions are topics I’ve received multiple queries on and my hope is that by leveraging the braintrust of Frugalwoods nation, you’ll find helpful advice and insight. Join the Frugalwoods Facebook group to participate in next month’s Reader Suggestions!

Dating Your Partner/Spouse

Oh but wait! As I compiled all of the excellent advice from Frugalwoods readers, it dawned on me that I do, in fact, date! I just happen to be married to the person I date. But we date! And if you happen to have a longterm partner/spouse, you should “date” them too. It’s fun, it strengthens a relationship, and it carves out time to focus on each other in a unique and concentrated way. Plus, did I mention it’s fun? I think of our dating life as categorized into two distinct segments: pre-kids and post-kids.

Dating Pre-Kids

Yes, this is actually a picture I took of us holding hands while hiking… hah!

Was easy and often! Everything we did together was a date. We were so corny that a trip to the grocery store was a date. Long walks, hikes up mountains, lounging around the house on Sunday afternoons… all of this constituted “dating” For us, a “date” is time spent together with no one else present and no pressing distractions. It’s a chance to talk and to look each other in the eye and enjoy one another’s company and remember why we’re together. So, without kiddos in tow, we dated a lot! There wasn’t the constant time constrains or exhaustion or interruptions (and of course the joy!) that we now experience with our children.

In terms of the trope of going out for dinner and a movie, we were never really movie people, so it was easy to give that up (we realized neither of us has seen a movie in a theatre for at least a decade… probably longer). But that’s just our personal preference. Dinner out, however, is a different story. Eating dinner in a restaurant is probably one of my favorite activities. It’s right up there with hiking, yoga, and sleeping.

Same goes for Mr. FW. We are foodies, we appreciate good food, and we love a cozy ambience with a candle-lit table. But, in the most obvious frugal statement of this century, eating out is expensive. And so, we gave up eating out–full stop–back in 2014 and didn’t buy so much as a cup of coffee out. This zero tolerance policy worked pretty well for us until… we had kids. Pre-kid, we’d have dinner dates at home. Easy! We’d cook up something lovely (and by “we” I mean Mr. FW and by “lovely” I mean sometimes it was a frozen pizza, but no matter!), light a few candles, and sit down together for a relaxing meal during which no one screamed or threw food or put food detritus in their sister’s hair.

Dating Post-Kids

Our kids!

That was all well and good until… we had kids! Two of them! Now, we find that most of our time together is either late at night after the kids are in bed (and we are exhausted) or, it’s family time in the company of our two young babes. And we love family time! Don’t get me wrong, a desire to spend time alone with your partner doesn’t mean you don’t want to spend time with your kids. Rather, it’s a healthy opportunity to step outside of your role as parents and back into your role as partner/spouse.

Since Mr. FW and I both work from home, we see each other approximately 9,876 times a day. We eat most of our meals together (along with our darling children) and we work side by side in bathing the kids, putting them to bed, doing housework, and so forth. Given this, we have an open line of communication. There are never-ending discussions of family life logistics: grocery lists, preschool pick-ups, Halloween costume assembly, teething, brushing teeth, not using teeth on sisters, lots about teeth apparently. And then there’s our never-ending discussion of homestead life logistics: putting up wood for winter, the vegetable garden, prioritizing which fields to mow, fruit tree pruning, tractor maintenance, and wild animal mitigation (looking at you, woodchuck menace).

In short, we do a lot together. We’ve chosen to do a lot together–to live together, to raise two children, to homestead, to both work remotely from home–and we spend a lot of our time together, However, what we found after moving to our homestead and having our kids is that we weren’t spending enough time focused just on us and on our relationship. Everything became about the farm, the kids, the businesses, the laundry, ordering propane, canning cucumbers from the garden.

It takes a lot of communication to keep this whole operation running

We’re an efficient team, me and Mr. FW, and our strengths and weaknesses compliment each other well. But it’s also important that we remember why we’re teammates. And so, we started going out to dinner once a month. Obviously this isn’t the only time we say I love you or hold hands or look at each other, but it is concentrated, dedicated time together away from our homestead and our kids.

Yes, we could theoretically do this at home–and we do sometimes, but it’s tough to carve out that mental space when surrounded by baby toys and undone dishes. There’s something about getting OUT of our regular environment for a few hours. There’s something special about knowing we don’t have to respond if one of the kids wakes up. There’s something peaceful about knowing we don’t have to prepare the food or do the dishes.

It’s not the most frugal dating option. And we don’t even go to a “cheap” restaurant. Rather, we go to our favorite local spot, which has a charming ambiance with candles and quiet tables (we’ve gone to a few “trendy” spots that were WAY too loud for us. We go out to get away from noise, not to attract more of it 😉 ). Month after month, we find ourselves in a corner table at this same restaurant, often ordering the same things, and being so very happy and thankful we’re together.

My happy girls

In a continuation of how NOT frugal it is to dine out… when you have children, you’ve got to procure a babysitter. This is a tough one and we are fortunate to have a wonderful situation that I realize not everyone can replicate. Our wonderful neighbor–who is our adopted grandma to our girls–kindly babysits for us for free. We put the kids to bed before she arrives and have dinner waiting for her to eat while the kiddos sleep. We’ve found this works well because it’s easier–at this stage–for Mr. FW and I to do the normal bedtime routine with the girls and then leave. Plus, they both know and love our neighbor, so on the off chance that one of them woke up, they wouldn’t be surprised to see her.

In combing through our expenses every month in order to share them in my monthly expense reports, I note that our dinners out are sometimes one of our most expensive line items. And I am 100% fine with that. At this stage of our lives, at this juncture of being busy parents to young children, this monthly dinner out is a needed respite for us and a necessary element of marriage maintenance and strengthening.

While this works well for our family, it may not be the answer for you. There’s not a one-size-fits-all “right” answer for frugal dating. It might be doing it rarely–like we do–or it might mean doing it more often but less expensively. Or, more likely, it’ll be some combination.

