How to date on a budget

No one wants to seem like a tightwad, particularly on a date, when they're trying to make a good impression. And despite the sharp bite of the credit crunch, recent figures from online dating site show we're still prepared to fork out between £31 to £50 on a date - the same level as six months ago.

But with the average Brit likely to go on 35 dates before they find true love, according to the dating website, a full quota of dating could set you back a hefty £1,750.
As dating tends to mirror traditional gender roles, it's often men's wallets that are hardest hit. The March Quarterly Savings Survey from NS&I found that 41% of men will go into debt to fund a date, through borrowing on a credit card or from friends, and 75% have overspent on a night out.

Splashing the cash doesn't guarantee success in a relationship, however. In fact, the LoveGeist Report 2009 commissioned by found that 86% of people would prefer a partner to show their love through considerate gestures rather than lavish gifts.
So the good news is that with a little thoughtful planning, an inexpensive evening or day out can be just as romantic as flowers, champagne and a meal in a posh restaurant. "First dates don't need to be expensive," says Fred Hulls, dating expert at

"In fact, we routinely advise that first dates are short, fun and inexpensive. A quick coffee either after work or on your lunch break is the number-one first date – it's just enough time to see if there's chemistry and, if there is, it will leave you wanting more."

If you decide to see each other again, the key is to think outside the traditional dates of dinner and a trip to the cinema. A three-course meal for two with a bottle of wine will set you back an average of £65, according to research from M&S Money, while ticket to the cinema costs between £7 and £10 each, and that's before you've paid for drinks and snacks such as popcorn or sweets.

If you're seeing each other once or twice a week, it's easy to see how the expense of dating can quickly add up.

While the cost can be cut in half if you both chip in, assuming your date is happy to share, asking them to pay their bit can often be a bone of contention that could end the relationship before it's started.
So, where to begin? The first but most tricky part is gauging what your date might like to do. A few drinks and a game of bowling might be one person's perfect date, but it could be hell on earth for someone else - which is why many people continue to rely on the safe options of dinner and a movie.
Yet there are plenty of other safe, but still fun and inexpensive options. Hulls recommends a picnic, visiting a museum or art gallery, or if you're both active, finding a non-competitive sporting activity you both enjoy, such as taking a rowing boat out on the river, going for a bike ride or ice skating.
"Sightseeing on an open-top bus is also a fun date and a fantastic way to see your home in a totally different way," says Hulls. "It gives you plenty to see, do and talk about, and you'll build up some memories to share too."

Markets, especially farmer's markets, are another great but inexpensive idea. "Not only can you wander around sampling the goodies for free," adds Hulls, "but you'll also have lots to talk about as you work out each other's favourite foods."

If you know a little more about the person, think of ideas relating to their interests, such as wine tasting, a comedy club or going to watch live music at a local pub. Not only are these cheaper options, but making the effort to arrange something they are specifically interested in is sure to score some points.

Whatever you choose to do, try not to make the cost an issue. You may be strapped for cash this month, but your date doesn't need to know your financial dilemmas so early on in the relationship.

Don't apologise for not being able to afford to take them out to a Michelin-starred restaurant, just suggest something a little different and you'll give the impression of being fun and imaginative.
It's equally important, however, not to ignore your financial situation and take your date somewhere completely beyond your budget. In the NS&I study, 45% of men admitted they wanted to be seen as generous and financially well off in the eyes of their companion.
But if finances are tight, spending the whole evening worrying about the bill and whether to order dessert or another drink will not make for a relaxing date. Going further into debt if the bill does bust your budget will of course in the end only worsen your financial situation.
While the recession has certainly put a dampener on our disposable income, with people being made redundant and struggling with bills, there's nothing to gain by lying to your date or giving the impression that you're wealthier than you are.

Money is the topic couples argue about the most, according to relationship counselling service Relate, so starting off with a lie will not bode well for the future.

Taking time to work out how much you can afford to spend allows you to focus on getting to know your date rather than stressing about the cost. Money really can't buy you love, so keep in mind that the best dates are fun and relaxed, not flashy and extravagant.

Top five budget-friendly date ideas

1. Plan a picnic

If the rain holds off, taking your date for a picnic is a fantastic way to treat them to fancy food and drink at half the cost of dinner at a restaurant. Pick up some champagne, or more budget-friendly sparkling wine, with homemade chocolate-covered strawberries to create a little luxury. Or choose a particular theme: Cambembert, a baguette and French wine, for instance, is inexpensive.

Find or borrow a basket, blanket and speakers for your mp3 player, and you've got the perfect way to spend a romantic afternoon.

Price of love: £10 for food and drink

2. Coffee date

Eating out together doesn't have to be limited to an evening meal. Suggest meeting your date at a cosy cafe or bistro for a coffee and a cake or pastry over the weekend, for a cheap but equally nice alternative to dinner.

It's also more relaxing as there's no need to dress up or worry about service or the bill. Try to find independent cafes for a change, and spend a few lazy hours getting to know each other over coffee and the weekend papers.

Price of love: £10 for coffee, cakes and newspapers

3. Go for a walk

Going for an evening or weekend stroll is a great way to get to know someone, so suggest heading out into the hills and warming up with a pint at a country pub if it gets chilly. Dogs are great icebreakers, so bring them along if either of you has one, or consider volunteering to walk one for the day at a Dogs Trust centre (

If you're far from the country, wandering through the city streets can also be a fun way to find out about each other's favourite places, stopping off for some window-shopping and a hot chocolate en route.

Price of love: walking for free plus £5 for a couple of drinks

4. Entertain at home

Cooking a meal for your date is not only cheaper than eating out, it also shows that you're prepared to make an effort. While perhaps too intimate for a first date, it's a great option for date number three or four.

Find out if they have any food allergies or dislikes, and keep the menu simple; you want to spend the evening with your date, not stressing in the kitchen. Stick to your own tried-and-tested recipes, or try budget-friendly ideas on websites such as and

If cooking isn't your forte, go for something different such as a cocktail evening with bar snacks, or stock up on cheese and wine.

Price of love: £20 for ingredients and drinks

5 Museum or art gallery

Create a day or evening of culture and take your date to an art gallery, museum or place of interest. There are hundreds of free venues across the country, such as the Tate Modern in London or Liverpool.

You can find out about new exhibitions and shows in your local area at It's worth sounding out what their interests are, however, so perhaps email them a review of an exhibition first, for example, to avoid an awkward date if it's not their thing.

Price of love: free admission plus £5 for coffee or glass of wine in the bar afterwards