Take Pride in Being a Cheap Date

Take Pride in Being a Cheap Date

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?

… 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.

Check etiquette

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.

Traditiooooooooon! Tradition!

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.

Heteronormativityyyyyyyy! Heteronormativity!

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

34 thoughts to “Take Pride in Being a Cheap Date”

  1. I’d actually never been on a “real date” until I “met” my Husband. Even then, we went out for a simple meal in a restaurant I was comfortable with ($30), and then to a movie afterwards because it went well (another $30). He paid- but only because we’d discussed it beforehand; I had $0 money to my name, having only just left an incredibly abusive relationship and moved back in with my parents. He, on the other hand, had had a stable job for 3+ months at that point.

    Despite that, my mentality towards who pays (in regards to literally any social activity- whether that’s a date with a potential romantic partner, or you and friends going out to coffee, hosting a dinner party for family, or whatever), is that the Invitee pays. Hands down, I feel like if you invite someone out to an activity that costs money then you should absolutely be willing to fork over the cash for them to go (within reason. Stuff like concert tickets are a grey area for me).

        1. Saying I “met” my husband- complete with quotes- is just a cheeky way of saying that we met well before we actually “met”… There was just, uh… An 8 year gap there between when we went to high school together and dind’t talk more than once… And we actually “met” on OKCupid and started talking… Then dating.

  2. I had never been on a date before my now-husband either. And being poor students/desperately job searching, we always split it equally.

    That being said. We both enjoy it when he orders and takes the bill after. So we solve it by having a shared account for groceries and that kind of thing, and then just paying equally into it beforehand.

    1. For some reason I find this totally sweet. You both enjoy him taking on the bill, so you’ve made a financially egalitarian method of making that happen behind the scenes. <3

  3. I think I don’t understand a date at an animal shelter. Those places are horrifying and filled with upset, wailing puppies. We call the shelter where we got our dog “the crying place” and it wasn’t because she was crying.

    1. Oh fuck that sounds TERRIBLE! There are definitely shelters (Humane Society, Dumb Friends League) with happy dogs playing together where the atmosphere isn’t so grim. I would avoid municipal shelters (aka “the pound”), which is where I got my little street mutt.

  4. Amongst we lowly college students, I think the man-pays-for-date tradition is falling by the wayside. Which is great. I for one got EXTREMELY UNCOMFORTABLE the one time a man tried to pay for both of us: it implied a power dynamic where he was somehow responsible for me. Luckily, I had already stashed £3 in my pocket for my coffee, so I slammed that change on top of the receipt before he had even taken out his wallet and stared at him menacingly. Power move.

    Cheap dates are the best dates. One of my favourites is a campfire (though I’m lucky to live where this is possible). You can walk to somewhere appropriate while picking up dry wood along the way, then make a lil’ fire and have some marshmallows or mulled wine or other cozy things. Also a good test of whether your date is willing to brave the elements and possibly sacrifice their shoelaces as tinder.

    1. I honestly don’t see how paying for someone is them expressing some sort of control or power over you, or necessarily implies they’re “responsible” for you- especially not if they’re the ones who invited you on the date, and you’re not the one who invited them (though I don’t know the specifics of that for you. I’m just speaking generally)… But then again, the only person in my life who’s ever ACTUALLY tried to pull that sort of “I paid for you, so!” crud with me is my Mother- and we don’t talk anymore because she’s an abusive POS XD

      1. To me, a man paying for both of us on a date feels wrong because it’s based in the historical coercion and infantilisation of women. Even now, though, plenty of Angry Men like to extend the paternalistic “I paid for you” argument to dating, using paying for a woman’s dinner claim some kind of right to sex with her. That’s obviously wrong, but the fact that there are clearly men out there who see it as a transaction – either of power or of sex – would make me uncomfortable accepting dinner from someone I didn’t know really well.

        I can totally see that in a long-term relationship, partners would use paying for one another’s dates to show love – but that doesn’t really work in the dating scene, since it’s hard to establish the reason (and men are, I think, more often doing the asking-out). Personally, I like that my boyfriend and I pay for our own meals or alternate: it reminds me that we’re independent people who are choosing to put our effort into the relationship. (And that neither of us can afford more than one bowl of ramen… all the more reason to go cheap, I guess.)