If you’re interested in reading more of my thoughts on relationships and money, check out:

Now, let’s see what advice you all have to offer!

How Frugalwoods Readers Date On The Frugal

Take a walk! Or go on a hike!

Lisa suggests, “Walks, walks, and more walks! From the time my husband and I met until the present, rain or shine, freezing or sweltering, this has always been our way of connecting. We also enjoy cooking special meals together, curling up with some tea and a DVD from the library, having potlucks with our friends, and playing board games or Rock Band.”

Katherine shared, “We met in Buffalo, NY which is where my husband lived at the time (we live about 45 minutes south of there now) and Buffalo is known for the number and variety of its festivals. Our second date was to an art festival and it was the best date I’ve ever been on in my life. We went to a ton of other festivals that summer, most of which were totally free. Dating frugally was not anything that we ever discussed (it took a few years of gentle pressure to bring him around to my way of thinking on that topic 😉) it just sort of happened because there are so many fun things to do outside in the summer. One of our favorite free activities now is going to open houses. We’ve seen some really cool historic properties and, contrary to making us less satisfied with what we have, it makes us appreciate our own home more and recognize what a good investment it is.”

Sarah wrote, “I met my husband while we were both working at a sustainability camp (great place to meet frugal partners, by the way, because environmentalists tend to be very concerned about conserving resources 🙂 ). We kept our dates frugal by doing a ton of cooking at home and having lots of outdoor adventures. It helps that he’s an amazing cook and that I was a starving college student. Some of my most romantic memories were of him making omelettes for us with seasonal vegetables each morning.

We also got into “foraging” and learned the native flora of our region–so we made super cheap, delicious meals like homemade pizza with dandelion greens and wild onions. Or fiddlehead ferns sautéed in butter. Or morel mushroom ravioli. Foraging (as long as you’re super careful) is awesome because it’s two dates in one: not only do you get to walk around in the woods together and look for edible plants, but you then come home and cook them!

At that point we also lived on one of the Finger Lakes, so in the summer we’d go for romantic moonlit swims off the docks, or walk barefoot up the shale bottomed creeks. And in the winter after fresh snow, we’d snowshoe through the wooded portions off campus. Seven years into our relationship, and we still do a ton of cooking in as dates (including grocery shopping together)–this past weekend, I had dream about pasta puttanesca, and Jordan obliged by making it for me. And we spent last night watching a movie and folding dumplings to freeze and eat throughout the week. We also still incorporate nature, and have added two dogs into the mix. We go for a lot of early morning walks, and often take them hiking or swimming (though now we live in the south, and so no longer get to do things like snowshoeing, which makes me super sad!). We’ve also added chess to our frugal date regimen! We’ll light a candle and curl up together for a game once a week or so. I usually lose, but I’m okay with it.”

Me strolling around Portland, Maine

Diana shared, “I met my husband at a bar in Korea when I went to support my friend’s husband’s band; he was working his ‘side hustle’ as the kids call it as a bartender. Our first date was hiking. Our favorite frugal dates are outdoor festivals with no or low-cost entrance fees, coffee houses with live music/poetry events (we can buy one indulgent drink each and enjoy), and hiking. We also love swing dance (lessons are pricey, but we learned a long time ago), but cover fees at dances can be quite expensive. We’ve started volunteering to take tickets and help with set up and breakdown to save on cover fees. We make friends with other local dancers, help out, and save money. It’s a great win-win! Babysitting is our most cost-prohibitive expense for dating right now. To save on babysitting, we use responsible teenagers (I am a high school teacher, so I know a lot of responsible teens!)–they cost less than a “professional” and often spend more active time with the kids.”

Kristin suggests, “Cooking fun, new, creative meals! My husband and I have been doing this since very early in our relationship as we worked to pay off our student loans (They’re all paid off now!). Research something you’re craving together, make a shopping list, get the ingredients, cook it together, and enjoy it together at home. It can be fun to get the ingredients somewhere special, like a farmer’s market that’s walking distance from your home, and stop for a simple coffee at a local coffee shop on the way. Also, hiking and going for walks in general! This is such a great way to just spend time in the moment together, and it’s free 🙂 I think that the biggest key for us has been learning to see the potential for fun, novelty, and adventure in daily life. With this potential, it’s rare that we really need to spend money for entertainment.”

Leah wrote, “I met my husband via OkCupid. Not sure how great it is these days (it’s been 10 years since I used it!), but it’s a free dating website that works really well. When we first met, neither of us was making much money. We did a lot of frugal dates. We went hiking often at our local nature center, would cook dinner together, played card and board games, watched movies we already owned, took lots of walks, went people watching, and took vacations to relatives’ houses. We got to meet each others’ families (extended families too) without breaking the bank.

Thinking of more: Geocaching is free at Minnesota state parks, so we would do that too to add some extra fun to our hikes. We got a “couples” gym membership and worked out a lot (cheaper than two individual memberships), and we’d also go for runs and walks together. His school has lots of performances and offers free tickets to faculty, and no one minded that he got me in too. That was fun. In a bigger city, I’m sure there’s lots of free arts things you can do for dates if you’d like. Honestly, I look back on our early relationship and miss all the frugal fun we had. We have more money now but not much time due to having two little kids (plus, the cost of babysitting is a lot!).”

Go out just for a drink and make dinner at home!

Rebecca said, “Weather dependent: a sunset picnic at the beach (or by a river, or anywhere with an incredible view), playing tourist in a town (do homework first on quirky items about the town to start conversation and you walk from place to place). Slight piggy back on others’ ideas: game night (dice game: left, right center or cards – crimes against humanity is a great conversation starter), movie night at home with popcorn, old school candies or make smores. If you have a firepit – one starlit night – make a fire, bring out your favorite beverage & smores! – star gaze together. Where we live – many of the local bars have free live music and drink specials. That’s an option as well.”

