25 No-Spend Summer Date Ideas

Dinner and a movie are considerably pricier than they were just 10 years ago – so much that it can be difficult to justify, especially when there’s food and Netflix at home. But that doesn’t mean you should give up going on dates altogether.

By Keelia Clarkson4 min read
Pexels/Asdrubal Luna

The summer sun beckons each of us out of hibernation, out of our old routines, out of the cozy comfort of home. After all, there’s fun to be had just outside the door, memories to be made, especially romantic ones. But one thing that stops us in our tracks? The growing cost of what used to be a simple, no-frills date.

In January, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the cost of dining out was up 5.1% year over year and up 0.5% since just the previous month – which is enough to say, “How about a frozen pizza tonight?” It’s hard to excuse spending at least $50 on a bare-bones (read: no fun drinks) dinner out that lasts all of an hour and a half when you could spend a fraction of the price just by opening your fridge instead.

Going out and spending money on a date is becoming increasingly difficult for younger, less financially stable people, but does that mean we should give up on going out on dates entirely? Certainly not. While it requires some creativity and planning, it turns out that it’s totally possible to have a fun, no-spend date. And we’ve gathered some of our best ideas to get you started.

Draw a Portrait of Each Other

Grab some paper and colored pencils, and unleash your inner artist as you create a portrait of your date – but make sure to keep it hidden until it’s all done! If you want to spend a little bit, you can pick up a couple of canvases and some paint. But the most important part is the laugh you’ll share together when you both reveal your masterpiece to one another at the end.

Go Stargazing

Few things are quite as romantic as gazing up at the stars with your beloved. Plus, during these balmy summer months, you’ll want to enjoy the outdoors after the sun has gone down. After dinner one night, drive out to a secluded park or lookout, open up the sunroof (or sit on the hood), and see if you can spot different constellations.

Do a DIY Outdoor Movie Night

If you don’t want to spend $30 to go see a movie you aren’t even sure you’ll like, take your movie night to the backyard. Bring out pillows and blankets, light candles, make popcorn, and watch an old favorite on your laptop.

Visit a Museum

Many museums offer free (or a “pay what you can”) admission, making it a perfect spot for your no-spend date. Explore pieces of art and artifacts from the past and broaden your horizons while spending an afternoon with your man.

Have a Romantic Backyard Picnic

You don’t need to go to an overpriced restaurant for a romantic dinner date. Set up string lights, put on music, either lay out a blanket or bring out a small table, and have dinner in your backyard as the sun sets.

Go Fruit Picking

This date costs just a little bit, but the memories made will make it worth every penny. Stop by a local pick farm and gather summer fruits like raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries with your date. Then, take your treasures home and use them for dessert – you can make sorbet, a cake, or just top them with whipped cream.

Do a Virtual “Cooking Class”

Going to an in-person cooking class might be on the pricey side, but you can turn on a YouTube cooking tutorial for a similar effect. All you’ll need to spend is on the groceries you buy for the recipe, but that won’t feel like much when you get to spend the evening together in the kitchen, and then at the dining room table.

Look Through Old Photos Over Wine

No matter how long you’ve been together, you both still had a whole life before your relationship. Whether you have physical or digital photo albums to flip through, pour some wine and take turns showing each other pictures of some of your favorite memories, telling them the story behind each photo.

Go to Thrift/Antique Shops

Maybe you’ll come across a rare $3 book or an old, half-off tea set, or maybe you won’t. But exploring thrift stores and antique shops together will stir up fun conversation as you each point out trinkets that catch your eye.

Volunteer Together

Doing good and saving money sounds like the perfect way to spend a summer day – and it’s much more romantic than it might sound. Volunteer with your love at an animal shelter, a local park, the library, or a nursing home.

Do Breakfast on the Beach

Make breakfast at home, pack it up, and head to the beach for an early morning dip, before it gets overcrowded or too hot. If you get there early enough, you might even catch the sunrise. What could be more romantic than that?

Go for a Bike Ride

If you don’t have your own bikes, you can rent them for relatively cheap. Ride around your city or town, explore bookstores and hidden parks, and get some good exercise in as you enjoy the perfect weather.

Window Shop

Head to an outdoor mall or a shopping strip in your city and make the most of the window shopping. You can even take turns picking out fancy, overpriced outfits to try on (that you won’t buy, of course).

Head to an Open Mic

Find an open mic being hosted at a local coffee shop or pub and listen to small, unknown artists for hours. It might cost the price of a drink or two, but for a few dollars you’ll enjoy a memorable afternoon with your person.

Have a Spa Night at Home

You know those face masks you’ve had under your bathroom sink for a while? Now’s the time to put them to use. Light some candles or pull out the essential oils, turn on a binge-worthy Netflix series, and have a whole spa night without even leaving the house. Do manicures, masks, exfoliating treatments, and anything else you happen to have on hand.

Play “Chopped”

Get creative in the kitchen without spending anything! Take turns making dinner and dessert, but add some fun rules: You can each pick out ingredients (that you already have) that the other needs to use to make their dish, inspired by The Food Network’s Chopped. You might even end up creating what will become a favorite!

Pull Out the Board Games

Most of us have Monopoly or Scrabble or even a puzzle catching dust in the closet. Why not pull one out and spend the evening getting competitive? The winner gets to pick what’s for dinner.

Read a Book Aloud

Couples who read together stay together! Pick up a fun mystery, a sweeping romantic tale or an old classic, and take turns reading aloud to each other for a spend-free date night. To get a few dates out of this, read a few chapters at a time every week.

Play Video Games

Sure, you may have to buy the game if you don't have any already, but playing through a game like Life Is Strange together will easily keep you busy for far more than just one date night. Switch back and forth on who has the controller and explore the various worlds your gaming takes you to.

Camp in Your Backyard

If you’re on the adventurous side, go camping locally. But if you prefer to have running water and your creature comforts nearby, set up that old tent you have in the garage for a fun night “out” in your backyard. Start out by admiring the stars before enjoying some snacks and Netflix in your tent.

Tour Expensive Open Houses in the Area

Even if you’re nowhere near buying a house, or aren’t even looking to move out of your current home, there’s something exciting about stepping into a beautiful, empty house that’s out of your budget and imagining what you’d do with it.

Build a Sand Castle

Sand castles aren’t just for kids. Plan a beach day (complete with snacks and books), bring along a few small buckets and any other tools you might need, and give your best effort at making a grand sand castle with your guy.

Try Samples at a Food Market

One simple way to get food out without having to pay a hefty bill? Stop by a local farmer’s/food market or Costco if you have a membership and sample hop. You’ll get a little taste of everything without having to spend oodles of cash.

Have a Poker Night

If you don’t know how to play poker, this will be a fun opportunity for your date to teach you. But even if you already know how, a poker night at home is a simple way to spend time together that’s more creative than just watching another movie.

Go to a Local Trivia Night

You don’t have to spend much at all to take part in a local trivia night (likely just a drink or two). Not only does it give you the chance to impress your date with your knowledge, but it makes for a far more engaging experience than just another dinner out.

Closing Thoughts

Fun dates don’t have to cost much — or anything at all, for that matter. There are endless ways to make the most of the summer with your special someone, all without having to spend a nickel.

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