      2. That’s how it is for most people! I think it’s a power thing. Friends, or people in long-term relationships, don’t feel squicky about someone paying for them because they know they’re equals. It’s established. When a man feels social pressure to pay for a woman, I’m like “wait but why, we are equals, you are not my parent, this makes no sense, and I don’t blame you because we were both raised in a patriarchal society so I get what you’re going through, but really come the fuck on, I can afford my own chicken salad sandwich…”

  5. Just a note to recommend combining the walking, volunteering and shelter ideas: see if any of the animal shelters or pet rescues around you need volunteers to take the dogs out for walks or wrangle pups and kittens at an adoption event! That was one of my favorite NHS service-hour projects in high school, and now that you’ve brought it back to mind I’m instantly smitten with the idea of making a date of it.

    1. A++ recommendation! Thoroughly endorsed!

      I read that during the month-long phenomenon that was Pokemon Go, animal shelters would advertise by being like “Need a legit reason to walk around hunting Pokemon? Come pick up a shelter dog to walk while you play!” They found that like half the people who borrowed a dog for a walk were like “I’m in love and keeping this dog.” So… way to go game developers?

  6. If I could only read one thing ever for the rest of my life, it would be this blog. You fucking kill me every time.
    That is all.

    1. Brb, changing my weekend plans to include a distillery tour! Plus I like that it’s more of an activity than just sitting at a bar.

  7. This is great!

    I would think twice about the thrift store thing, though. Being somewhere that has to shop at thrift stores becomes that much harder when other shoppers are clearly there mainly to laugh at the selection.

    1. Ooo, this is a REALLY good point. I was thinking of this wacky little antique/thrift store in my neighborhood that mostly sells strange decor and antique jewelry and records rather than clothing options. I personally get most of my clothes from secondhand stores, so I would hate to make anyone feel self-conscious about shopping at a Goodwill, for example.

  8. Love these ideas – I have even tried some of them out, and can verify that going for a walk and being forced to talk to your date is an excellent way to efficiently figure out if you actually enjoy their company. If conversation seems effortless and you only realize that you’ve been walking for hours when you suddenly notice that it’s gone dark, maybe you’re on to something.

    Whilst some of my early dates involved splitting the bill (also, I was based in the UK during my prime dating days and people were very ok to split the bill) my then-date now-spouse morphed into an ‘inviter pays’ model. Now, we take turns paying so that it a) always feels fair b) takes less time than splitting the bill, especially when we’re eating out with friends and c) means that one of us is always treating the other, which makes us both feel special.

    1. This is adorablllllleeee…
      We have friends we regularly double-date with, and it’s become a super fun ritual to fight over the check with them, each couple wanting to treat the other. Friendship is magic.

  9. My husband and I got married young too so I have been out of the dating game but I loved the cheap date ideas even for married couples. At this point all our money is the same so it doesn’t matter who pays but when we were dating it was usually whoever planned the date paid for it. Hopefully having someone take us on expensive dates and pay for us all the time is not the main barometer in choosing a partner.

    1. I am very pro-going-on-dates-with-your-spouse. Sure, we spend every evening together, but there’s just something cool about being like “Let’s go on an adventure, just the two of us!”

  10. That Planet of the Apes gif is everything! Thanks for that. Given the number of Arrested Development gifs, and Buffy, and now this: I had to wonder if I’ve been sleepblogging because you are in my brain. 😉

    These are great suggestions. One of the earliest dates with my husband was walking around a museum on free day. Low stress, lots of things to comment about, ability to wander away slightly if you need personal space.

    Back in the day (the 80’s) there were a lot of feminists making sure we realized that a guy buying us dinner did NOT mean we owed him sex. I was always like, Damn Straight. Fuck you if you think I owe you anything at all! But it’s scary to think that this still needs to be voiced. Women: you do not owe him anything! He invited you somewhere, you accepted. There. You showed up, you upheld your end of the bargain. If he wants to pay, let him pay (and maybe offer to pick up the tab next time). For the record, I have the same rules for friendship. If I invite a friend to dinner, I pay. This may be generational though, and I’m thinking more of ‘I want to take you out for your birthday’ rather than ‘let’s grab a bite before the movie.’

