I have no idea how to date. I accidentally fell in love with the boy next door at eighteen, married him at twenty-seven, and I don’t think you could call my high school floozyism before then “dating” by any stretch of the imagination (#noregerts).
So picture my horror when my single friends tell me about how goddamn expensive it can be to date. On top of dating being an often excruciatingly awkward, painful, nerve-wracking, and misery-inducing experience, it can also feel like throwing good money after bad dates.
My girl Gabby says of the dating experience, “Dating revolves a lot around going out for meals and activities. We went to Top Golf for an hour and a half and he spent over $100… for a casual weeknight date. Concert tickets at the best venues in town are no less than $50 a pop before you even add in any drinks or food. Not only is dating expensive because you’re going out, but it also means you want to look your best so you may get a few new articles of clothing, get your hair done (on your head or otherwise…), get your nails done…”
All of which is just financially dire enough to convince me there has to be a better way. And I don’t mean taking vows of chastity and poverty and joining a convent. Though that’s a truly tempting option in light of some men’s behavior.
So buckle up, kids, and let this old married hag tell you how to save money while still finding Prince or Princess Charming. Surely it can’t be that hard, right?
Money can’t—and shouldn’t—buy you love
Let’s address the romantic, idealist gorilla in the room.
Yes, that one. How did you know? Moving on.
You shouldn’t have to be part of a certain income bracket in order to find a romantic partner. You shouldn’t need to beggar yourself to find love. And if someone believes you need money to impress them, you do not want to be with that person.
Dating culture has become such that it requires a line item in your budget. And for what? To find an excuse to spend time with another human, talking and gazing until you determine you like each other enough to spend more time together?
The point of dating (so I’ve been told) is to find someone you’re comfortable and happy doing nothing and everything with. Why should that search come with a daunting price tag attached?
This is why you should take pride in being a cheap date. Show your date that there is more to you than your wallet, that you care more about human interaction than expensive activities, that they don’t need to throw money around like confetti every day to impress you.
They’ll probably be relieved to know your normal budget does not include chefs’ tables, concert tickets, skiing, and art gallery openings five nights a week. Financial acumen is sexy as hell.
Cheap date ideas for your cheap ass
This is all well and good coming from someone whose idea of a date with her husband is eating dinner in the dog’s kiddie pool on a hot night (don’t knock it till you try it). So I took a poll of my actively dating friends to get their thoughts on cheap dates. They had a lot of ideas.
- Take a fucking walk. This comes with the added bonus of people-watching and—one of my favorite free activities—people-judging.
- The classic Netflix and Chill. Only caveat is, as Gabby says, “How soon is too soon to welcome a new person into your home rather than going out?”
- Go visit an animal shelter. Petting only. No adopting! RESIST!
- Meet at a museum on Free Museum Day. Or find a museum with free or cheap entry.
- Go to a book signing at a local bookstore or library. For literati like we Bitches, this can be a make-or-break engagement depending on the author.
- Go to a student concert. A lot of universities will host free concerts so their students can get the experience of performing for an audience.
- Get an ice cream cone and walk through the neighborhood people-watching/judging.
- Go for a hike. Totes free, you’ll be all alone together, and at the end you get a gorgeous view as the backdrop to steal a kiss.
- Drive out to the country and stargaze together. So heckin’ romantic!
- Make a meal at home together. Definitely cheaper than eating out. But again, you need to wait until you both feel comfortable in each other’s homes.
- Give each other makeovers. Nothing makes me more jealous of lesbians than my husband’s refusal to let me braid his beard.
- Mix water bottles full of mimosas and drink them on the bench at the park like classy motherfuckers. People-watching/judging optional.
- Visit a thrift shop or antique store. You’ll find the weirdest shit and enjoy laughing over it all together.
- Plant some plants. There’s something deeply satisfying about picking out flowers at a nursery and lovingly planting them in some cute pots. No? Just me then? Y’all are missing out.
- Go to a play at the local community theater. Guaranteed cheaper tickets than professional productions. Even if it sucks, who doesn’t enjoy watching people crash and burn on stage? Sixteen seasons of American Idol can’t be wrong.
- Play board games or card games together. You’ll learn so much about your date by competing with them.
- Go for a bike ride.
- Go to a farmer’s market. Sniff the fruit and peruse the wares as if this is a thing you do on the reg!