Stephanie shared, “I tried to plan one “different” activity each month (and budget for it). Sometimes this was going to a sports game, sometimes it was the movies, a (free) local music festival, going hiking etc. The rest of the month we might eat out, or I would cook, but we kept things simple. He still remembers the local music festival as a “perfect” day. Including food, we probably spent $40 total, but we watched music, painted pictures (that we still have), ate some ethnic food, bought used books, read poetry, and more.”

Katherine wrote, “We have been happily married for 27 years, but when we dated we did:

1. Stay in movie and homemade popcorn.

2. Go for a drive just to see what you see.

3. Discount cinemas.

4. Take a hot thermos of hot chocolate and go see a football game, high school or college.

5. Get nosebleed seats at Minute Maid Park to see the Astros on Dollar Hot Dog Day. I think the tickets were about five dollars apiece.

6. Ride bikes together.

7. Go for a walk.

8. Go camping.

9. Go on picnics.

10. Go to the drag races where he was a pit crew chief — this was in fact, our very first date.

11. Volunteered at soup kitchens to never forget how fortunate we truly are.

12. Went to local “pick-your-own” farmer’s markets to get tons of beautiful produce. What we didn’t eat fresh, we canned.

13. Frequent local taquerias on our dinners out. You could get two tacos and a bottle of beer for about three bucks and unlimited chips and salsa. He learned how to say “Dos tacos, un tazón de frijoles refritos y una cerveza, por favor,” when he was a bachelor and new to Texas. Translation: Two tacos, a bowl of refried beans, and a beer, please.

I still do these things with him. I’m still crazy about my adorable frugal hubby!”

Coffee date with Mr. FW

Diana wrote, “Met my hubby through an online dating site. First date we met at a restaurant..just having coffee. We did go to one movie for a date. My house was directly behind his place of employment. He would stop by on his way to and from work just to hang out. We’d watch tv or I’d cook or we’d have pizza. We never rarely went out on a date. Now..19 yrs later we go out maybe once a month for dinner. We consider our date night..going to tractor supply to get chicken food and dog food for our 3 German Shepherds. We both are happy home bodies.”

Rachel shared, “We did (and do) a lot of walks, hiking, and picnicking. Some of our best meals were either grabbed at the local grocery store and taken on a hike, or else prepared together at home, put into a picnic basket (with blanket of course) and taken to a nearby lake to watch the sunset. We picnic so much that we received 3 (3!) picnic baskets as wedding gifts hahaha! Another key point for us is that when we do “date night” even if it is at home, it is still “date night.” So we put the wine in the fridge to chill, and my husband and I will get ready in separate rooms. I put on my dress and make-up and heels, and he usually will a button up and slacks, and prepare the table with a table cloth and candles. He has to close his eyes until I come out and am ready. So we are intentional about making our at home dates, actual dates. I have one very vivid memory of an at home date, where I had set-up our patio table outside and my husband had brought home flowers. So we ate under the stars with a flower bouquet, candles lighting the table, and a delicious salmon straight from the oven, with chocolate dipped fruit for dessert. Still one of the best meals I’ve ever had, and definitely the most romantic.”

Jordan suggests:

-Buy some coloring books & crayons from the dollar store and make hot chocolate complete with an absurd amount of marshmallows. Bonus points if you build a pillow fort. 😉
-Check out books from the library. One person reads out loud, so you both can enjoy the book together. Right now we’re going through the Harry Potter series (again). 🙂
-Once a month, our local thrift store does a 50% off day. We love shopping but we try to do it frugally. We like to save our cash & roll our coins so it doesn’t affect our budget and go on a “shopping spree” (that has yet to cost us over $15!). Much more fun (and affordable) than going to a mall, and I have a particular penchant for finding high-end or designer items for ridiculously cheap (I used to buy and resell brand name clothes for extra income). Last time we went, I found future hubby a much-needed laptop case for school for $2.50… if we had bought it new, the original price would have been $300!!

Coffee date at home!!

Siera said, “My husband and I met at our church college group, and had a big group of mutual friends. We all spent time together every Sunday night. When we started dating we were already best friends, so hanging out together was natural, and we’re both pretty low-key people. We went for walks, had picnics at the park, played board games/card games at my house (which was my parents’ house), played catch or basketball at the park, and literally just sat together and read books! Weekend dates/activities included going hiking (my favorite!), camping trips with groups of friends, or visiting local historic sites, state parks and museums (nothing very pricey, and we almost always bring our own food/picnic).

Regular every-day meals together were and still are really important to us – nothing fancy, just normal meals, prepared at home, eaten together as part of our daily routine. (So simple and obvious, but so meaningful.) These are all things we still do together as a married couple – now we just add doing house work and yard projects together to the list! That was my long answer. My short answer is this: we go for regular walks together (hikes would be even better if we lived close to trails!!) Walking together gives us the perfect chance to prepare for or unwind after our day, get a little exercise, and talk – about anything and everything! I’ve found it’s much easier to talk through the tough stuff, brainstorm problems or exciting opportunities, and just have fun sharing the events of our days while we’re walking. And, it’s completely free :)”

Morgan wrote, “We try to do date nights at home. Dating Divas is a great resource for free ideas. Our favorite one so far has been a DIY wine and paint night. We bought canvases and paint from a craft store, refreshments from Aldi, and found a painting tutorial on YouTube. Super fun and no one was around to judge our terrible art…win-win!”

Maluna said, “We hike, take drives down to the Ohio River, sometimes we pack a lunch or stop at a small diner….never chain restaurants. We stay out of touristy towns, don’t shop there, maybe just drive around and look at historical neighborhoods….low costs, and loads of fun!!”

Find a free festival!

Jasmine suggests, “Outdoor events that are BYOB. Free concerts, air shows, festivals. We go to a food truck “picnic” and half the time we bring our own food. Even if we buy food, we bring our own beer or wine and spend maybe $20. We have free Shakespeare in the park near us. Summer is EASY. Winter on the other hand takes more effort. I’m not a huge fan of cold outdoor activities. We’ve been looking at lists of “best cheap eats” type of restaurants to focus on.”

