While it might seem like one needs a paycheck with multiple zeroes on the end in order to achieve a happy romantic life, experts swear the opposite is true. "It's really not what you spend that's going to make a date successful," says Steve Smith, the author of Cheap Dates: Fun, Creative and Romantic Dates That Won't Break Your Budget. "Nine out of ten women tell me that it's about the thought a guy puts into it." The dates that follow won't break the bank, and are far more original than dinner and a movie.
Cheap-Date Idea #1: The Beach
If you live near the ocean, paradise is often but a pebble toss away, as an afternoon jaunt to the beach is an ideal way to log quality time without spending a dime. (If you're not situated near an ocean, a lake can make a mighty fine substitute.) "The water has a calming effect on people," says Brendan Smith, who lives near the water in Los Angeles. "It's a very sensual place, too, because of the rhythm of the water." Added bonus: It's a chance to see the object of your desire in a bathing suit.
Cheap-Date Idea #2: The Drive-In
So, they're not as commonplace as when your parents were dating, but drive-in movie theaters can still be found in most states in America (just check www.driveintheater.com to find one near you). "The drive-in allows you the perfect opportunity to make out," says C.J. Arabia of San Diego, CA. Arabia says she's enjoyed watching movies from inside the car, "eating pretzels and dollar hot dogs and other bad food," as much as setting up folding chairs and sharing a bottle of wine. "Either way, it can be really sweet because you're watching the movie with a big group of people," she says, "but you're also watching it alone."
Cheap-Date Idea #3: Roller Skating
Forget inline skating-roller skating will bring even the most cynical of us back to our most tender moments of adolescence, when nabbing the boy or girl you liked for the "couples skate" was the height of pleasure. Most roller rinks have a late-night adult skate-and some even have bars. Plus, roller skating is good exercise, something you can't say about wolfing down a pricey meal.
Cheap-Date Idea #4: The At-Home Café
Author Smith suggests converting a back porch, balcony or roof into a cozy café. "Move furniture that you have in your place - maybe a table and a lamp - outside and put a CD player out there for ambiance," Smith says. Dress up the meal with little extras-from candles on the table to coffee with liqueur at dessert.
Cheap-Date Idea #5: Go-Kart Racing
"Go-kart racing is a fun date for just about anyone," swears Lucy Morgan of Boston, MA. Some tracks offer double karts so you can sit side by side with your sweetie. Or show your independent spirit and leave your date in your dust.
Cheap-Date Idea #6: Hiking
Walking around is free, and walking around in nature puts most anyone at ease. Plus, it provides an environment where two people are given ample opportunity to communicate without any other distractions. "When I went on a hike with the last guy I dated," says Arabia, "we saw a rattlesnake and a tarantula and he got to be all manly. Plus the view was so incredible, it gave us a lot to talk about, so we really got to know one another better."
Cheap-Date Idea #7: The Usual, Plus Extras...
Want to transform an average date experience into an extraordinary one? Author Smith has some suggestions. "Maybe you go to a cheapie matinee but you slip a sweet little note in the popcorn container with a keychain light for the person to read while the movie plays," he says. Smith recounts a time when he had a jogging date with a woman, so he went on the route ahead of time and placed two Diet Coke's on ice in a hole in the ground. "She was thrilled," Smith remembers.
Anna David writes regularly for Details and Cosmopolitan.
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