- Go to the library and pick out books for each other. A test of your compatibility if ever there was one.
- Play video games together. Date night for my husband and I is regularly two-player Portal 2 and lots of yelling. OUR LOVE IS REAL.
- Have a picnic. A great way to make a cheap meal together without the burden of opening your home.
- Go for a swim. The beach or your local lake is usually free, and it’s a great way to get your Bay Watch on.
- See a drive-in movie. Movie tickets are shockingly expensive these days, but a drive-in at least adds an element of novelty to a double-feature.
- Go to trivia night at a local pub. Test the intelligence and mettle of your date with a literal battle of wits against other dating couples. Prove you two are better than those know-nothings.
- Go to an arcade or amusement park. Tickets to get in are relatively cheap, so just pace yourself buying rides or games.
- Volunteer together. You’ll learn a lot about your date by their willingness to serve food at a soup kitchen or pick up trash at the park on a weekend.
Here it is, y’all: the question that has stumped generations of feminists and financial experts alike:
When the check arrives, who pays?
Again, I’m a withered old matron, so I checked back in with Gabby on the age-old dance of the end-of-date check: “Dating can be unfairly expensive. I feel guilty having a guy pay for everything, every time. It almost feels like I chip in in order to justify that I truly want to be there, not just get a free meal. The worst is on a first date. The rules are totally gray now. Rarely is it established before the bill comes who is going to pay. For some it can be a turn-off if the offer is not made to go dutch and it could derail what started as a good connection.”
You don’t want to break your budget by agreeing to a date you can’t afford. But you don’t want to turn down the chance to go on a date with someone you dig with a real big shovel. And like Gabby says, the question of the check can sour what otherwise was a good date.
Tradition decrees the man pays the check. Traditionally speaking, men were providers, breadwinners, bacon-bring-homers, and a dozen other patriarchal stereotypes that enforce a narrow definition of masculinity on men and perpetuate the oppression of women.
We Bitches don’t hold with that heteronormative nonsense.
And while we could make a snarky case for the justice of this rule because of the gender pay gap, we believe in smashing the patriarchy, not nurturing its strangling vines so they continue to grow.
So the man-always-pays rule is officially not endorsed by we, the proprietors of this here blog about finance and feminism. CHECKMATE, MRAS.
This tradition also conveniently ignores the existence of dates and relationships outside the bounds of heterosexuality and the gender binary. For sadly, lesbians still have to pay for dates. Their financial responsibility does not transfer to the nearest cisgender man. Though wouldn’t that be cool?
So basically… tradition and heteronormativity suck. Let’s dispense with them forthwith!
Two strategies. Everybody wins.
There are two ways you can address the question of who pays the check while both flouting tradition and harmful gender norms:
- Just agree to fucking split it. You can either split it straight down the middle, or according to what each person ate/drank/did, or take turns paying for every other date. Whatever is easier for your server. Oh and on that note: don’t forget to tip, you fucking heathens.
- The inviter pays. If the date was your idea and you invited your guest out, then you should pay for the meal or activity. This also empowers you to pick a cheaper activity than the traditional restaurant dinner and movie combo.
In conclusion… I still have no idea how dating works. I live vicariously through my single friends, unapologetically high-fiving them after their sexual adventures and living for their dating play-by-plays. But I am certain about one thing: there is no shame in being a cheap date. And a worthy partner will agree with that sentiment.
Y’all know what comes next. Regale this matronly blogger with your dating excesses in a comment below! I promise to hate upon your exes and laugh with you, not at you.
POSTSCRIPT: Since writing this post months ago (be impressed with how good we are at staying ahead of our publishing schedule), Gabby’s dating status has changed! And guys: he’s pretty great! I hope this postscript doesn’t jinx her budding relationship… and I swear it’s not just so I can continue to interrogate her on financial topics.
ANOTHER POSTSCRIPT: I, Kitty, write this postscript to you, Piggy, on the occasion of your suggestion that the lyrics on the key-change repetition of “tradition” from the opening number of the 1964 classic musical Fiddler on the Roof be amended to “heteronormativity.” We the Queers find this joke to be extremely sound, and rule that the five additional syllables are an insignificant impediment to its implementation. Your petition is hereby granted. <bangs gavel> Gay court is gay adjourned.
2021 POSTSCRIPT: Gabby’s engaged. I can’t wait to get drunk at her wedding.