Annaliesse wrote, “My husband and I met on Friendster about 15 years ago. He was definitely using it as a free dating site despite that not being its purpose! We did a lot of picnics, going hiking, or going to the beach when we were dating. One of our current favorite date nights is our monthly playing of the legacy boardgame Pandemic. It’s a cooperative game so we’re on the same side, working together to prevent the world from succumbing to viral pandemics. The legacy version means that every time you play, you impact the board permanently, effecting all future plays. The game is designed to be played 1-2x/month for a year, depending on whether you win the first time. We both really look forward to these nights. Great way to have a special time after the kids go to bed. Game costs between $40-50, but spread out over 12-24 times, I would consider it frugal.”

Cook up a meal for each other at home!

Mallory said, “We also love to cook for each other and try to “go crazy” for anniversaries or special occasions and find the more expensive cuts of meat or nice bottle of wine is still cheaper than a meal out. We also ask for gift cards for Christmas from family and give each other event tickets and gift cards. That gives us a few “free” date nights a year.”

Laurel suggests, “Potluck, game night! Many years ago we also did Croquet tournaments and Sunday brunch potlucks. Of course, friends brought their own toddler who helped move the balls and brought home a win for my friend Annie and me.”

Bev likes, “Cooking in and then going out for a drink at a restaurant with live music. We stumbled into this one, because the local restaurant with great music happens to have terrible food–talk about a waste of money! So, we just go for a drink or coffee and dessert and throw a few bucks into the musicians’ jar.”

Alina wrote, “We get a zoo membership every year and go a least once or twice a month, so each visit is pretty frugal on its own.”

Us holding hands. Btw, Mr. FW made fun of me for taking this pic. I made fun of myself too…

Jennifer shared, “We do lots of at home date nights that generally revolve around food. We rotate between wine and cheese plate nights or nights where we cook dinner together after the baby is in bed. We find lots of recipes together on youtube ahead of time to cook together. Then we watch something on Netflix, YouTube, or DVD.”

Christina wrote, “My boyfriend and I do cooking dates, where we’ll cook Thai, since it’s a fav of ours and we’ll even do the grocery shopping together! My second date with my guy, he took me skating. It was super romantic, and since the ponds are frozen everywhere in the winter, it was free. That’s one of my favourite dates of my life!”

Kait said, “One thing I have always thought was a good idea was to fix a really good dinner at home and then go out somewhere romantic just for dessert. That way you are still getting the ambiance of a nice romantic place, but not having the price tag of a full meal.”


Hiking together is our idea of a perfect day.

Alright I’m ready for more dates, Mr. FW! I love all of these ideas! However, I also realize that one of the inherent challenges of meeting people and dating frugally is that, in order to meet people, you have to go out (since it seems unlikely they’ll just show up on your doorstep). I appreciated the frugal ways to meet other frugal people that several readers mentioned (and that I’ve heard from frugal friends):

  • Free online dating sites
  • Through volunteering
  • In hiking/trail clubs
  • In adult intramural sports leagues/teams

Then, there’s the major challenge of first dates because it’s cheapest to be at home (and there are millions of ideas for what to do together at home), but this is also weird to do with someone you’ve just met (or don’t even know yet). And so, it seems that an outdoor activity is a winner! Walks, hikes, festivals/farmer’s markets, snowshoeing… these could all be done for free or cheap.

Another salient point here is that, if frugality and wise money management are important to you and important attributes for a partner to have, you’ll want to suss that out pretty early on. So if your first date is conventional–let’s say you go out to dinner–this could be your opening to discuss how you prefer doing free stuff because it’s so much more creative/interesting/saves money. See how they respond and decide from there if it’s a relationship worth pursuing. While we’ve devoted Reader Case Studies and Reader Suggestions to the topic of “encouraging a partner/spouse to be more money conscious,” the consensus is that it’s easier if you’re both money conscious to begin with. This isn’t to say that a financial management mismatch is a deal-breaker, but it’s a central tenet of most longterm relationships because how you use your money dictates the kind of life you’ll live. Plus–and I hate to say this in a dating post–but, arguments over money are a leading cause of divorce in the United States. Just throwing that out there.

Another nerdy pic of us hiking

Ok, so once you’ve met someone, here’s a summary of the excellent ideas shared by readers:

  • Go to open houses.
    • This is a fabulous one and something I’d forgotten we did a TON pre-kids. Open houses are free, they are endlessly entertaining, they’re informational–what’s not to love?! I actually have an entire post on how to open house like a boss.
  • Take walks.
    • Perfection. Easy, low barrier to entry, free, good exercise, and available in a neighborhood near you. I like this one for early/first dates since it’s quality time spent together, but you’re in public so there’s not the weirdness factor of being alone at someone’s house. Bonus is that dogs can join too!
  • Free festivals.
    • Oh yeah! This was another favorite of ours when we lived in the city. There’s always something happening somewhere for free–especially if you bring your own food!
  • Free day at the art museum/zoo/planetarium.
    • Most museums offer a free day once a week or once a month. Scope out the options in your area and plan accordingly! Additionally, many public libraries (including my tiny rural library) offer free passes to museums that you can check out with your library card. Culture + togetherness + free = big win.
  • Head to the library.
    • Speaking of the library, Mr. FW and I (again, pre-kids) used to walk to our public library, with thermoses of coffee in hand, and browse through the books and magazines in their sun-filled reading room.
  • Forage for wild foods.
    • What a creative idea! I realized Mr. FW and I do this now in our woods! The caution here is that you need to be well informed and certain of the foods you’re foraging. But what a great way to get outside and enjoy nature together!
  • Board games and hors d’oeuvres date night at home!

    Play chess or board games.

