Dating when you're young and broke is inconvenient at best and impossible at worst. Even planning an hour of free fun can be stressful, so extended outings are out of the question. But with a little creativity, it can be done. "Look for fun events you can take long romantic walks through—flea markets, museum exhibits, I dunno, polka festivals," lifestyle guru and author of The Twentysomething Guide to Getting It Together Mary Traina suggests. "It doesn't actually matter what's going on around you, as long as there's something distracting enough to fill any awkward silences." Word.
The secret to successful broke dating is being real with yourself and your dates. Neither of you have the time (or money) to pretend like you're full-fledged adults with real life plans. Traina reassures her readers that "unless you are going on dates with an Internet wunderkind who made millions inventing a technology we don't yet understand (Skynet, yikes!), odds are your date will be thankful you are thrifty. After a few dates, you'll most likely be splitting the bill." To see how it's done, we asked a bunch of socially active broke millennials how they pull it off.
Groupon Clearance Section
I used to get annoyed with Groupon—while $60 may be a great deal for a world-class massage, it's still three times more than I'm willing to spend on any particular day. But there's a lot of great discount date ideas to be found in the Groupon clearance section if you're willing to do something weird. I've watched horse races, gone rollerskating, and tried paintballing—all for under $10 each. One time I did couples' yoga for a Valentine's Day date. Recently, my date and I splurged $18 each on 150-point value packages for rides and attractions at Family Fun Center, which is like Dave & Busters for young families. - Rebecca, 24
Taco Tuesday Picnic
The best date I ever went on was a picnic in the park. The guy was like, "I'll pick up tacos, you grab a bottle of wine?" It was less than $10 per person and was a great way to hang out and get to know each other in an inexpensive way. I like things where you don't necessarily have to sit across from each other, especially on a first date. At a park, you can focus your gaze and attention on other things around you when silences happen. It's easier to talk and more intimate (and affordable) than going to a movie. - Talia, 23
Rummaging through other people's old shit is a great way to get to know your date. I highly recommend flea markets: It's an aimless treasure hunt filled with conversation starters. You get to learn about what appeals to your date, and where your interests and sense of humor overlap. One time, my date showed way too much interest in purchasing a sambo doll, so I cut it short. The most money I've ever spent on a flea market date was $4, but I got three hours worth of bonding time out of it. Flea markets are also great for people watching, because shit-talking is the foundation of most good relationships. - Lucy, 22
I don't care what anyone says—bowling is a great date. It often sucks in a group setting because you spend most of your time fake-cheering and waiting for your turn, but one-on-one bowling is just the opposite. You're constantly trading places, so there's no pressure to keep a constant conversation going, and you have time to think of good one-liners and jokes to say the next time you switch places. Bowling also provides a great opportunity to secretly check out your date's body and gauge your physical compatibility—you know, for, like, sex. - Tara, 27
Geocaching is fun if you live in the middle of nowhere and hiking is too basic for you. It's free, and all you need is the GPS on your smartphone. It's basically an outdoor treasure hunt for a GPS-coordinated container. Inside of the container is a logbook to sign and date, plus random trinkets that other people have left behind. You sign the book and swap out one trinket with something of your own. The container I found was in the roots of a big tree, and my date caught me as I stumbled over it, which was pretty romantic. It's also cool to see what random trinket your date brings to see how their mind works. - Sheila, 26
Netflix and Screenshare
Most of the people I know are so broke that all they can do on dates is Netflix and chill. But "Netflix and chill" insinuates sex, which can be a little overwhelming for someone like me. Paying for gas to drive back-and-forth to their place can also be overwhelming, so I like to do Skype movie dates, in which I pick a Netflix movie and screen share it over Skype. It takes some of the pressure off, and you can do it after a long day when watching a movie alone (but with someone else) is all you want to do. One week, I watched all of the Harry Potter movies with someone I liked. That's when I knew for sure that he liked me, too—a normal person wouldn't be willing to do that. - Kyle, 25
Come Through to (Not) My Party!
I don't actively date because of how expensive it is. Most of my dates take place at parties that are already happening. If I'm at a relatively lit party, I'll hit up the girl I've been texting or Tindering or whatever to come through. The last girl I dated came over to a party just as it was ending. She had a tote bag and I convinced her to let me put some of the half-empty liquor bottles inside when no one was looking. We went back to my place and got drunk. - Charlie, 27
I refuse to spend money I don't have until I'm in a committed relationship, so nothing is cheaper than taking a long walk in nature. Most of my dates involve a scenic walk and fairly deep, inescapable conversation. I'm the kind of person who asks (potentially inappropriate) personal questions right away: What's your family like? How did you come out? What's your life's purpose? It's harder for someone to lie when they're physically exerting themselves, so hiking is perfect. If it's awkward for them, we're probably not a good match. It's also hard to avoid answering, because there aren't many distractions. One time, I found a quarter and as I bent down to pick it up, I noticed a dime bag of weed sitting next to it. My date and I quickly had a "Do you smoke?" moment before finding a secluded area to light up. I don't advocate smoking weed you find on the ground, but this Hiking Trail Weed seemed OK. I also hadn't smoked in a long time because I'm usually too broke to buy weed. - Jelanya, 25
Smoke a Tree, Look at Trees
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is free every Saturday morning, and that makes for a great early date. Both the time and the locale are good departures from standard dates too. The place is enormous and gorgeous, and my favorite part of it is the house inside that's filled with a bunch of old Bonsai trees. They're so old and cute and meticulously trimmed. It's a real art! I should mention that part of this date involves smoking a nickel bag of weed beforehand. The total price tag of a couple hours of fun and getting to know someone else is $5, and even if the company sucks at least you got to commune with nature a bit. You don't have to be in Brooklyn, any nice garden or park will do. - Katie, 23
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