    Keep dishing out the excellent advice, Bitches!

    1. You are officially my new favorite reader. You’ve posted a bunch of thoughtful comments recently and I’ve decided we need to be friends. <3 Plus you have truly excellent taste in gifs!

      I too am shocked that it still needs to be said re: him paying for a date does not mean you owe him sex. Yet look above in the comments! Someone was genuinely confused about the gender power imbalance created by a man paying for a date. It's frustrating, but we still have a long way to go.

  11. Hahaha it’s amazing how many of these ideas very easily facilitate people-judging. And people-judging is an important thing that can tell you a whole lot about your date!

    I was in Fiddler on the Roof in 4th grade and that “tradition!” earworm has been in my head since then. But for once I know WHY it’s back again! A+ change to the lyrics. The difference in syllables just means it’s now a tongue-twister (appropriate, given the subject of this post/likelihood of makeouts after good dates WOW I’M HILARIOUS).

  12. Most guys I’ve gone out with pay for the first (relatively cheap dinner) date because its usually the first of many. But I always offer to get the tip. This shows that I appreciate them paying but would also like to contribute, and it allows me to satisfy my secret generosity by overtipping a bit (I used to be a waitress).

    So glad I found your blog!

  13. I’m middle aged, divorced, and make a good salary. Met my current partner when set up on a blind date, but I wasn’t sure it was a blind date at all… it *could* have been a “collegial courtesy” sort of thing, since we are in the same field and I was visiting his city. We took one look at each other and both realized it was a date. *Better living through chemistry.*

    Seven hours of talking and laughing later, the check came. I threw my card on the table and he threw his. However, over the course of several more meet-ups — since we’re long distance, our early courting was generally a long weekend together somewhere — he ended up taking the lead on paying. The fact is, though I am reasonably well off, he just has a lot more; when he reserves an expensive restaurant and orders matching wines for each course, well… that’s above my pay grade.
    All the same, I still make it a point to cover the check at a nice restaurant once in a while, so that we both contribute according to our means. For me, that’s a way of honoring his generosity, showing that I want to reciprocate as best I can, and that I don’t expect a free ride every single time. It shows some mutuality.

  14. I love this blog because it directly addresses systematic inequalities’ impact on personal finance. Articles like “Women make less because they are scared of being raped and murdered” and “The greatest threat to black wealth is white terrorism” are common here. I was disappointed by this article because I felt like it did not meet the standards I have come to expect from this blog.

    Another (realistic and scary) gorilla in the room is the huge prevalence of date rape and sexual violence. How this affects women’s preferences seems to be overlooked by many men. Being a considerate date means taking into account comfort and safety concerns. A list of date ideas where a man could reasonably assume their date would feel at ease and safe with a man they do not know well would exclude many of these date ideas.

    I feel like the mindset and check etiquette suggestions are implicitly directed at women and do not address an appropriate ethical mindset for someone who has decided to host the date. I would have appreciated these sections being centered on that. It reads as putting the burden on women to disprove they are a gold digger, which is a very widespread, patriarchal and often racial stereotype. It’s also very easy to gloss over and overlook.

    My intent isn’t to criticize anyone’s relationships or invalidate what they have found meaningful and special, it is to point out sociological issues that affect dating. Given the context of this blog, those issues are worthy of being at least explicitly stated, and if possible fully explored. I use gendered terms because sexual violence is often gendered. If your date’s orientation or gender expression means they are disproportionately impacted, same principles are likely to be appreciated.

    1. AJ, this is EXACTLY the kind of feedback we want on our writing. Thank you SO MUCH for bringing up these really important issues!
      It’s no excuse, but I will say that as someone who’s been married for years (and in a long-term relationship with my future spouse for years before that), I sometimes forget what a privilege it is to be in a relationship of mutual trust. I needed this reminder of the gendered violence that is so often a risk in dating. I’ll consider your comment seriously and then come up with a plan for how I can edit this article to make it more in line with the standards you’ve come to expect from us!

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