If the dating scene is wearing out your wallet (and your liver) with $15 craft cocktails, you’re not alone. It’s a pretty expensive and unsustainable way to find a life partner.
There’s a better way. It takes a bit of creativity and a sense of adventure, but practically free dates are out there. And they might just be the best dates of your life.
Case in point — years ago I fell in love over a long July 4th weekend. Total cost: $3 + groceries.
I’d been dating a guy I met on OKCupid, and it was going well. Like, sweaty palms, constant daydreams, head-over-heels awesomeness. We were 6 weeks in, testing the significant other waters, and we decided to spend the whole long 4th of July weekend together.
He suggested a trip away for the weekend. But I wanted to save some cash, so I sent back ideas for free and low-cost things to do. He was in, with plenty of ideas of his own.
We had practically no money. He was a PhD candidate, I was a receptionist. He lived in a dingy students-only house at UW. I lived in a tiny, outdated one-bedroom apartment with windows that stared straight into my neighbor’s place (really).
My advantage? It was downtown, right by Pike Place Market, and above my favorite cupcake shop (score). A perfect home base for practically free dates. Summer in Seattle kicks off July 4 and lasts approximately 6 weeks, so we were ready to make the most of it.
Here’s how it went down.
THURSDAY JULY 4TH
It was the first Thursday of the month, which meant free admission at the Seattle Art Museum. There was a Japanese fashion exhibit that I was excited to see, but the really delightful part was interacting with my date. Seeing how people respond to art is exciting stuff, and great conversation fodder.
Here’s the spendy part of the weekend: we snagged pictures together in a photobooth in the market. It was $3. I’ve still got the photo strip. It’s a bit faded now but JPGs are forever.
We headed back to my apartment to relax. My date brought over some interesting fruits he had gotten at Uwajimaya, Seattle’s Asian supermarket mecca. Together we Googled how to cut them, and ate them all up.
There may also have been homemade mint juleps. We agreed to skip the fireworks, they just weren’t our thing. It was a wonderful start to the weekend.
FRIDAY JULY 5TH
Friday it was time for an adventure. We packed a picnic, hopped on our bikes, and rode the Burke Gilman trail up to Matthews Beach Park.
It stays too cold to swim (in my opinion) all summer in Seattle. So we sunbathed on the grass. I snapped a photo of my date looking at me all lovey-dovey, and it still warms my heart.
The ride back to his place was hard work. He had just introduced me to the concept of city biking, so I was a slow peddler. But we had all weekend, and he had patience. We decamped to his place, tired, happy, and feeling very rich.
SATURDAY JULY 6TH
Some folks from my theatre company were hosting a BBQ/picnic! So Saturday was aimed toward our potluck contribution. We headed back downtown to the market again, this time for groceries.
We picked up a few treats too — fresh fruit and Rachel’s Ginger Beer. Pro tip: blueberries with a drizzle of lemon olive oil are heaven.
I honestly don’t remember what we ate the whole weekend, I just know we didn’t go to any restaurants. We could easily have spent hundreds dining out in just a few days, but raiding our pantries and supplementing with a few things from the market kept our costs low. I’m estimating we spent less than $40 for food over the whole weekend. Totally normal spending.
We biked up to the BBQ, and after a long, lazy afternoon with friends we parted ways. I remember a feeling of happiness that was nearly indescribable. Perfect contentment, just being with another person. It didn’t matter what we did. It especially didn’t matter how much we spent. I was smitten.
HOW’D IT WORK OUT?
Since then a lot has changed. We’ve moved cross-country together…twice. We’ve been unemployed. We’ve been on food stamps. I started a business. We adopted a very expensive cat together. Through a lot of hard choices and big changes, we’ve increased our earning power. We’ve started to contemplate this thing called a vacation.
But through all the changes, the one thing is constant. We can have wonderful time together, and it doesn’t have to cost a penny.
BONUS DATE IDEAS
We didn’t get to everything on our list, but that doesn’t mean those wouldn’t be fun! Here are the other ideas we kicked around:
- Bake bread
- Beer tasting
- Yoga class
- Frisbee throwing
- Browse used bookstores
- Explore the arboretum
- Skip stones