If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say that they were unwilling to enter a long distance relationship because of financial constraints, I certainly wouldn't need my own budget-saving dating tips.
The simple fact of the matter is that dating is expensive, whether you live a short distance or a long distance from the person you are seeing. A leading online dating site recently did a poll of major U.S. cities to find out the average cost of a dinner and movie date. Not surprisingly, New York City came out on top, with a whopping $135 average (and that didn't even include popcorn with the movie!). Yet other cities were not far behind, with New Jersey at $117, Tucson at $98.80, Dallas at $86, and Portland closely trailing at $82.
Regardless of the geographic location, you better have about $100 in your wallet if you want a nice casual evening out together. Today's trends are certainly a far cry from the .35 cents my Grandpa spent at the movies (with popcorn included!) when he was my age.
But the problem at hand is: you and I are single and eligible in the year 2007, not 1937, and that means dating can leave a huge impact on our checkbooks. Add the long distance factor to a dating relationship and there's even more trouble: soaring gasoline prices, pricey airplane tickets, and sometimes even hotel or car rental bills… enough to put any single person over the edge and out of the dating scene.
For some single people, their financial situation truly is in a state that would not make them eligible for marriage, and thus the decision to postpone dating until finances are in order is a wise and prudent decision.
However, for a large portion of the singles who feel dating (especially long distance) is too expensive, the solution is not to give up dating altogether, or to postpone asking a girl out until the economy gets better or you find someone who lives in your own neighborhood. The real solution is that you and I need to get creative. God gave each of us brains and common sense for a reason. I'm sure each of you can think of at least ten ways you could have fun with a special person in your life that did not include expensive restaurants or a trip to the movie theater.
For some, frugal dating will mean a return to the days of Sunday afternoon picnics, walks on the beach, and tossing a Frisbee in the park. "But that's lame — and besides, girls expect more than those things these days" a young man protested. My response was, "So what? Be the first to try something old fashioned again! And the girl might actually be more interested in growing in friendship with you, than sharing Sushi and Spiderman 3."
Frugality in any and every aspect of life is never a bad thing. In a dating relationship, it is nothing less than valuable preparation for learning to live on a budget when you enter married life. Following are some tips that I've found helpful for making dates a little more frugal… and in fact, a whole lot more fun, too.
1. Develop a Courtship Budget
There's no way around the fact that dating depletes dollars from your bank account. Individually and as a couple, come up with a plan for how much of your monthly budget you can prudently devote to the relationship, including food, recreation and activities, mileage and travel expenses. Especially for long distance relationships, a courtship budget will help you figure out how many and how often visits are doable.
2. Switch to the Same Cell Phone Carrier or Calling Plan
This idea might sound cheesy, but it can make a big difference. Especially if you are in a relationship that stretches into different time zones, having both parties on a cell phone calling plan that allows you to talk with each other at any time of day and for however long you desire will help immensely. Most phone carriers offer a package that includes unlimited calling, and picture and text messaging to others in the same network. This is a great way to keep in touch without running up exorbitant monthly bills for your time on the phone.
If either you or your significant other do not own a cell phone, a calling card is another option that is usually much friendlier to your budget that regular long distance rates.
3. Economy Cars and Cheap Tickets
This tip is particularly useful for those in long distance relationships. Becoming an AAA or AARP member can provide extensive savings on hotels and rental cars, if these items are a necessary part of your travel arrangements.
For the relationships requiring air travel, subscribe to as many cheap airfare notification websites as you possibly can. Try to avoid traveling on holiday weekends to dodge the skyrocketed rates. Look for last minute fares at discounted prices.
Ask your friends, roommates, and family members to keep their eyes out for travel discounts they may come across as well.
4. Go Coupon Crazy
I have recently discovered how helpful coupons are in a dating relationship. "Buy one get one free ice cream cones" or "Buy two entrées and get an appetizer and two drinks free" or "Two movie tickets for the price of one" can help a lot in your dating activities.
The town I live in sells a yearly coupon book called "Enjoy the City." The coupon book costs $15, and it contains discounts, specials and "buy one get one free" deals to dozens of local shops, restaurants, and recreational facilities. You may want to see if your city offers something similar.
