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Cheap Date Tips and Ideas

Recession-proof your love life with these inexpensive and romantic date night alternatives

man and young woman playing croquet

Photo by Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Get creative in your own backyard. Assorted yard games can be highly enjoyable and an easy way to get closer.

En español | In the AARP Savings Challenge community, we know that frugality can be fun, and nowadays — thanks to the Great Recession — even rather fashionable. But here's a question: Can frugality be sexy?

Not exactly, if you agree with a recent article in The New York Times. The article cites a survey by online financial services firm ING Direct that asked 1,000 people which word would most likely come to mind if they went on a blind date with someone described as "frugal." Alas, 27 percent chose the word "stingy," 15 percent picked "boring" and a mere 3.7 percent said "sexy."

I have my doubts about those survey findings. For starters, in the interest of full disclosure I have an account with ING Direct and — on more than one occasion — my wonderful wife of 27 years has told me I'm "sexy." Although, come to think of it, she most often makes that remark in the context of recalling a dream from the night before, in which I'm apparently incredibly sexy but happen to look exactly like George Clooney. Oh, well.

"Face it: If you need to use money to impress someone, you're a big-time loser. Period." That's how cheapskate Daniel Newman put it when I interviewed him for my new book, The Cheapskate Next Door. "Why not try impressing someone with your personality, your charm, your sense of humor, or your intelligence, rather than resort to money and stuff?"

Newman and other cheapskates I've encountered share my belief that romance — and having a good time in general — need not break the piggy bank.

One of the most romantic dates my wife and I ever had was when we were first dating and borrowed my parents' old-fashioned hand-cranked ice cream maker. We spent the entire evening sitting on the porch as the sun set, taking turns at the crank and getting to know each other. The more we churned, the more we laughed. We fell in love over a batch of rum raisin.

That life-changing date only cost us a trip to the grocery store for the ingredients (and everyone knows that ice cream is an investment, not an expense).

According to my cheapskate friends, here is what's in and what's out when it comes to dating in the new economy:

Out: Expensive theater and concert tickets.
In: Become his-and-her volunteer ushers at the local theater. You can see all the latest shows for free. Or go to a local high school or college and see a performance. Volunteer opportunities make terrific cheap dates, too.

Out: Professional and college sporting events.
In: High school and local community games, where the thrill of sport is still alive and well (and affordable).

Out: A movie and dinner out.
In: Stargazing (or cloud-gazing) and a picnic in the backyard.

Out: Dinner party for friends.
In: Potluck with friends.

Out: Expensive amusement parks.
In: Local city and county parks, where admission is often free or low-cost.

Out: Amusement and game arcades.
In: Board games, playing cards, badminton, croquet and other family entertainment using equipment you probably already have hiding in your closets and garage.

Out: Expensive sightseeing tours.
In: Self-guided walking tours. Contact the local chambers of commerce wherever you go. Many have free maps for area walking tours.

Out: Clubs with cover charges.
In: Free amateur nights at clubs and poetry readings at coffeehouses. They can be a lot more entertaining than the pros.

Out: Workout dates at the gym.
In: Romantic walks and bike rides in your own neighborhood.

Out: Carryout dinner and a rented video.
In: Slow-cooker dinner made at home and a video borrowed for free from the library.

Out: Caribbean cruises.
In: Local canoe, kayak or paddleboat rentals.

Out: Full-priced dinners and drinks at a restaurant.
In: Two-for-one and other restaurant deals available via coupons or customer loyalty programs.

Out: Mall shopping.
In: Mall walking while window-shopping.

Out: Lattes while shopping at the bookstore.
In: Coffee at home with books borrowed from the library. It's more relaxing, too.

Out: Greens fees at the golf course.
In: A putting and chipping contest in the backyard.

Out: Fly/drive getaway weekends and fancy hotels.
In: Hike/bike getaway weekends and camping out.

If you're still not convinced that cheap can be fun and romantic — and maybe even sexy — prepare to take solace. I saved the best news for last: In the survey by ING Direct about which words people associate with dating someone who's "frugal," the most popular answer by a wide margin (49 percent) was "smart."

Jeff Yeager is the author of The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches and The Cheapskate Next Door. His website is and you can friend him on Facebook at JeffYeagerUltimateCheapskate or follow him on Twitter.