Dating on a Budget – Part 1

This is the first of a multi-part post.

My single friends complain about how expensive it is to date in the city. Dinner & drinks a few times a week for the most active of people really adds up over the course of a month, breaking budgets everywhere. Even for established relationships, it’s not hard for a date night to cost $100+. When I first moved in with Ian after having been long-distance for two years, we decided on having a date night once a week; twice a month out, and twice a month in. It was a way to celebrate finally being in the same place, and also to introduce me to NYC good eats.

Maintaining a once-a-week date night didn’t last for long; work obligations and other social activities often got in the way. Still, we ate out frequently my first few months in the city, and it got expensive. Our process was a simple one; we’d take turns treating the other, to keep things feeling special. The problem was, we’d make the mistake of ordering drinks and appetizers and dessert, even when just two entrees would keep us full enough. My monthly food expenses kept climbing and climbing until I hit a $1,000 breaking point last August (which was the driving force behind one of my earliest Cash Fasting Challenges). Spending $1,000 on food in a single month for a single person is crazy. That’s part of how Cash Fasting was born, and I began to reign it in.

Dating on a budget doesn’t have to be difficult. The vast majority of it involves changing how you enjoy spending time with your partner; doing something that doesn’t involve going to a fancy dinner, a bar, or seeing an expensive show. For dating, I’m a strong believer in small gestures; putting time and effort behind something that shows your significant other you care, which is more valuable than spending money on something grandiose and exciting. The argument can be made that dating and being in a relationship have two different cost structures; I don’t think that should take away from the point that both could be done at a lower cost.

Be smart about going fancy

Dating on a budget doesn’t mean that you never go to fancy restaurants. To make the most of your experience, know what you’re getting into. If there are deals on certain days/hours, plan around that. Does the restaurant offer gift certificates on (A useful site learned from my mother, who maximized dining out with a family of five when I was younger.) If you’re looking for a specific type of food, is there a cheaper restaurant with better reviews that may give you a better experience? Does it make sense to have drinks and appetizers at another location prior to dinner? Tim Ho Wan, the world’s cheapest Michelin star restaurant, recently opened a location in NYC. It’s on my date night short list, although it’ll likely be a weekend brunch or weekday lunch date, as lines can be hours long. Basically, if you’re opting for something expensive, make the most of it. Otherwise, reconsider why you’re doing it in the first place.

There’s nothing wrong with date night at home

Making gourmet meals at home isn’t difficult, and there’s nothing like showing off your skills in the kitchen to impress your significant other. Regardless of if you’ve been dating someone one month or three years, I think that a nice dinner at home is a great way to keep costs low while eating like royalty. One of my favorite bloggers, Epic Quiver, has been challenging himself to make gourmet meals at home at <$3 a serving. Even if you can’t get your meal costs that low, I guarantee that a three-course meal and bottle of wine would cost half as much doing it on your own rather than going out. Date nights are about creating an experience for each other outside of what you normally experience.

The plus side? You’ll probably score some leftovers. You’re welcome, future you.

Small gestures speak loud volumes

If I had to choose between a fancy dinner once a month and smaller tokens of appreciation, I’d 100% go for the latter. Being surprised with a pint of ice cream or a block of cheese (I’ve got food on the brain, clearly) strikes me as a sweeter (ha) gesture than going out to dinner. I don’t know about you, but I like to know that I’m being thought of when Ian is running errands. Also, date nights don’t have to involve food, despite my clear focus on it. Free concerts, walks in the park, trips to the museum – a little planning and a new experience go a long way. Who said that all date nights need to be dinner and a show, anyway?

What do my date nights look like now?

Discounted Tuesdays at Bowtie Cinemas. Wine and cheese on our roof. Picnics in the park. Dinner at a restaurant that we haven’t been to before. Gift cards or coupons for fancier restaurants. Lots of nights in where we actually focus on talking to each other about things outside of work and social media. There are plenty of activities I would borrow from my NYC cheap activity guide for date night ideas.

Things I’ll be trying next? Looking at discounted experiences on Groupon on LivingSocial. I want to craft new, non-food memories with Ian. If these experiences are ones that I would’ve pursued regardless, then it’s a win-win.

What do you do to keep dating at a reasonable cost?

You can read Part 2 here.


  1. Great ideas for date night! It is so easy to say screw it, and spend $100 on a fancy restaurant. But I have even more fun cooking a tasty dinner and eating it on my balcony, watching the sun set while the dog begs for a delicious morsel.

    1. Author

      Totally agree with you here. I used to prefer going out, but I’ve recently come around to the idea of dinners at home. It only takes a little extra work to make the meal feel fancier, and the end result is far more comfortable.

  2. Great ideas and thanks for the shout out. We’re still rocking strong on less than $3 per meal. Lately we have switched to using the Sunbasket cookbook which has more variety and low carb options

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