Almost every weekend the local Sunday newspaper contains coupons for restaurant discounts, a free ice cream cone at a local shop, or discounts to a local venue.
Also, don't forget to search the Internet for coupons to places or restaurants you wish to visit. Many restaurants have websites, and offer a "$2.00 off your meal" or "15% off the total bill" coupons online. Take advantage of these coupons — every little bit helps!
5. Do Your Homework
Every town, no matter how large or small, offers local events, festivals, or church functions that are a load of fun but don't take a load out of your wallet.
Research online and in local newspapers and magazines to find area events with free admission, such as art festivals, church bazaars, high school sporting events, and the like.
Most cities have local art, history or science museums with either free admission or a very nominal fee. Local colleges and universities often host plays, concerts, sporting events, or other activities that are open to the public.
And don't forget to take advantage of God's beautiful creation! Hike through a local state park, take a walk on the beach, or rent a canoe and spend a Saturday out on the lake. You will have far better conversations and getting-to-know-you time exploring nature than sitting in front of a silver screen. Guaranteed.
6. Eat In
Sometimes cooking together is a lot more fun than being waited on at a restaurant, and it's usually a lot less expensive. Spend a Sunday afternoon in the kitchen and invite friends or family to share the meal with you. Experiment with new recipes and try old favorites. Share family secret recipes or favorite ethnic foods with the other person, and you'll learn a lot about the other's family traditions in the process.
A misconception that is common among many single people is that picnics are old-fashioned and only suitable for lovers in days long gone-by. Not true! Some of the most memorable dinner dates some of my friends have had are the ones where they spent an afternoon or evening in the park and shared a picnic. [Hint for guys: a pizza and bottle of wine, a couple paper plates and paper cups, and a blanket is all you need to create a date that she will not soon forget.]
8. Work Together
About a year ago, author Michael S. Rose wrote a fantastic article for CatholicMatch.com entitled "The Daring Date" — and I couldn't agree more with his ideas. In a nutshell, Mr. Rose suggests forgetting the traditional "dinner and movie date" for once, and instead trying something challenging and different together.
One such out-of-the-ordinary idea is to work together. Whether it's weeding the lawn, washing your vehicles, power-washing the driveway, or planting a garden, it doesn't matter. Breaking a sweat together will teach you things about each other that will be hard to learn when you're dressed up and sitting pretty at Outback Steakhouse.
9. Play Together
Sporting and other recreational activities are fun yet inexpensive ways to be together. If you and your date are both athletic, your dating possibilities are endless. Play some tennis, challenge each other to a racquetball tournament, take a jog in the park, shoot some hoops, or toss a football or Frisbee. Invite your friends, siblings, or other family members to get involved in sporting activities with you.
10. Serve Together
A wise priest recently told a friend of mine that in order to discern our vocation, and especially in order to discern God's will in a relationship, we must give of ourselves in service to others. And through our service and self-sacrifice, God will give us direction and peace. I thought it was excellent advice.
Marriage requires greater acts of service and selflessness than anything else I know of. Why not prepare now, during your courting years, to practice and live out the kind of service towards others that will be key to your marital happiness?
Get involved in the pro-life movement. Volunteer with St. Vincent de Paul, a crisis pregnancy center, a local food pantry, or other ministries at your parish. These acts of service are easy on your dating budget, but will reap valuable dividends for your relationship.
Bonus Tip: Splurge!
Here's a final bonus tip: Every once in a while, live it up! On a special occasion or feast day, get all dressed up and treat yourselves to a nice dinner out. Do something extra special or a little bit extravagant every once in a while. If you take care to budget the places and events you take in on more frequent dates, an occasional night out on the town will seem all the more special.
Remember that, although dating in today's world can take a lot of creativity and planning to fit a tight budget, it is possible. And the reward of a partner for life who loves the Lord, loves his or her faith, and loves you… is priceless.
(NOTE: If you have a frugal dating tip that has been a blessing in your own life, I'd love to hear about it! You can write to me with your ideas at: Stephanie@catholicmatch.com.)