    • An excellent one for double dates too! In terms of two-person games, Mr. FW and I like Scrabble and Lost Cities. When we can wrangle in other people, we’re all about Canasta, Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, and… clearly we like board games.
    • I am intrigued by Annaliesse’s mention of the legacy board game Pandemic. I’ve never played a legacy game before, but I love how she described the fun she and her husband have playing it together.
  • Cook a meal together.
    • Frugal, delicious, and lets you scope out if your date knows their way around a kitchen. Plus, preparing food often evokes conversations about family, childhood, and your sense of place. Cooking together might be an ideal way to learn about one another’s families and traditions.
  • Snowshoeing.
    • The winter version of talking a walk! It’s super easy to do (this coming from a person who watched “how to snowshoe” videos on YouTube before going the first time… really, there’s no need to do this, you just pick up one foot and set it down. Repeat until you reach your destination). Lucky for you, I have this post about winter recreation.
  • Visit coffee houses with live music/poetry events.
    • Lovely idea! For the price of a coffee, you can enjoy live entertainment!
  • Barter in exchange for free admission to an activity.
  • A terrible selfie we took on a kid-free date: definitely an experience we love!

    Go Geocaching.

    • I’d forgotten until now that Mr. FW and I did this a few times in college and it was fun! To “Geocache” is to utilize a compass/map/GPS to locate a hidden “cache” that’s been marked by the program. It’s basically a treasure hunt for adults. What’s not to love!
  • Volunteer together.
    • This is a FABULOUS idea and something that Mr. FW and I did in college and really enjoyed. I can’t think of a better way to get to know someone than to spend time together helping others. This is also advice that my parents–married for 51 years–often give to people: volunteer as a couple. My parents feel it has deepened their relationship and they volunteer together to this day.
  • Have REAL dates at home.
    • Rachel and Morgan put my at home date regimen to shame! Rachel and her husband get dressed up for their at-home dates and Morgan and her husband do themed activities! Impressive.
  • Picnics!
    • Another glorious outside idea with the potential to merge many of the above: cooking together, taking a walk, and bringing along a dog :)!

How did you meet your partner? How do you date frugally?

Similar Posts


  1. Oh I thought my husband and I were they only ones who go to open houses for good entertainment. There’s a few over the weekend esp in summer months. We go on our way to our lunch dates then after we walk around we try to guess the price it will eventually sell for 😂😂😂 eventually the sold price is posted online…and one of us gets bragging rights. Not sure if that’s boring or weird but it’s *one of our favorite pastimes!*

    I guess the realtors don’t like lookie loos but any open house is fun (and free) for us. We get a better taste of what we want too as a couple when we do one day need a new home. Two birds, one stone ✔️

    1. Most realtors around us are super polite and don’t mind “lookie loos”. We usually say that we are neighbors or just looking so they don’t waste a lot of time on us. As long as you don’t mess up the house or steal all the business cards, they shouldn’t mind. 😛 I usually decline any paperwork or sign-in sheets to avoid getting hassled later on. If they make me take a paper, I usually put them back after we look. More foot traffic makes the house look more desirable!

  2. I’ve been married a long time. One of our favorite “dates” is the local farm tour in the fall, visiting organic and Certified Natural farms. It also gives us a good idea of where to get locally produced food!
    A picnic on our porch. We have fire ants here so we don’t dare sit out on a blanket, but sometimes, a sandwich on the shady porch, seated at our wooden table, is a nice break on a hot day of yard work and housecleaning activities. We just chat and feel very calmed down and cooled off. I bought a vintage metal tray at a yard sale and carry the sides and condiments out on it. We use unbreakable, not paper, plates and real silverware and napkins to “class it up.”
    One hundred years ago, when we were actually dating, before we got married, we enjoyed rides to nearby small towns to look around, fishing, attending local festivals, and grilling a meal outdoors instead of cooking inside. We were both broke, so dinner and a movie was not going to happen, but we had fun anyway.

  3. On the idea of open houses, I just recently downloaded the “Opendoor” app on my phone since many houses nearby are being sold through it. Hubby and I like to go look at the homes in our spare time, and we like the fact that there isn’t anybody there so we are not pressured by realtors and are free to make whatever comments aloud we want regarding the property! It’s given us ideas for remodeling and redecorating our home, and also gave us a greater appreciation for our own house and decorating taste! My husband really enjoys it, he is also my HGTV viewing partner and we often watch marathons together of “Love It or List It’ or “Fixer Upper” too!

  4. For winter months indoor fun our local library often has free music programs, movies and lectures. Church suppers are a great way to eat dinner out and support local groups.

  5. At the risk of this sounding like shameless self-promotion, I actually wrote a post on my own blog on this topic a few months back! [http://www.naturallykristina.com/healthy-and-inexpensive-date-ideas/] However, there are so many fantastic suggestions from here that I never even thought of! Hubby and I are going to have to get to work trying them out. 🙂

  6. Turn podcast listening into an event! My partner and I love to do this, especially in the winter. We’re lucky enough to have a fireplace, so we can light a fire, make hot and/or alcoholic beverages, and cuddle up to listen to a podcast through our bluetooth speaker or even straight from a phone if you don’t have a speaker. There are SO MANY podcasts out there, it’s endless free entertainment!

    1. Nice! Love this idea! Reminds me of paintings from the 20s/30s/40s. If you like history, definitely check out Hardcore History. The episodes can be quite long, but they are definitely worth listening to! I actually stayed up til about 3 in the morning listening to one about WW1. Un-switch-offable, as it were.

  7. I love that you’ve recognized that going out to dinner is the type of date night that (for you) is worth spending money on. I want cooking at home to be a date night (and feeling badly spending money on eating out), but in reality, dishes and other chores distract a lot from date-night in for us.

      1. Haha! Yes definitely!

        I love frugal date ideas as a married person now, but when I was online dating, finding decent and cheap first date ideas was so hard. You don’t want it to be too long, or trapped somewhere in case it’s a flop but you also don’t want to spend a lot of money in case it is a flop. My husband and I did a free movie event and drinks beforehand as our first date and then our second date was a free art walk. And I think our third date was a cheap local improv comedy club. We should probably get back to our free/cheap roots with dating!

        1. What about coffee shop? Many of our local parks are super rural so I wouldn’t suggest that as a first date location. Coffee shops are cheaper than dinner and pretty short!

  8. I made it in the list! Great compilation for this one. I really like how you clarify the pre/post kids difference in dating and willingness to spend money on it. Thoughts on alternative child care: My mom lives nearby and sometimes we’ll drop the kids at her house for a date, which means we can “date in” more readily as parents (cook at home, etc.). Also now that my kids have their own friends, coordinating playdates (each kid going to a friends’ house for the same two hours) is another way to accomplish that one-on-one time for lower cost. Just be a good friend and host their kids, too!

    1. Thanks for the helpful reminder of kid swapping for date night! We live in an urban environment with an “urban family” so we often swap kids with the parents of my fiancees kids (my future step-kids). Or we sometimes go in on a babysitter if there is a group of us going to the same event, which saves money as well. We took a “rent-a-kid” last weekend, so mom could sing in a concert while dad was working. And we know that family will take their turn at some point when we need a break!

  9. During the summer when my husband was on a four day work schedule, we would pack a lunch picnic and go out for a drive and hike with our dogs. It was inexpensive minus gas, and we got to enjoy the trails while everyone else was at work. Looking forward to it again next summer!

    We met online and while it’s been several years since I’ve dated, I would also like to plug that it’s ok to pay for eHarmony or a similar website if it’s a better match for you. At that time, I found that most of the people on free websites that I tried were looking for a much, much, much more casual relationship than me. (I lived in a big city at the time with a lot of young people so it might have been just a bigger pool of people to wade through.) It sounds like a lot of people had luck here on free ones and that’s wonderful, but if you’re striking out then it’s ok to try something else — even if you have to pay for it.

  10. I’m sorry if someone else already mentioned this but in cities (big and small- I live in a small-ish city in MA) there are “Restaurant Weeks”!! 🙂 Once or twice a year there is a week or two when you can eat a prix fix menu for a set amount- usually between $20-$30 per person. Wine is usually on special as well. My fiancee and I were friends before we began “dating”. So I’ll never forget our Restaurant Week meal at a really nice place near our home- appetizer each, entree each, and dessert each plus a bottle of wine- total was under $100…. so maybe not cheap. But it was the night we agreed to date and its been amazing ever since. So I think we’ll keep doing that every December we can get a $300 meal for $100! 🙂

    Other Restaurant Week menus can be lunch for even cheaper, and your mileage may vary. We try to go to the places we normally would be hesitant to pay the money for and get meals we normally wouldn’t. But there are great deals at the local pubs as well for less!

    Two more ideas: 1) Restaurant group loyalty cards. One local group gives an entree and dessert on the card for your birthday. We went to this particular group for dinner for both our birthdays this year! We’re big into food and wine so our bar bill kicked it up a notch, but we still paid about $50 less than we would have otherwise.
    2) Search out deals on “off” nights. We were told about a deal at the Capital Grille (!!!!) For $25 for a glass of wine and a special burger. Now that’s a lot for a burger BUT…. we’re thinking of bringing a friend to this deal in the near future so we can ask him if we can get married in his back yard for free! Worth the $25 meal cost to ask for a free wedding venue! 🙂

    Speaking of…. Mrs. Frugalwoods, have you thought about a reader suggestion post on Wedding Planning Next?? 🙂

  11. Our church had a babysitting co-op, where we put in time, no money. I did not mind sitting for a family with seven kids and the parents loved it. We could not have afforded dating without this cost.

  12. Great ideas for frugal dates! Hubby and I just go grocery shopping or go for a walk in the neighborhood. We also go out to eat although we do it much less now because we have 2 kids. I love hanging out with our friends as well! 😀

  13. I realize the focus here is on romantic dating but other “couples” go out. I’m a senior who takes her 95 year old mom for drives in the country. Give that lady an orange juice and show her some farm land and she’s on cloud nine. Plus I get to hear amazing stories about her life at a time in history that few others remember.

    1. I love this!! I used to take my grandparents out for drives by the beach in Florida. We’d go watch the sunset and maybe walk on the beach… they truly embodied such a simple love for life.

  14. My boyfriend and I got a gym membership! They have an awesome Kidzone at our YMCA – my daughter is very social and loves to play with kids. We work up a sweat playing racquetball or basketball. Any naptime or bedtime – we put my daughter down and stay up watching movies we both love. 🙂

  15. Another frugal date is to do a project together, decorative or functional. Build shelves, draw a picture, rearrange furniture together. Fix some run down things that need a little love. My boyfriend and I are planning on celebrating our first year together by drawing a “relationship map” filled with all the things we do together and associated with each other and our inside jokes and challenges. We think it might be fun to do every year and see how the maps change, perhaps make a quilt out of them. Cooking projects as mentioned a lot in this thread are a subset of this, but there are plenty of other things you can build or do. We also want to spend some time learning new things together. These days you can learn a lot for free on the internet (our plan is currently sign language, a language that’s useful in the real world, but rare enough it can also just be used for just us). Reading books to each other is also great, you get the chance to make voices and see the stories in a different way.

    We live in a city currently so there’s often lots of meetups/ workshops/ events and if we find one that interests us we will go. Our latest such adventure was an urban beekeeping workshop which wasn’t entirely free because we ended up buying some plants while we where there, but we wanted those anyway ( would the frugalwoods be interested in beekeeping perhaps?)

  16. Check your credit card! Bank of America offers free museum access days, too, that are frequently much less crowded than the free public days.

  17. I met my wife through a friend who was co-workers with her at the time. After we hit it off, I wanted to impress by taking her out every weekend. We would go to trendy restaurants, plays, Cirque du Soleil and even a weekend trip to Las Vegas. As we got closer, I realized that she didn’t really want to check out all those places. She was truly worried about me spending all that money and it did indeed hurt my wallet as I was going through credit card debt at that time.
    So around a year of being together, I cut back drastically on my spending on dating and went the frugal route. We volunteered, took hiking trips and walk to places I usually drive to. All good frugal dating recommendations!

  18. I would check out what’s available at local parks. If there’s a hoop… a game of horse or basketball could be fun. If there’s a tennis court, be on the lookout for some cheap rackets and have at it. I know in my town there are some social bicycle riding groups, so a tour of town on bike at a leisurely pace could be fun. (These are all free after you’ve accumulated supplies, which can be bought secondhand relatively cheaply.) But … really… if you’re just beginning to date, in a exploration type of way with new people, I’d aim for figuring out things that *you* like to do, and then inviting someone to do them with you. That could be taking gardening classes or volunteering or social biking or dancing or hiking or whatever. Those are places you could meet people you might be into, or possibly take a date you meet elsewhere (online dating site or whatever). You’re probably your most appealing doing something you love, so figure that out and how to do it on the cheap and invite people into it. Likely, they’re also probably their most appealing doing something they love, so be up for being invited into something that they’re into that you haven’t tried.

    1. That’s a really good point about inviting others to do stuff you like to do. Once you know who you yourself are and what you’re into, you can give someone else a more realistic view of yourself so they know what they’re in for if they enter into a relationship with you.

  19. My husband and I love the cooperative nature of pandemic so we got the legacy game in one of our less frugal moves. We honestly did try to make it last awhile but it was so much fun that we finished in 3 months or so. However my husband did get annoyed that it was designed to basically only play once so before we started, we spent time copying all the scoring sheets and rules and used post it’s instead of the provided stickers so we could reuse everything. Now we’re playing it at a slower pace with our in laws so I’d say it paid off 🙂

    1. This got long. tl; dr: we like playing board games for our date nights too!

      That’s a great idea re: making copies and so on for a legacy game. How we justified it for ourselves was: it costs about 40 euros, but you get 10 games out of it, which works out to 4 euros/game, which is way cheaper than going out for dinner 😉 We’ll recommend your strategy to friends who just bought the game, though! If you want a replayable campaign-style game, I can strongly recommend Scythe + the expansion “The Rise of Fenris.” It was a really great buy. We played it with a group of friends, now we’re replaying it as a couple. And, best of all, you can reset it an unlimited number of times 🙂

      There are also free videos online on the Stonemaier games website to teach you the rules and a lot of actually good quick-start ideas so that you can jump into the game relatively quickly.

      My husband reads board game rules as a hobby (nerd alert!), both to find which games are a good buy for us and because he enjoys it. Often, we’ll borrow or trade games with other couples for a date or double date night so that we always have something new, but free, in the pipeline 🙂

      We also keep a log of all the games that we play as a couple: score, date, how long the game lasted, both so that we can see our stats on various games and motivate ourselves to keep playing what we already have.

      Some of my other game recommendations are:

      Machi Koro (casual, short, cute, cheap!);
      Above and Below (lots of fun story! Some strategy, but not intense, 1.5 hours);
      Roll for the Galaxy (strategic dice rolling and exploring the galaxy, really cool game, dynamic because everyone plays at the same time, usually 45 mins- 1 hour ).
      Seasons (deck building and dice, a very beautiful game, once you’ve played once or twice lasts 1.5 hours);
      Nations (history-based, love that you can choose levels of difficulty to either challenge yourself or make it more fair when playing with new players, about 2 hours)
      Kemet (Ancient Egypt-themed, very interesting and dynamic gameplay)
      because of your interest in Pandemic: CO2 (best as a double date, semi-cooperative, challenging game! Lots of rules, someone needs to know them really well before you start playing)

      All of these are games we love for date nights and game nights and get played all the time!

      1. Thanks! I’ll have to look into those games. We’ve been really into Firefly lately (mostly because we also love the show, and we can make up our own stories that play well), but we’re always on the lookout for new games. Definitely one of our less frugal indulgences. . .

      2. We played Machi Koro with the kids just yesterday (6yo and 8yo, they follow). It’s a fun game! Your hubby and mine would get along, he also is a board game nerd! (he has a weekly boys night consisting of 4 or 5 dudes meeting to play board games… Could be worst!!)

  20. I live in Los Angeles, and while maybe it seems like everything is expensive, you can actually do quite a bit on the cheap because of the great weather and the interesting art scene. One of my favorite things is go to a particular art gallery on opening nights for their shows each month. It’s completely free, even the drinks, and then you have something thought-provoking to talk about with your date (in my case, husband) afterward. I like museums but they are expensive and overwhelming. With a show like this, there is just an artist or two to focus on, and of course all the fun clothes everyone is wearing!

  21. We enjoy date nights going out downtown. However, the only way they count as frugal is that they’re less expensive than divorce 🙂 it’s all about priorities!

  22. I second the other reader’s comment about the YMCA. We LOVE our supervised children’s play area and so does our son. Sometimes after we work out, we sit and chat alone before picking him up, since you must be in the building. In addition to the time during regular hours, our citywide (Minneapolis/St.Paul) YMCAs offer a night out every month from 4-8pm where you can drop your kiddo off for an extra fee and leave the building. It’s a guaranteed night out for us at a cost far less than a sitter. They even feed them dinner! This program is available even if you are not a member. We have also taken advantage of this while living in other states, so check and see if it’s on offer where you live. 🙂

  23. My son is a broke college kid and here are 2 dates he has taken his girlfriend on recently.
    #1 – took her to a pumpkin patch to pick out pumpkins, came home and carved them together
    #2 – her birthday! He surprised her at class with flowers and her favorite coffee. Then had a friend come with them to a local hiking touristy spot and they hiked to the top of the mountain and the friend took their pictures. Now for a Christmas gift he can frame one of the pictures.

  24. My husband and I went to the same choir (cheap) and are still together 31 years later. Our dates are really just long walks with the dog, having homemade dinner from the kitchen garden and we have recently added sandwich breakfast with coffee on the front row of the tram going to work – unbeatable 🙂

  25. Getting a dog has totally transformed how my partner and I date. We used to go out for dinner or drinks or a movie on cheap night, but now that we have the pupper, we feel so guilty leaving him at home that we simply don’t do any of those “spendy” things anymore! We spend about 2 hours in total a day together at the dog park with him, take him on walks, go to new dog parks in different parts of the city together, and generally stay out of expensive situations seeing most of them aren’t dog friendly (bars, restaurants, theaters, concerts, etc). Although pets are technically an added expense, the little woofer has made our lifestyle and entertainment choices far more frugal, and our savings far outweigh the cost of having him.

  26. I think the problem will be exacerbated if you’re with a partner with whom you don’t share similar financial values. So long as you’re both on the same wavelength when it comes to money (which is probably important to figure out sooner rather than later), it should be possible to find ways to spend time together.

    In my experience, the best relationships are those where what you’re really after is one another’s company. I’ve been to community events including art and musical festivals (which cost $0), gone for walks, hung around and played music and sang together… there are many things you can both enjoy if you plainly enjoy being together.

    Thanks for the post.


  27. I married my husband less than 3 months after meeting him—at the courthouse. Cost $35 for marriage license and $10 for the marriage ceremony by a retired judge. So we didn’t “date” much, but after being married for 16.5 years now, we have done a lot of cheap/free postmarital dating. Such as:

    Going to the library (and checking out DVDs for free, which we watch at home—also for free)
    Bike rides (with or without the kids)
    Board game nights at home
    Going to the local pumpkin patch at Halloween
    Taking the kids trick or treating in our lovely downtown shopping district, where we also window-shop
    Watching trashy TV shows and doing entertaining running commentary during them
    Going to the park
    Craft nights
    Backyard barbecues/fire pits

    All lots of fun. It’s not the activity, but the company which counts!

  28. Hahaha, not one person yet has suggested the most obvious terrific frugal date, at least for a long-term/married couple. Best done on a lazy day with stormy weather and wine to sip in-between. It’s frugal as long as you don’t get pregnant. 😀

  29. I’m so surprised no one recommended looking at Groupon!

    Especially if you’re ever sick of the same old date night, I take a peak on there. I look at restaurants and things to do section. Not only do I see some good deals, but I get some good ideas too. I only buy a Groupon if it’s a good location, good deal & something we’re actually interested in, but it makes somethings affordable that would normally be out of the realm of what we’re willing to spend.

  30. Dear Liz and Frugal Friends, This is one of my favorite topics! I love going out on dates, especially now that I have my husband, the love of my life. :-)Although I do enjoy the occasional romantic evening at home, I generally prefer going out., because I truly enjoy a change of atmosphere. Otherwise I feel like my life consists of nothing more than cubicle and home, which for me feels depressing! We save the more expensive stuff like nice dinners, movies, bowling, pee wee golf and cocktails for birthdays, holidays, and our staycations. For those, I have fun dressing up, putting on evening make up and draping myself with lots of sparklies, to put the cherry on the sundae! (Except for the bowling, I’m casual and comfortable for that.)

    During the rest of the year, we find fun and romance doing the following frugal dates and outings:

    *Hot tub night, very relaxing, and I love looking at the stars.

    * Time at the pool during the summer, especially towards dinner time, when the kids of the complex are called in and we have the pool to ourselves. Then we have a very relaxing time playing in the pool and stretching out in the lounger chairs. Add a cold drink with lots of ice, and juicy book, and it’s like being at a resort!

    *Picnics! One of my very favorite things to do from spring through early fall! I’ve invested in a beautiful Amish picnic basket, and a nifty roll up picnic blanket. We either put together something, or we might pick up burgers or sandwiches and hit the local parks. As I”m not a hiker or the rugged nature type, I prefer the kind of parks with ponds and fountains, rose gardens, gazebos, and swings. My last picnic of this past season ended with a ride on a beautiful old carousel and housemade ice cream cones; that was for our wedding anniversary and my favorite day for this year.

    *Pizza by the slice places. It’s much more affordable than getting a whole pizza with wings. That’s a treat I save that for staycations. In between Round Table feasts, the pizza slice places satisfy our pizza cravings nicely..

    * Local donut shops. We’re trying to hit the different shops in our county, which has been fun…I found a favorite local Mom and Pop place, and a Dunkin Donuts recently opened in our neighborhood. I love both!

    *The local old fashioned bakery. We can relax with tea and lovely pastries in a pretty Candyland atmosphere. (As an observation, so far I haven’t observed any crabby people in the bakery or donut shops!)

    * Ice cream. We enjoy Baskin Robbins, Rite Aid, Foster Freeze, and Cold Stone. (These are also Happy Places.)

    *Nation’s for pie slices…chocolate cream pie…it’s like Heaven!

    *Half Price bookstores. It’s fun to browse, people watch, and I can usually find a good read from the dollar table. This is always a treat!

    I hope these ideas help! I’ve also enjoyed reading the community’s suggestions! Happy Romance to everybody!

  31. Fill the seats! My BFF and I are single by choice, both living in downtown/large city. For over 20 years now, we have gone to the ballet, opera, symphony, plays, you name it, for free. Apparently there are a lot of conspicuously wealthy people who get season tickets for ego, and don’t use them. If you are willing to wait until the last second and get shoved down a dark aisle by the ushers, you’ll fill up the good seats and make everyone feel better.

  32. Playing board games is a great cheap date that me and the GF use from time to time. It can be a lot of fun, it’s social and gives everyone a break from devices. T

  33. I have been on literally hundreds of dates in my life — mostly in the pas 10 years as a single mom. Some of my favorite dates were also the least expensive (and not just because he paid, har har). Examples of budget dates: we met up to run a 5k then picked up a healthy breakfast at a bodega and ate in the park; picnic at the beach; walked a new romantic interest’s dog in the park. The thoughtfulness of these meetings helped me learn which were the good guys 🙂

  34. I’m reading this post for some inspiration now that I have a great date, and oh, came across this suggestion:
    “One of our current favorite date nights is our monthly playing of the legacy boardgame Pandemic. It’s a cooperative game so we’re on the same side, working together to prevent the world from succumbing to viral pandemics.”
    I guess they failed the mission 🙁

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *